Monday, 25 January 2016

On telly with Tuffers...the John Bratby thing.

A while I ago I mentioned that Philosopher and I had been down at the Jerwood Gallery doing a telly slot for the BBC One Show? I said I wouldn't say more about it until later. Well, the One Show went last Thursday, and the exhibition opens at the end of this week, so Battleaxe now needs to write about it.

      I'm sure people know this, but the Jerwood are putting on a major exhibition - 'Everything But the Kitchen Sink Including the Kitchen Sink' -  of the work of John Bratby, who lived in Hastings during the latter part of his life. His home was the Cupola house in Harold Road.
     People were invited to lend their Bratbys for the exhibition. We have two relatively undistinguished examples, a drawing of a dog, and a drawing/watercolour of Patti, Bratby's wife. Back in October we took our pictures down to the Gallery to be assessed, and I wrote a blog post about the selection day.
Our two Bratbys
      In  November the gallery contacted us to say that the One Show wanted to do a piece on Bratby and the exhibition, and would we be willing to bring our pictures and help?  I think they were a bit desperate to round people up. Of course Philosopher volunteers down there, so we were presumably an easy target, but it sounded quite fun anyway.
     We had to pretend not to know each other. I 'owned' the Patti picture, and Philosopher looked after the dog.
      It was a real insight into how telly programmes are made. I don't exaggerate, we had to be down there before 9am, and didn't finish until early afternoon, for a piece of footage that lasted, at most, five minutes - and most of that wasn't even about our time in the gallery. Some of the footage showed an actor pretending to be Bratby, and also an interview with Michael Palin, who has a portrait of himself that will presumably be in the exhibition.
      There were four of us with pictures, me and Philosopher, Charlie, Bratby's former studio assistant, and a young woman who had brought what is one of the key pieces in the exhibition, a painting of a bathroom basin. This was presumably the closest to the 'kitchen sink' they could get. I do actually think that 'kitchen sink' is a very misleading term.
Not kitchen sink - bathroom basin....
      Then there was Alex Harding the BBC producer, a cameraman, an assistant and various Jerwood bods, including Liz Gilmore, the Director.
      The One Show presenter was Phil Tufnell - you may wonder how he could be so knowledgeable about art, as he is mainly into sport, but I was impressed with his skill. As well as being very easy to get on with, he got us talking by asking questions about our pictures.
      It reminded me of when I used to work with managers, and I'd try to get them to role play things like staff appraisal interviews. Inevitably they'd moan, asking how they could do this exercise when they didn't know about the other participants' jobs.
      'Watch me,' I'd say. 'Tell me, what are the most challenging things you are dealing with at work right now?.... That sounds difficult. Say a bit more about.... bla bla...'
      Tuffers clearly knew nothing about John Bratby and probably cared even less, but managed to generate an animated and authentic-sounding conversation with each of us.
      We started off standing by easels with our pictures wrapped up in brown paper and string. Tuffers asked us questions while we unwrapped them. Cue anxious sweaty-fingered panics about knots in the string...
      I was told not to swear or use even mild obscenities for a 'family' show. Not that the producer somehow guessed that he was dealing with a potty-mouthed old bag - which of course he was - it's just that my picture was a little more risque than the others.
      The picture lives in our bedroom, but I had to pretend that it hung at the end of our bed. Philosopher was told to say that the dog was 'just like our old family dog', but he refused....
      We had to  repeat every little question and answer again and again and again - I don't know how people who do this for a living have the patience.



Bratby self-portrait with Charlie

      Then, all the pictures got wrapped up again, and we had to go outside and pretend to walk to the gallery, looking purposeful and mysterious.
Cold outside....
      It was windy and cold, and I had to walk from half-way up All Saint's Street. I don't know how many times I did that walk.... either the angle wasn't right, the camera malfunctioned, cars drove down at the wrong moment, or passers-by asked me what I was doing. 'Go away', I'd say. 'Don't speak to me'.... But too late, we had to do it all again.
      During longeurs when nothing much was happening, Tuffers told us about his time in 'I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here' - he was King of the Jungle, and about being on Strictly.... all good gossipy fun.
      Anyway, our dog drawing has been selected for the exhibition, which is quite exciting, considering that following the publicity surrounding the selection day, loads of other people offered their pictures and the Jerwood ended up with about 300 options. They could only choose about 60.
      The Patti picture was not chosen. No surprise there, it was one of hundreds he painted of her, many not that good. Ours has got local references, though. It is titled 'Acropolis Girl Hastings, the sea-terrace arch at the Acropolis'. The Acropolis Greek restaurant was one of John and Patti's favourite haunts on the sea-front, shown in this old photo. Maybe our picture was run off to pay their bill.....

