Sunday, 31 July 2016

Hastings Battleaxe basks in the sun

July has gone so quickly.... it has been beautiful weather, and I have missed blogging about all sorts of sunny outings......... High Beeches Gardens near Haywards Heath, King John's Lodge in Etchingham, eating on the Pier, strange Turkish film night at the Electric Palace, a trip out to Romney Marsh, the latest exhibition at the Jerwood....

Early evening sky - from our house

It is a bit alarming that as you get a bit older, time goes so quickly. It is like the sand running out of the pointy bit at the bottom of an hour glass. I remember as a child, the summer seemed to be everlasting. Endless, mysteriously always sunny days - not as endless as double maths though, or hockey on a cold afternoon.
     When time goes so fast, it is easy to forget things, and I wanted to focus on sunny, happy stuff for this post - the global situation is so awful it is good to remember the positives -and we are so lucky living here, with all this beauty around us.
     So, what have I missed?
     High Beeches is an interesting place - we went with our friends Bob and Alison, who live in Horsham. It is a wild, natural garden, once the site of an old house, destroyed when a plane crashed into it in WW2.  The wild flowers were beautiful, and there were many, many butterflies, and lovely old trees.  Clearly, much of it was green, and it would have been better at bluebell, rhododendron time or in autumn, but I found it very restful.. The place also has a fantastic tearoom with a lovely garden area - fresh homemade food at reasonable prices, in pretty surroundings. Battleaxe would recommend!

High Beeches

Orchid at High Beeches

Twisted roots - High Beeches
 Another garden outing to King John's Lodge at Etchingham, with the WI Gardening Group. This is a nursery, shop, fabulous tearoom and lovely gardens, all in the grounds of the family manor house. It is cosy and informal, with ducks, the owners' dogs - and the owners themselves - living their lives around you.  Battleaxe would recommend!
Ducks at King John's Lodge

King John's Lodge

King John's Lodge

Lovely little hut

After the garden, we went for lunch to  Bistro@the Station at Etchingham. This is a great place converted from the original station refreshment room - we sat out in the pretty garden. It would be an excellent place to break the train journey from London, have a meal and then catch the next train on to Hastings. Battleaxe would recommend this too!
Bistro @the station, Etchingham
    Eating on Hastings Pier? Just fabulous in sunny (and windless) weather. The Pier Pavilion cafe serves evening meals until about 8pm, and there is a bar, and you can get fish and chips as well.  The food is perfectly OK, although the service can be a bit haphazard. It was an absolutely perfect evening when we went down - forget the Italian Riviera says Battleaxe - try Hastings.
Perfect evening on the Pier

Getting towards sunset

End of the Pier....

Moon rise from the beach

     I'll not get into earnest Turkish films - that will remind me of the terrible clamp-down situation there now, following the failed coup.  Poor Turkey, one of my favourite countries.
     Let's go to Dungeness and Romney Marsh instead, with our friends Dave and Carol.  They wanted to see Dungeness, and then we took them to the lovely little Fairfield Church, which was looking wonderful in the afternoon sun.  Standing alone in the middle of nowhere, it is a particularly special place.

Church interior


     Finally, this morning we went to the Jerwood.  Maybe I'll leave the exhibition until another time.... let's stop with us sitting in the sun on the terrace having coffee, looking about us.... 'aah, this is the life' we said.

View from the Jerwood terrace - the fishing boats

Study of birds and boats....

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Bloody difficult women - Reclaiming the Battleaxe

Ken Clarke's recent description of Theresa May as a 'bloody difficult woman' increased her popularity ratings. Our new woman Prime Minister joins the increasing numbers of women leaders, plus we also have a female Home Secretary and a female Lord Chancellor.  So, it's time to think about Battleaxes. What is a Battleaxe? Where does the term come from?  Can we describe these women leaders as Battleaxes? 

Theresa May and Angela Merkel

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'Battleaxe' as a 'formidably aggressive older woman', and gives these synonyms: harridan, dragon, crone, witch, hag, hatchet-face, ogress, gorgon, old bag, hellcat, harpy, virago, bitch, shrew, scold. Not pleasant.
     Many of the above words are commonly used to describe powerful women, or women who stick their heads above the parapet.  I don't want this post to be an anti-men diatribe, but I can't avoid mentioning the dislike of female power that some men exhibit, and the particularly disagreeable combination of fear, contempt and ridicule that surrounds powerful older women.
     I was in the cafe in Sainsbury's about a week ago, leafing through the vile Daily Mail, when my eye was caught by this, written by the even viler Quentin Letts.

    'When Mrs May arrived for the Cabinet meeting this morning she put on quite a show. Normally she has herself driven to the door of No 10 but yesterday the BMW dropped her at the bottom of the street and she waddled up the pavement swinging her hips as best she could. She even did a bit of a shampoo-advert pose on the doorstep for the snappers. Hello Boys, it's cos I'm worth it.'

