Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Ore in Bloom, general Ore update.

Just a quick up-date. Tomorrow we are off to Chichester for the night. We should be travelling along the A27 past Shoreham Airport, but the road will still be closed. That air crash at the weekend was horrific.
    Saturday was the prize-giving event for Ore in Bloom, and I went along to the Community Centre to support Philosopher, who is currently on the Committee.  My previous post about Ore is, for some mysterious reason, the most-viewed Battleaxe post ever, so it's good to do an update.
     Ore in Bloom aims to improve the look of the area and to develop interest in gardening among locals of all ages. It is heavily, and generously, supported by Sarah Kowitz from Fairlight Hall, and until he left recently, the head gardener, Peter, was the Chair. His departure has left the group in a degree of disarray. Many of our WI ladies used to enjoy his monthly gardening and flower-arranging groups - I have no idea what will happen to those.
      Sadly, Philosopher is not staying on the Committee. His high-level skills could have been useful, but being a kind and conscientious man, he seemed to end up doing things like making tea and, on Saturday, selling bulbs. Not that he minds, but I don't think he found it sufficiently interesting. Also, I suspect the Ore-istas on the committee might have seen him as an in-comer, and a posh in-comer to boot.
Philosopher goes litter-picking
      As well as local garden things the group also works with local schools etc., and could potentially do much more.  It deserves support, and if I didn't have the WI, I might get involved.  However, I also know from long experience that I find working with community-led groups difficult. Bossy, organising Battleaxes like me end up doing more and more while simultaneously getting savaged for our pains.
      I was sitting next to one of our local Councillors, Richard Street, at the prize-giving, and reflected that I would not like his job. Whatever one did, one would never be right. I've had plenty of chances to go into politics, and politicians must find ways of surviving and thriving, but I think I'd just expire with frustration.
     I wouldn't mind miraculously arriving on the parliamentary front bench without having struggled all the way up. Oh, hang on, yes I would mind. Look at the Labour party leadership contest. It makes me despair.  Never mind whether any of the wretched four candidates could win an election, (which they assuredly could not, take it from Battleaxe), the in-fighting will now be successfully antagonising the remaining Labour voters.
       Anyway, the prize-giving was a nice do, despite people grumbling about it being held too early in the year. The Mayor presented the prizes, which are for best local gardens and garden initiatives.

       Ore itself seems to be doing quite well at the moment. The Co-op store, which we use a lot, has
just been refurbished, which presumably means it must be surviving the competition with the unwanted Tesco along the road.  I see the Co-op food business is rebranding itself as 'local, little and often', which seems a good move. Battleaxe never goes into the Tesco on principle, but every time I look in the window, the store seems practically empty. Heh heh, sez I. 
       Ore seems to be becoming the take-away food centre for Hastings - as well as KFC, Pizza Hut, a chippy, kebab shops and a couple of down-market Chinese places, we are apparently now going to get a Domino's pizza..... I suppose it is better than an empty shop, but still, a bit unfortunate.  Far too much junky food.
       I am currently vaguely thinking of developing a WI resolution to go forward from our branch calling for a 'sugar tax'.
       In my last post I mentioned the controversy surrounding Ore's open space, Speckled Wood. It has now largely been saved from the developers, which is good news.
Speckled Wood
       It's nice to get proper coffee in Ore Village, at the Community Centre Pepper Pot Cafe. The other day we walked up to Aldi and stopped on the way back, sitting out in the sun. Excellent.
Proper coffee....
       Last year I entered our front garden for the 'Best Newcomer' category in the annual competitions, but came nowhere. Peter said he liked our garden, with its wild, Great Dixterish look, but presumably the other judges didn't appreciate random outcrops of valerian, dead teazle and thistle heads etc., or maybe it just wasn't good enough.
       I didn't enter this year. It's hard to know what the Ore in Bloom judges are looking for (note to them, how about more feedback from the judges?) but I do know I look at the garden from a 'before and after' perspective. The part I have redone looks so different from the featureless chippings desert we inherited from the house's previous owners.

Before -  arid chippings desert, taken on moving-in day, June 2012
After - chippings scarcely visible
         Just come back from the hairdressers down in the Old Town (Mitchell and Millyard). I went out in the rain to deal with a dying/dead run-over seagull outside the salon door, because none of the girls could bear to go near it. Ah, the trials of being a Battleaxe. Reminds me of the invasion of ants in the middle of the housing association board meeting..... but that's another story.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, then Strawberry Hill House

Weekend in London in Anna and Gareth's flat in St Margaret's, between Twickenham and Richmond. They were on holiday so we cat-sat. Cat seemed to lurve me. Don't know why, it was Philosopher that looked after him. He insisted on lying on my chest and licking/biting my face at 4am. No, fools, the cat, not Philosopher.....
     On Friday we went up to the V and A to the Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition.  Sadly more pain than pleasure, the place was heaving. Why don't they manage visitor numbers in these major exhibitions better? What's the point of timed entry if you can barely glimpse the contents of the cases through a sea of bodies?  And it was so hot - have they never heard of air-con?  And dark. According to Jess Cartner-Morley, the dark signifies eroticism:

     'The themes of the show are transformation, status and seduction. That these are all linked, and     that sexuality is imprinted through their core like a stick of rock, is suggested by the decor: in a boudoir’s half light, areas are semi-divided by velvet curtains falling in thick crimson folds.'
      I suppose a press person strolling around the preview, glass of fizz in hand, might appreciate that particular design concept, but not the rest of us, crushed in a mass of humanity.
      As a life-long lover and collector of shoes, what did I think? Not much, to be honest. The tiered displays of shoes in glass cases felt sterile, and it was hard to read the labels because of the crowds. A bit tame, too. 'An exhibition for beginners,' sniffed Philosopher.
      There was more eroticism on show in the recent TV documentary about Christian Louboutin. Well, at least I wasn't tottering round in his 5" stilettos. I don't know why high heels are still so inflammatory in gender political terms. Surely feminism is about having choices, and we can pretty much choose whatever footwear we like. If we had been Chinese women with forcibly bound feet then we'd have something to worry about.
A bit sterile?

      But I digress. Really? A life-long love of shoes? As a solitary little girl, I do remember being drawn to the two little companions in the Start-Rite advertisement. Presumably that illustration is based on the picture of 'The Cat who walked by himself' by Rudyard Kipling.

     The next day, having had enough of crowds, we decided to stay local and walk along the river to Strawberry Hill House, which neither of us had ever visited. It was semi-derelict when I was in London, and  restoration has been underway since 2004. 
     It was a lovely sunny day, and the Thames was looking particularly leafy and sparkly. We stopped for coffee by Twickenham Church, and then passed Eel Pie Island. I went to a party there in the early 70s, wearing a new Biba dress and fearsome cream suede platforms, all in the hope of snaring the too-hip-it-hurt man from work who had invited me. I don't think he spoke to me all night.
Beautiful trees on the bank of the Thames
Looking up -river to Eel Pie Island
A willow-tree curtain
     Strawberry Hill House is the eighteenth-century gothic fantasy castle/house created by wealthy Horace Walpole, son of Sir Robert Walpole. All that remains of his extensive 'collection' that once filled the house are pieces of old painted and stained glass, preserved in the house windows.  The house is now largely unfurnished, apart from some strange stuffed people and sculptures. I liked the poodles, modeled on a painting of three society ladies.
    We followed Walpole's suggested tour of the house, using his own guide-book, reproduced for visitors. The man sounds a complete nightmare, arrogant, egotistical and always falling out with people. To return to the cat theme, Walpole owned Selima, the cat immortalised in Gray's 'Ode to a Favourite cat, drowned in a tub of Gold Fishes.' The tub, actually a very large chinese pot, was once displayed at Strawberry Hill.
     It was all interesting and curious, and we were glad we went. On the way back we stopped at a nearby pub named after Alexander Pope. Pope had a huge grotto built underneath his house. It is still there, and is currently being restored. Now, that I would like to see....
Waldegrave poodles - Laura Ford



Thursday, 13 August 2015

Royal Sovereign Lighthouse trip - Battleaxe bounces out to sea

It was my birthday on Saturday, and for my treat, Philosopher booked a boat trip from Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne, out to see the Royal Sovereign Light Tower
    I've always been curious about the strange little shape sticking up out of the sea. It's visible from so many places in Hastings. I can't quite see it from my window, the view does not stretch far enough west.
    We started off with lunch at Pablo's at the Waterfront - had only ever been to Simply Italian before, but when we took our grand daughter there last year she was so badly behaved that we did not dare go back. Anyway, our salads at Pablo's were excellent. Battleaxe would recommend.
Pablo's at Sovereign Harbour
    The waiter laughed when we told him where we were going and said: 'Lunch before a powerboat trip? That'll be alright for us - you'll be wanting a second lunch when you come back!'
    We didn't think so - it was a fabulous sunny day, the sea was calm, and unusually for this summer, there was no wind. They cancel the trips when it is rough. The Light Tower is six miles from the shore, far enough to get very choppy indeed.
     While waiting to board the boat, we watched huge fish begging for bread along the water's edge. Apparently they are grey mullet, and not appetising for people, but many cormorants were watching, beady-eyed, from the rooftops.
Huge grey mullet

Our boat awaits....


     The boat was a semi-inflatable RHIB - like the Hastings blow-up life boat. Apparently it has a top speed of 60mph, but even at its usual 25mph it uses a gallon of petrol every minute. It takes twelve passengers and two crew. We all put on clammy waterproofs with life jackets over the top, and stowed ourselves aboard.
     When you leave Sovereign Harbour you have to get out of the marina into the sea through one of two giant locks. Hanging around before getting into into the lock, then sitting waiting for the water level to drop etc. reminded me why messing about in boats has never appealed to Battleaxe. I just don't have the patience for all that faffing, messing with bits of rope, fiddling with fenders (I think those are the things that go over the side to stop the boat bumping other boats?)
     Eventually, the lock gates creaked open with infinite slowness, and we were out. Two seals basking on a sandbank. I made a note to photograph them when we came back, but of course the tide had risen by then, and they had disappeared.
     Our boat set off briskly, straight out towards the tower. Despite the calmness of the sea, you had authentic powerboat bouncing from wave to wave, or 'pumba pumba pumba' as Philosopher so eloquently described it. You can't see a lot, because the front of the boat rises up, and spray obscures the side view, but we arrived at the tower quick enough. Built to replace a light vessel in 1971, it had a very retro look about it. It was manned until 1994. Apparently the light only has a 35 watt bulb, but is visible 12 nautical miles away. The lighthouse is solar powered.
Spray... with Beachy Head and its lighthouse in the distance

The Sovereign Light tower comes into view

     We circled slowly round the tower several times, and went up close underneath it. The sea boiled and surged impressively.  It looked a very hard and risky job to clamber up the iron ladder to the little door at the base of the platform - no way could we do that. Apparently they can have 10 metre waves out there.



Sea boiling about the place
     It was better sailing home because you could look at the land. Hastings was just a mass of undifferentiated little buildings at the far edge of visibility.
     Back into the lock again, repeated the faffing with boat paraphernalia.  A bloke on a sport fishing charter boat held up various huge fishes they had caught, for us to see. I felt sorry for the fish.

Back into the lock

Waiting in the lock

Poor fish
     Why are so many people so keen on hunting/catching/hooking/trapping/shooting harmless creatures, both in the water and out of it?  It is one thing catching fish for food - and even that can get excessive, but why would you want to do it for sport?
      The trip was enjoyable, something you aren't going to do every day!
      STOP PRESS - I got a really lovely comment on my last post from someone called +Sandra Jones but could not reply to it. Thanks, Sandra, if you are reading this, and please do whatever you have to do so I can reply to your comments!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Gravetye Manor - Battleaxe goes up-market

Yesterday we went for lunch at Gravetye Manor, near East Grinstead, with old friends Bob and Alison. It is Battleaxe's birthday tomorrow, so this was part of the treats.
     Philosopher almost got grumbly because the drive was so long and leafy. Honestly, husbands. Would he rather have been sitting in a traffic jam on the motorway? Mind you, I did take us rather a scenic route, we had to take several diversions due to road works, and took the wrong road in the middle of Ashdown Forest (my fault).  That is certainly leafy, and at this time of year, there is so much high bracken lining the lanes.
     The Manor is splendidly isolated, about a mile from the road at the end of a woodland drive.  There were no less than three staff persons waiting at the front door to greet us - two boys in green uniforms and a silver-fox manager. I don't suppose they were actually waiting for us - probably for a delivery or something.
Almost arrived.....

Nice interiors
      The old house was built in 1598, and is very tasteful inside, old wood paneling, good antique furniture, old rugs, chintzy sofas.  No OTT swags and drapes which you so often get in those places.  We had a drink in the lounge and chose our food. They have a reasonably priced lunch menu, but add on wine, water, service charge, coffee etc and the cost rises rapidly.
       Much of the fruit and vegetables, and the eggs, are produced on the estate. They use lots of edible flowers. We had an amuse-bouche - an egg-cup of fresh pea velouté - which was covered in pretty petals.
       The dishes were beautifully presented - here is Alison's starter.
More edible petals
       I had gaspacho, followed by hake with various bits around it, and then blackcurrent sorbet. Sounds plain but they removed various items for me because of my low-fat leanings.  The food was absolutely delicious, very fresh and flavoursome.
       The average age of our fellow diners was high. As we have seen so often, it is mainly older people who have the leisure time - and money - to enjoy establishments like Gravetye. There were many men in red trousers and striped socks....
       We noticed a large party of extremely well-to-do, very well-dressed elderly women at a nearby table, and whispered about them.
       'The WI?'
       'No, don't be daft,' I hissed back.
       'Class reunion, Cheltenham Ladies' College 1955?
We agreed this was the most likely.  After lunch, we encountered them again in the lounge, and Bob asked one lady what they had in common. Get this, they were the WI, from another East Sussex branch.
       I was introduced as the President of Hastings Ore WI, and they smiled pleasantly, but looked at me a bit askance. I did look quite respectable with my Royal Albert Hall dress on, but I guess I no more fitted their image of the WI than they fitted mine. Probably I was goggling at them fish-eyed, wondering what on earth most of our membership would make of lunch at Gravetye Manor being  offered for one of our outings..... Having said that, I also see from the East Sussex Federation website that their walking group hiked across the Seven Sisters to Birling Gap. Can't see many of our lot doing that either.
      After lunch, we looked round the gardens. Gravetye was the home of gardener William Robinson from the 1880s to the 1920s, and the garden was his design. Robinson, author of  'The English Flower Garden', and 'The Wild Garden' was hugely influential in his day, and was one of the originators of what we now know as the English Garden. Much of the garden design we take for granted now stemmed from his ideas.

       The current head gardener at Gravetye was trained at Great Dixter, and there are many similarities in the planting. Like Great Dixter, which we visited just the other day, the borders were looking a bit past their best - it has been so dry, then so windy, many things have gone over too quickly.

      The best thing is the massive oval walled kitchen garden. It was crammed with wonderful, healthy, fruit, vegetables and cutting flowers - eat your heart out, Sarah Raven, eat your heart out, walled garden at Fairlight Hall.
       The walled garden was alive with butterflies and bees. We spoke briefly to the gardener in charge of it - she told us that the use of pesticides is minimal. It is quite a difficult balance to juggle the requirements of the chef, and the general needs of the hotel and restaurant with the produce available from the garden at any one time, but obviously they manage it.
Look at those brassicas!