Acropolis Taverna, Eversfield Place
      We'll be going to the exhibition opening preview on Friday 29 January.
      On the One Show, they showed this picture of Bratby in his later years. He must have been an unmistakeable figure out and about in Hastings. Or actually, thinking of some of our fellow Hastingas, perhaps he'd have blended in just fine....
      There'll be plenty of other archive material in the exhibition. It should be well worth a visit.
Bratby in his later years
     Finally, here's the iPlayer link to the One Show piece. It's 16 minutes in. Of course, this link will only last for 30 days:

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Getting out of Hastings - A tale of two trains

Whichever way you try, getting in and out of Hastings is difficult. In some ways, it's part of the charm of this place, giving it a cut-off, otherworldy quirkiness, but in terms of convenience and economic viability, not so good.
    A few days ago we travelled up to London to meet my sister and brother-in-law. I don't mention my sister much on here - she is twelve years older than me. We get on well even though she is totally different to me. Her exasperated cries:  'Oh, honestly, Stepho, don't be so wet....' echoed through my childhood.
    Anyway, their trains arrive at St Pancras, so we decided to meet them there, travelling on the Marshlink Line from Hastings to Ashford, then changing to the HS1 high-speed service which hurtles up to London along the Eurostar line.
    All railway links to Hastings are slow, but the Marshlink Line is like going back to the 1950s. It's one of only two non-electrified stretches of line in the South East. After the long Ore tunnel (1042 yards), most of the route is single-track. 
    The little diesels chug along so slowly you can watch flying birds keeping pace with the train. After cutting through the steep wooded hills just outside Hastings, the line crosses Winchelsea Levels, and after Rye, Romney Marsh. The scenery is beautiful - wide horizons, expanses of sheep-grazed level, sun glancing off reed-fringed ditches and streams. In the background, gentle hills, with old churches, farms and oast house towers. Too, too Rowland Hilderish - see previous post.
    The train passes toy-town stations, rumbles across level crossings and even foot crossings. See the pictures below - not mine, all taken from the internet.

Level crossing on the Marshlink Line

Foot crossing on the Marshlink Line
   The line narrowly escaped closure back in the 1960s and 70s. It was partly spared due to another, darker purpose - the transport of nuclear stuff to and from the power station at Dungeness. I'm not saying anything more about that.
   Unlikely though it sounds, leading up to the 2015 General Election, there was much talk about upgrading the Marshlink Line, enabling High Speed Javelin trains to run directly from St Pancras via Hastings to Bexhill.  Our local MP, Amber Rudd, (then fighting a Conservative marginal seat) launched a high-profile campaign. I love this, from this article - a hypothetical high speed train in Hastings Station - a painting presented by Ms Rudd to the then Transport Minister!
Not in my life-time!
    Since the election, things have gone rather quiet. Now, there's a surprise.  Amber is now Environment Minister and has bigger fish to fry than those from Hastings, and any fool can see the cost of electrfying and up-grading that line would be colossal.  Apparently, there is still a faint hope that the project might be included in the 2019 works budget....
    Back to our journey. Eventually, the little train lurches apologetically into a dark corner of bright and shiny Ashford International Station, avec ses notices en Francaise pour les travelleurs internationale. Quelle excitement! Paris via Eurostar!  Mais zut Alors! Les trains arrive seulement trois times a day.....
    'Owevair, our HS1 teleports us very fast indeed to St Pancras International, via the mysterious Ebbsfleet International. Stuck in the middle of an empty wasteland, the station is intended to serve the hypothetical 15,000 home Ebbsfleet (International?) Garden City, announced with much trumpet blowing by our wretched Government back in 2014. So far, hardly any homes have been built. Yawn scratch, yet another surprise.
    We had a nice time in London - went to the restaurant at the British Library - have never been before, and it is an excellent discovery for reasonably priced food in pleasant surroundings near St Pancras. The Library has a lovely shop, too. Just on that theme - equivalent cheap and wholesome eating place plus nice shop near Charing Cross - the Crypt at St Martins in the Field Church.
    I took these sunset photos of the Dartford Crossing and the Medway from the HS1 train on the way back to Ashford. We had a very chirpy train conductor who kept saying 'Look at the beautiful sunset' over the PA, so we did. Considering the train was probably going over 100mph and they are snapped through the window, the photos are surprisingly good. Camera is on my Iphone6s.......

Dartford Crossing at Sunset

Friday, 15 January 2016

Sun at last - albino squirrel and kingfisher in Alexandra Park

The weather has finally changed. It is much colder now, but blessedly clear and sunny.  On the first bright day this week, we walked in Alexandra Park.  
   Battleaxe sometimes wonders if she needs one of those SAD-thing daylight lamps - the seemingly endless dark, dank days did get me down....
Blue skies and reflections, Alexandra Park

Blue skies and reflections - Alexandra Park
   We are so lucky to have this wonderful open space in Hastings. In Birmingham, we were used to some large and impressive Victorian parks - like Cannon Hill, but Alexandra Park is better than any I've seen, and for a small town like Hastings, it is colossal. You can walk for miles through the park and its associated woods without ever covering the same route twice. As well as the formal planting areas and wonderful trees, all the reservoirs and associated feeder ponds provide so much watery interest, and a haven for wild life. Battleaxe readers will know of our annual Garlic Walks, to one of the more secret areas of the park. The whole thing must be a massive up-keep job for the council, and we should be very grateful.
    On  this walk, I kept my eyes trained on the tree tops looking for an albino squirrel, seen and photographed by lots of others. Unfortunately it did not appear for us. These photos were taken by Jackie Lewis - thanks to Jackie for letting me use them.
Albino squirrel in Alexandra Park (Jackie Lewis)

Albino Squirrel in Alexandra Park (Jackie Lewis)
   I just googled up albino squirrels, as clearly, they are very rare. Their albinism means they do not see or hear as well as other squirrels, making them vulnerable to predators. However, this guy seems to be surviving well. Apparently, there are even rarer true white squirrels who have black eyes, not red.
    A while ago I mentioned in a blog post that I had seen a kingfisher. (A very long while, I see, back in 2012, with beautiful autumn colour pictures).
    We were passing the same spot, just at the top of Buckshole Reservoir, and Philosopher was bemoaning the fact that he had never seen a kingfisher in his life. He had just finished speaking when one flew across the path right in front of us - this time I didn't see it. No chance of taking a photo, they are gone in a flash.
    I also recently wrote that the same outfit who run the miniature railway down on the seafront have taken over the railway which follows a leafy and romantic circuit in the middle of the park. It is supposed to be re-opening in February this year, but when we walked past clearly they are having a battle with all the water left over from the recent heavy rains. I hope they manage.
Wet and muddy railway works....
Just past the railway, by the rose garden, we saw camellias in full bloom - this was taken before the frost arrived!
Camellias in mid-January

As you'd expect of us, we stopped for coffee at the Eat Cafe - half of Hastngs seemed to be in there hoovering up huge fry-ups.
    Here are some more photos from our walk, mostly taken by Philosopher because I was watching the tree-tops......

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Books and bindings in Hastings Old Town, and fishing boats beat the weather,

Battleaxe and Philosopher discovered Hare and Hawthorn in West Street by chance, while cutting across to George Street. It is a great little place, but quite tucked away, so I thought I'd give it a bit of publicity.
     It advertises itself as a bookshop and bespoke bindery - they have an attractive stock of wrapping paper, cards, pretty notebooks and fancy stationery as well as a small but highly select stock of books. Presumably, this is also the place to have an oh so exclusive little book of my verses beautifully bound.  I didn't catch the name of the bloke who runs it, but he seemed very pleasant.
Hare and Hawthorn, in West Street

Hare and Hawthorn
     Anyway, it is well worth a visit, just for a browse, or for quirky treats or gifts. Little businesses like that deserve to thrive.
     I find myself walking along West Street quite often because my hairdresser, the excellent Mitchell and Millyard, is just up the road.
     Did I ever tell you about the dying seagull? Well, I won't go into grisly detail, but an adolescent gull got run over just outside the salon door. The young women in the salon shrieked and wouldn't go near it, but being Battleaxe, fond of animals and hardened to such horrors, I went outside to investigate - in my gown, with colour all over my head. The poor thing was mortally injured, and a quick death was clearly the only remedy.
     I asked the girls for a spade.... no, no spade, would a spoon be any use? Anyone ever tried to despatch a gull with a spoon? I saw some builders were working up the street - on what would be Hare and Hawthorn, as it happened - but by then, blessedly, the bird had died.
     I next asked the girls for a black bin bag and lots of newspaper. No, no newspaper, they said, but we've got some old magazines.  Anyone tried to wrap a dead herring gull in a copy of Vogue? Eventually, I scraped it up into an old towel.
    How will people cope when Battleaxes finally become extinct? I asked my stylist what she would have done if that had happened when she was at home.
    'I'd get my Mum', she said.......
    Enough of that. The weather is still terrible, but we have had the odd interlude of sun. When the sun comes out, there are spectacular cloudscapes and the light is amazingly clear and rain-washed.
    Each time, I remember why we moved here, and enjoy the moment - the view of the sea is never the same twice. On this occasion, the wind had dropped for the first time in days, the fishing fleet had been able to go out, and were just returning with their catch. We watched as the boats were slowly winched up the shingle.....



Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Hastings....Where to go on rainy days

Like many seaside resorts, Hastings is a little short on undercover wet weather entertainment.  Goodness me, it has been unbelievably, unrelentingly wet, with howling gales thrown in. Worse, I have a miserable cold which makes me want to face the elements even less.
    I'm thinking places you can go and wander round where it is warm and dry, look at things, get a cuppa, maybe buy things..... 
    Battleaxe is not bothering with stuff to do with kids. Have suffered too much nerve damage from Chambers of Horrors/aka indoor play centres, being ripped off by sea-life places etc. If you have kids, there are lots of websites to help you, like this one. Anyway, the little horrors should have gone back to school by now.
    Yesterday morning we went to Dunelm Mill - now that's good for a browse, and they have parking outside, a perfectly OK coffee shop, and nice clean loos. We set out with nothing much in mind, but found they had a massive sale, so emerged with a bottle holder rack thing for the upstairs shower, a new towelling bath robe for me, (they have a range of sizzling colours), a new loo brush, a large piece of foam rubber, wanted by Philosopher for his own arcane purposes, a cushion, a picture frame and a reel of black cotton.
Dunelm Mill in Hastings
     Other nearby retail browsing opportunities: Hastings town centre - think the wonderful ESK, for things you never thought you might want at amazingly low prices, Debenhams, with its wave-watching opportunities from the cafe, and Priory Meadow. It may be small,  but it is all we have round these parts....  Too many of the shops seem exclusively geared to yoof. H&M? No way. River Island, ditto.  Schuh? Full of yoof shoes. Still, plenty of browsing time can be spent in Waterstones - and they have a Costa in the shop. 
     Further afield, there's Ravenside Retail Park. I ratchet up steps on my Fitbit doing brisk circuits of B and Q while Philosopher is engaged in in-depth examination of bath sealant or whatever. Good cafe with more wave-watching in M and S.
     Talking of M and S, was in the large Ravenside store the other day. Emerged empty handed. Loads of sale stuff, but still nothing I'd want even at a reduced price. What I said in a post from blimey - a year ago, January 2015 -  unfortunately still applies. I now get nothing from Marks except for their excellent Heat-Gen thermal T shirt/vests - they keep them in the lingerie department - and their pull-on jeggings.
      Generally, though, Battleaxe hates out of town retail parks and everything they stand for. Soulless warehouse stores with infuriatingly few staff, traffic congestion, huge car parks, smelly burger vans, KFC, McDonalds..... However, Ravenside does have an interesting population of starlings who seem to exist solely on the leavings from the burger van. They are very tame, and chatter away from the stunted bushes on the edge of the car park. Despite their junk food diet, they look very healthy.
      What else? There's the Museum and Art Gallery in Bohemia Road, which is free, of course. They usually have an exhibition of paintings in the big gallery - currently, it is sea pictures, and of course there is the Annie Brassey Collection, and the Durbar Hall, which I have written about before. No proper coffee place, though.
Sea Piece by William Henry Borrow

Upstairs in the Durbar Hall
      I wouldn't totally recommend the Jerwood Gallery for wet days - you get soaked and blown away walking from the car park, you have to pay if you are not a member and you may be round and out again quite quickly if you are not into contemporary art. However, they do have a cafe with superb views and good loos. Totally forget it for now, though, the place is closed throughout January - don't get Battleaxe started.....
     You can go to the cinema- we've now got three - the Odeon, The Electric Palace and the Kino Teatr in St Leonard's.
     What else? Oh, you can go to the Amusement Arcades in the Old Town. We always enjoy a bracing game of air hockey..... I just read that Hastings did have an international air hockey competition at the same time as the World Crazy Golf championships. I don't know if air hockey still figures, but I loved this image from the 2014 event. This is the same table we used the other day....
    Battleaxe does worry a bit about the new Hastings Pier. All the futuristic computer-generated images you see of the beautiful newness seem to show hypothetical sunny (and windless) days, with hypothetical folk strolling happily along the open deck.  Victorian Piers didn't have lots of windbreaks and What the Butler Saw arcades for nothing, you know.....
The future - Blue skies above Hastings Pier?