      Ugh.What a truly horrible description of an older woman. Whatever you think of Mrs May, she is actually quite elegant.
      But can Battleaxes be reclaimed? Later in this post I've set out the characteristics which I think might define a battleaxe, but it'll be just my opinion. In the meantime, let's look at how the 'Battleaxe' stereotype came about.

Temperance and Suffrage - the birth of the Battleaxe
    Nineteenth-century American temperance campaigner Carrie Nation can be credited with popularising the 'Battleaxe'.  Carrie was a large, formidable Christian woman, who believed she had a divine mission to promote temperance by physically destroying bars. She set about her work armed with a hatchet. In later life she came to England, lecturing in music halls as well as chapels, financing her travels by selling souvenir hatchets, and promoting her approach. Her 'hatchetations' were widely parodied in cartoons and on postcards - see below.
Carrie Nation, with her hatchet
Popular postcard of Carrie at work.
      Both in America and in Britain, the temperance movement had close links with the women's suffrage movement, and both used direct action protest as a way of publicising and progressing their causes. The sight of women engaged in angry, frequently violent protests shocked and horrified society. 
      Contemporary anti-suffrage cartoons clearly show the development of stereotypical Battleaxe characteristics: suffragettes as aggressive, loud, ugly, sexless, man-hating harridans who had the temerity to speak out and demand what they saw as their rights.

The Battleaxe as Warrior/Crusader
Interestingly, in their own propaganda, the women activists of the temperance and suffrage movements portrayed themselves very differently. They appear as noble armed crusaders, fighting the good fight for justice.

     These images derive directly from portrayals of mythological warrior goddesses, such as our own Britannia.
      Leaving aside her modern imperialistic connotations, Britannia was a Romano-Celtic goddess, adopted by Roman Britain as its national symbol and closely associated with the goddess Minerva. Minerva's Greek counterpart is Athena, and images of all three goddesses are hard to tell apart. They are tall, strong, beautiful women with flowing drapery covering their armour, wearing helmets, carrying shields, swords, spears or tridents.

Of course we can't omit Boudicca, in her knife-wheeled chariot, another popular image of female power.
Boudicca - on Westminster Bridge, London
Ancient Battleaxe archetypes
     We think of actual battleaxes as sharp, savage weapons of war, frequently wielded to deadly effect by archetypal enemies such as Vikings, or Visigoths, but many feminist writers portrayed axes as symbols of the female divine, or Mother Earth Goddess, in early matriarchal cultures.
       In the Cretan Minoan civilisation, which reached its peak around 2000 BCE, the 'labrys' or double-headed axe was used as a farming implement. It is depicted on many vases, seals and in statues where it accompanies, or is held by, a  goddess or high priestess.

Labrys images from ancient Crete.

     The labrys was adopted by the feminist and 'goddess' movements of the 1970s and 80s, and many women wore double axe labrys jewellery, or had labrys tattoos to symbolise female power.
      Back then, Battleaxe wore her own silver labrys pendant - here it is - somewhat tarnished now.

Battleaxe as witch, crone, Hecate
      In mythology, the crone is the third, and most powerful, phase of a woman's life, following maiden and mother. The crone is the archetypal wise woman, associated with magic, the supernatural, darkness and the underworld. She is associated with the Greek goddess Hecate.
      The fear of witches and wise women is deep-set. Accounts of  the terrible persecution of women in the past are too common to need much discussion here , but it is interesting to remember that the last woman prosecuted and imprisoned for witchcraft in Britain was Scotswoman Helen Duncan - as recently as 1944.
      The last English Witchcraft Act was not repealed until 1951.
Helen Duncan
      Sadly, today, in some North African and Middle Eastern cultures, women and girls are still tortured and killed because they are believed to be sorceresses, capable of afflicting others with the 'evil eye'. 

Battleaxes in popular culture
As so often with things that are potentially scary, battleaxes have long been portrayed as figures of fun. There are countless examples: Hattie Jacques as Matron, Nora Batty, Ena Sharples, Mrs Slocombe, Sybil Fawlty.  Some battleaxes weren't even women - see Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough as Cissie and Ada.
Ooh Matron
Ena Sharples

Nora Batty

Real Battleaxes?
A recent article by Lucy Mangan in the Guardian lamented the decline of the traditional working-class battleaxe matriarch, scourge of the family and the neighbourhood. These formidable - and fearless - older women thrived in stable communities and extended families. The decline of these social structures led to the decline of the battleaxe.
    So are there other sorts of battleaxes? What are they like?  If they exist, battleaxes are, indeed, bloody difficult women.Their personalities won't necessarily make them popular, or make them good people.
    I'd describe battleaxes as firstly, plain tough. They are fearless and resilient. They don't appease others with a smiling face, or with humour. They are forthright, outspoken and speak the truth as they see it. They deal in absolute right and wrong, are convinced that they know what is best for others, and are not backward in telling others what to do. They believe in getting on with the job - fine words butter no parsnips. They press on regardless of what others think of them. Battleaxes are survivors.
     They also believe that achievement should be on merit alone, and that women should not need any special help, or have any concessions made to them.
     A good example here is the current publicity about babies/breastfeeding in the House of Commons, now suggested as a move 'to make parliament more welcoming to women' but originally and robustly banned as inappropriate and undignified by Speaker Betty Boothroyd in 2001. Betty would count as one of the few genuine Labour battleaxes, along with Barbara Castle and Mo Mowlem. Why don't battleaxes do better in the Labour Party? Although she is brave, Angela Eagle has sadly fallen by the wayside.
     Say what you like about these women's politics, but Margaret Thatcher was a battleaxe, so is Theresa May. Amber Rudd could well be a battleaxe in waiting. Andrea Leadsom is no battleaxe - that rictus appeasing smile, her inability to stand up to media pressure....
     Angela Merkel is a battleaxe. Nicola Sturgeon is battleaxe material. Caroline Lucas? Not sure yet.
     I sincerely hope Hillary Clinton gets elected as US President, but she is not a battleaxe. No true battleaxe would tolerate marriage to Bill....  
     So, finally, is Hastings Battleaxe a genuine battleaxe?  I don't think it is for her to say......


Sunday, 10 July 2016

Blacksmiths, Art Boot Fair, Pirate Day - Hastings round-up

Well, following last weekend, Hastings life has been busy.  We enjoyed seeing Leigh Dyer and his Blacksmiths on the Beach, went to the Art Boot Fair and mingled with celebs, and Battleaxe got stuck in with the WI for our Pirate Day event at the Jenny Lind pub.....

Our new local Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, with Jerwood Director Liz Gilmore
    First, the Blacksmiths on the Beach.  Battleaxe readers may have read about how, a few years ago, we gave a family flypress to local art blacksmith Leigh Dyer? We visit it every year at Open Studio time... Well, being the enterprising person that he is, Leigh is now producing a huge metal sculpture to be sited on Hastings  Beach, as part of the celebrations marking the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.  Part of the sculpture was forged in front of the public, in a massive display on the Stade, in association with the British Art Blacksmiths' Association. We went along to have a look.  Here are a few pictures.

The sculpture takes shape

Blacksmiths at work

Blacksmiths at work

Hello Leigh!
    Next, on Saturday, we went to the Art Car Boot Fair, again, on the Stade. This is not our usual boot fair thing, but a profoundly now and happening Shoreditch style art event, arranged in association with the Jerwood. We were astonished by the length of the queue - it stretched half way down Rock-a-Nore Road - at least 300 metres. Many of those in the queue were not local, and when the gates opened, they rushed, like lemmings, to line up at the Tracey Emin stall. We saw them leaving soon after, laden with cardboard tubes containing - what? She wasn't there, but  many well-known artists were.  Most of the art was not our style - lots of graphic art - big canvasses saying things like  'Fucked you over, mugs!' in very large letters, costing well over £200.  However, we got a nice Rachel Howard dog, signed, for £20.
     Our very own local Home Secretary, Amber Rudd was there - see picture above. Given that we have a female Home Secretary, and another woman Prime Minister, Battleaxe's next post is going to be about - Battleaxes.....
     I photographed some art celebs, includiing Sir Peter Blake, Gavin Turk, Rachel Howard, but missed punk performance poet John Cooper Clarke.  After the horrors of  my performance poetry debut last weekend, I somehow avoided making eye contact with him...  Here he is, painted after the event by up-and-coming local artist Danny Mooney - thanks for letting me use this, Danny!
Peter Blake

Gavin Turk

Rachel Howard
John Cooper Clark by Danny Mooney - thanks Danny

     Sunday was Hastings Pirate Day, back in full force after a slight glitch the past couple of years - the original organiser has now returned, much to the relief of all...  We had arranged one of our famous WI tearoom events upstairs at the Jenny Lind, but the celebrations were much more spread out than they have been before, taking on venues from the new Pier right down to the Stade. This left the Old Town High Street a bit quiet until a band started up at the pub at 4pm, by which time we were packing up!  Also, it was the most amazingly hot and muggy day.
The pirate gang....
     However, we had a slow but steady trade all day, and we all dressed up in our pirate gear. We made enough money to be respectable, and enjoyed ourselves.
     Battleaxe has been so busy this week - as well as the above, have had a day in London,  belly dancing at the WI, poetry Stanza group, a visit to Eastbourne, loads of gardening.....
     On Pirate Day I went out for a walkabout with Philospher at lunchtime and got Digby a pirate hat. He hated it, refused to pose looking piratical, and tried his best to destroy it. To finish, here he is: