Sunday, 25 September 2016

'Clash!' Hastings, Root 1066 Mass Choir event

Well, Anyone who was Anyone in Hastings was at 'Clash', including Hastings Battleaxe, the Philosopher and step-son Tom who is staying for the weekend.  The A who were A were either in the (large) audience, or singing in one of the seven choirs. I had a special reason to go - to see friends' poems performed as part of the production. 

     'Clash' was part of the Root 1066 Arts Festival commemorating the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.
     Two members of our Stanza Group, Jill Fricker and Antony Mair (our group leader) were two of four poets asked to submit poems on various aspects of the Battle of Hastings/Norman Conquest, and these had been set to music and sung by the choirs. Several of us poetry persons came along on the night to support/applaud.
     The venue, the atrium of the Sussex Coast College in Station Plaza, was spectacularly suitable, with tiers of balconies and staircases providing perching points for the choirs. The audience had been asked to perambulate round the downstairs area, but by and large, those that found seats stuck their bums in them and didn't move, and the rest sat on the floor or stood at the back. I think this was probably better. Lots of people wandering around would have been distracting. Also, they only projected the words onto one smallish screen at ground-floor level, and people walking about would have hidden it. Note to organisers - if you do it again, hang the screen from a balcony higher up, like opera sur-titles.

      The event had been pulled together by the excellent Barefoot Opera - I have been to their things before - see this post.
      All the choirs were good, but I found two bits particularly memorable. Firstly, Jill's poem 'Saxon Signature' performed by Hastings Calling, with Otto Albietz. I've heard the poem a couple of times before - it is a a poignant piece about Edith Swan-Neck, Harold's wife, identifying his body from his tattoos. Next was Antony's poem 'The Oath'. This generated a stunning, dramatic performance from Opera South-East, with Ken Roberts. It featured impressive soloists, incuding a soprano (local singer Susannah Appleyard) singing from one of the highest balconies - spine-chilling stuff.

      Mind you, any performance featuring massed choirs can scarcely go wrong.   
      Musical accompaniment was provided by assorted drummers and semi-random tinging of tubular bells.
      Now, that's one thing about Hastings I can't get to grips with. It totally loves its drummers.  No event can happen without compulsory bang-banging, bong-bonging, ting-tinging, rat-a-tat-tatting, thrub-a-dub-thrub-a-dub-dubbing and so on ad infinitum to the final crash of the big cymbal.  Battleaxe knows that this is one area in which she will never pass as a true Hastinga. Sorry. Here's another note to organisers/musical arrangers. If you do it again, how about adding the occasional plaintive wail of a solitary horn, maybe a bit of flute-type trilling, or even a martial trumpet blast?
     I did try and video our poets' pieces on my mobile phone. The first one I did, Jill's piece 'The Channel Watchers' turned out fine. The second, Antony's 'Venite',  sounds OK, but my arm got tired so the visuals are rubbish. The two best bits mentioned above came later in the programme and never got filmed at all because my battery ran out. I have uploaded the two I have from You Tube, but if I get better recordings I will replace them. Here they are.

    Well done, Hastings Stanza poets - it was exciting for us to watch, and was clearly doubly exciting for them!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Clive Vale Temperance Tea Garden again - corrections. Crazy Golf and lots more...

Guess what? Battleaxe got the location of that wretched Temperance Tea Garden wrong - thanks to local historian Brian Lawes for going to so much trouble to find the information for me. This is all the worse because for some reason, my previous post about it went wild - one of the most viewed Hastings Battleaxe posts ever....  Meanwhile, I've been crazily busy - with the WI Crazy Golf, the monthly big meeting, walk, craft club and the St Michael's Hospice Vintage Fair - all followed by a visit from my sister.

The steps leading up to the old Harold Hotel - date of photo unknown.
       Clearly, the location of the tea garden was at the Harold Hotel, at the top of the steps leading up from the unmade bit of  Harold Road, and not at the bottom, on the road, as I thought. The bottom site was always a market garden.  The photo above, supplied by Anne Scott from the History House, shows the old house which was once the hotel, at the right of the path at the top. The date of this photo is unknown, but clearly no housing was built near it.
       The old house was not finally demolished until the 1970s. When my previous post appeared on one of the Hastings history sites on Facebook, people commented that they had played in the derelict house as children. Still, there must have been other bits of the building that disappeared earlier - one of the articles below mentions a saloon capable of holding at least a hundred people.  The site is now covered in new housing
       Here are Brian's notes about the Tea Garden. I promise, this is the last. Sorry that some of the print in the pictures is so small.  You will need to view the clips on a computer screen.

      'There are various clues about the Harold Hotel to be found in various sources. We know in the 1881 census that the owner, Mr W R Rogers, was already living with his family at the Harold Hotel at Pinders Shaw.

    We know Pinders House was located in Pinders Shaw and is shown on the OS map Sussex LVIII.15 which was surveyed in 1872 and Revised in 1897. It has to be one of the two properties shown at the top of the footpath, the cross hatched building further down the path is a greenhouse.
     It had to be a fairly large building because in January 1881 William Rogers hosted an event for nearly 100 people, and given the month this must have been held inside.

           The Pinders Shaw address was also mentioned in the paper earlier that year:

     An advertisement from the paper for the same event confirms the location as a quarter of a mile from the Hare and Hounds in Ore, and the fish ponds. The NLS 25” map confirms this to be quite accurate.

       In 1892 a clip about a cross country run mentions the Harold Hotel's location as behind the fields by Barley Lane.

    It also seems that from Mr Rogers' request for a licence the problem was that they did not consider it a hotel because of lack of accommodation for visitors, as reported in the Hastings Observer below.

     William Rogers had an obituary in the local paper on  16 August 1902. It commented
“The building of the Harold Hotel was unfortunate speculation. He spent several thousands of pounds with the object of establishing a family hotel, with tea gardens, upon a picturesque site near Pindar's Wood. The completion was signalised by a series of parties and a monster fete, in which the writer took a prominent part. The religious public and Mr. Rogers' teetotal friends (for he was still in the temperance party) were in arms against the establishment of what (they chose, very unkindly, to designate as Hastings 'Cremonie'). When he applied for the necessary license the opposition  was very strong. For many years Mr. Rogers" application was a hardy annual at the Hastings Brewster Sessions'
     Final note from Battleaxe:
     Blimey, I've commented before how intrepid those Victorians were. The climb up from Harold Road is very steep, even on Mr Rogers' improved path - and the women were in long skirts and tight corsets. The reference to 'Cremonie' above refers to the Cremorne Pleasure Gardens in Chelsea, London. By the time these gardens closed in 1880 they were notorious for rowdiness, drunken behaviour and prostitution.  Here's a painting of the nightlife in the Cremorne Gardens, c 1870, by Rex Whistler:

     Phew, let's hope that wraps that up!
     So, what of Crazy Golf?  Twelve WI women rolled up for an excellent, if hot, day. We even got a nice write-up in Hastings On-Line Times. Hastings Battleaxe was also supposed to cover the White Rock panto launch mentioned in the article, but as you can see, the luvvies didn't show up in time.
     I was surprised that so many of us had never played Crazy Golf before, even though the three Hastings courses are world-class - literally - Hastings hosts the World Crazy Golf Championships each year. 
     However, at lunchtime it was my turn to be surprised. We went to the Seagull Restaurant just across the road. I'd never been before, and it was excellent. They have an airy upstairs room with big windows overlooking the boatng lake and the sea, and the fish and chips were great. It is a tiny bit more expensive than the standard chippies, but well worth it.  Battleaxe recommmends!
Lunch at the Seagull Restaurant.
      My sister and her husband came down at the weekend - after sitting in the car for hours they wanted a walk, so we went up to the Country Park.  What fabulous light....


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Hastings Cemetery - an interesting walk. Battleaxe recommends!

Hastings has a wonderful Victorian cemetery. Covering 87 acres, it was opened in 1856, and its position on the Ridge gives fantastic views over the surrounding countryside and the sea, as far as Rye.  We have been there several times but a few days ago we went on a guided walk with Anne Scott from the Hastings History House, with an old friend from Birmingham.  Battleaxe would totally recommend the guided walk, or even just a stroll round the cemetery....

Cemetery view
      There is a very good website about the cemetery, and a book, 'The grave's a fine and private place', produced by the Old Hastings Preservation Society, available from the History House in Courthouse Street.  Although the book only has stories about the inhabitants of the older part of the cemetery, it is very interesting.
Get the book from the History House.... it's free!
      As well as the Victorian core area, the cemetery also has acres of more recent burials, various Gardens of Remembrance, war memorials, an official War Graves cemetery with sections for both world wars, and a natural burial ground - where I plan to end up, hoping that Philosopher will join me.

     The walk concentrated on the older part of the cemetery. There were so many interesting stories. Many people buried in Hastings in the nineteenth century came to the town hoping for a cure for their ailments - frequently consumption.  They often never left. Others came to recover from war injuries or from service in the far-flung corners of the Empire. Many of the most prominent memorials belonged to the families who feature significantly in the political and social history of Hastings - names like Breeds, Butler, Mastin, Mason....
      We also heard about the symbolism in memorial stonework.  For example, who knew that a half-draped urn - found on many gravestones - signifies the soul rising upwards to heaven, or that an urn with a serpent coiled round it signifies immortality.
Half-draped urn

Urn with serpent.  Robert Tubbs, Indian army - clearly an Indian style memorial.
Several suffragettes are buried at Hastings, among them Titanic survivor Elsie Bowerman.
She died in St Leonard's in 1973. Here she is:
Even better known than Elsie, suffragette Muriel Matters also ended her days in Hastings - her ashes are scattered in the cemetery.
    I won't go into the stories attached to the burials -  look at the website.
    Some graves are overgrown and hidden in the undergrowth, and some had huge trees growing out of them.  Apparently some of these may be the graves of suicides, who were buried away from the main paths.
    This first one is specially spookily poignant - or poignantly spooky, the way the tree embraces, or smothers, the stone.


      Many of the memorials are beautifully carved, usually by local stonemasons.

    After a while we peeled off the walk to show our friend the views, and the war graves.
View down to the WW2 memorial
    As well as the cemetery walk, we did all sorts of things with our friends - Coastal Currents Open Studios, a Pier Walk, and the somewhat anticlimactic laser light show at the Pier - it poured with rain and you couldn't see anything unless you were on the Pier.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Knole House, Sevenoaks - and meeting a Battleaxe fan!

We went on a trip to Knole, mostly chosen as a half-way point to meet step-daughter Anna and her partner Gareth.  Despite living quite near Sevenoaks, and passing within a mile of Knole on the million or so journeys we have made up and down the A21, we have never actually been to the house.


     The day did not start well - the most horrendous traffic experience on the A21. The M20 and M26 motorways were both closed to allow for removal of a  bridge that had been clobbered by a lorry the week before, bringing more traffic onto the A21, and then the A21 was closed by an accident at Hurst Green. We were all funnelled off towards Hawkhurst. Google Maps sent us off onto a little lane - which ended abruptly at a farm gate.  Next choice was clearly the first choice for several thousand other vehicles - coming both ways on a narrow single-track lane with huge pot-holes, few passing points, steep drops to ditches on the side, overhanging trees etc.  Philosopher was remarkably patient as the driver, but there was a long, long period of effing and blinding while we inched along.
     Honestly, the traffic has got so bad. When we came back from Birmingham  the other week we had to leave the M25 because it was blocked.... It is totally unpredictable. Hastings has always been a bit cut off, but it is getting ridiculous. Add to the roads the situation with Southern Rail....
     Anyway, back to Knole.  First thing, it is vast. A huge, totally impractical house with over 300 rooms, set in a 1000 acre deer park. It has been the ancestral home of the Sackvilles since 1600-odd, and they have never really coped with its size hence the second thing, it is falling apart. Very few of the 300 rooms are actually open to the public, and those rooms that are open are in various degrees of disarray - bed curtains being conserved, furniture packed away in cases, scaffolding etc.  The National Trust are clearly spending a vast amount of money preserving/maintaining the place. I wonder at some level if it is worthwhile. Knole is interesting, but they might do better letting it fall into disrepair and building a gallery in the park to house all the artefacts and pictures. I know that view will be heresy to many.
Arms of the Sackvilles
     They have ancient and decrepit furniture going back to Tudor times. Vita Sackville-West said, presumably about the rows of unhappy-looking chairs:
     'They are lovely, silent rows for ever holding out their arms and for ever disappointed'.

The long gallery, with row of ancient chairs

      Vita was brought up at Knole and was heart-broken about being unable to live there. Battleaxe has trouble with the whole Sackville/Nicolson/Bloomsbury business, and I've written about  Sissinghurst and Charleston already.  Knole was the subject of savage inheritance disputes between different branches of the family, and has been described as a house 'destined to bring unhappiness'. Certainly, I felt it had an unhappy atmosphere - I felt the same about Charleston, too.
      One interesting Sackville is Idina, 'The Bolter', member of the notorious Happy Valley set. Try the book by Idina's great-grand daughter, Frances Osborne (the wife of George Osborne - now that can't be much fun.....).
     As well as the house, we climbed up through the rooms in the Gatehouse, inhabited by the effete Eddy Sackville-West in the early C20. Although he became the fifth Baron Sackville he never wanted the title and never wanted to live in the house. In my view the finest thing we saw at Knole was the Graham Sutherland portrait of Eddy - even that is a sad story. It was commissioned by Jane Phillips, who nursed an unrequited love for Eddy throughout her life, well knowing he was gay.
Eddy Sackville West by Graham Sutherland
Park from the Gatehouse roof
      However, it was nice to see A and G. They are moving from Twickenham to Bristol in the near future. Clearly we are glad for them, but they will be much further away from us.... we can go and stay with them.... we like Bristol.
      There was a nice NT cafe, and we had a wander round the deer park. Knole was well known for its huge trees - sadly, many were destroyed  in the 1987 storm. However, here is an ancient oak:
Huge oak
    The deer were very tame, and despite notices not to feed them, people were doing just that. It is now the start of the rutting season, and as we watched one group of people, a stag with impressive antlers came running towards them. Partly for the grub I guess, but partly to defend his lady-loves, the hinds - or are they does? Partly also because he was feeling feisty.  It just needed one accidental prod from his antler in the bum of a visitor and the poor guy would have been venison.
     Being Battleaxe, I told the family off for feeding and encouraging the animals. Fortunately they didn't stab me or shriek abuse and took it in good part.

The laydeez...

Mr Stag

    Changing the subject entirely, yesterday I met with an American Battleaxe reader.  Hello Tina if you are reading this!  Tina lives in Eugene, Oregon, and is over here staying with her cousin, Rosemary, who also came down to Hastings.  It was a long drive for, sadly, quite a short coffee meeting with the Battleaxe, who had a lot happening.... But it was lovely to meet a long-distance reader in person.
    Eugene is home to Oregon University, and their football team, known as the Ducks. She bought Battleaxe this little quacking duck as a memento:

Friday, 2 September 2016

Zippo's Circus in Brighton - with performing cats!

Last month I wrote about a visit to the little Zippo's Circus on Hastings Pier, and  the post was picked up by Zippo's. They said that if I wanted to see a full-scale traditional circus, with animals in, to come to their show in Brighton. When I saw they had performing cats, that was it. I rounded up Philosopher and off we went. 

Performing cat!
     After Hastings, it was good to see the huge Big Top - about four times as big as the tent on the Pier. We had excellent seats, right at the front, but oh horrors, well within marauding clown range. I repelled the person with glacial stares, but Philosopher ended up with a cloth over his head, which was whipped off to shouts of 'nothing', presumably referring to lack of hair rather than lack of brain power....
     Firstly, sorry about the quality of the photographs - cameras are never any good with those lights...
     The show was excellent - very fast paced, daring, high quality acts, and wonderfully traditional, including a knife thrower who looked alarmingly like Benny Hill. Philosopher could not watch him at all. I could scarcely watch a man running and jumping on the top of a wheel up near the ceiling, with stilts on, blindfolded - what a way to earn a living.  Maybe I'd prefer to be this girl in a jar....
Bit of a squash in there....
     In a working life managing people, one of the worst things was how precious they were about their status. With circus people, one minute they are selling popcorn to the punters, next minute they are stars of the show, swinging from the ceiling in a spangled leotard.  I was imagining suggesting to the consultants who worked for me that they should muck in and fill in a bit of time between assignments by doing a bit of photocopying or filing....
Selling popcorn a moment ago....
     So, what about the animals?  I know many people get very agitated about the use of animals in circuses, and indeed, I would no longer want to see lions, tigers, elephants etc. However, domesticated animals have lived and worked with humans for many thousands of years, and a circus life, even with the travelling, confinement etc is no different than the lifestyles lived by many millions of animals, which apparently, we condone. Think pigs in tiny pens, dairy cows, chickens, police horses, show-jumpers, and horses in the Grand National. Think over-bred dogs. What about that 'cute' pug that can't breathe well enough to run about. That cuddly labrador living a life of pain from hip deformity? What about cats that live indoors, in small flats... I could go on and on.
     Sadly, there were no beautiful galloping Liberty Horses with nodding plumes. [Zippo's - are there any Liberty Horse acts left?] We saw two heavy horses with the bareback trick riding act. The horses seemed bulkier and more thick-necked than the rosinback horses I remember from my childhood, but again, the men jumping around on their backs were also bigger and heavier. The horses clearly were not bothered by the riders, but disliked the tight fixed reins necessary to keep them to an ordered trot round the ring. I could see quite a bit of mouthing and eye-rolling. These are powerful horses bred for hard work. Maybe they need more exercise to quieten them down before coming into the ring? However, the reins were kept on for short periods only, so I couldn't get too worked up about it.
Two heavy horses...

for trick riding...
     The only other horses were in a circus dressage act - like the Olympics. We could have done with more classic Spanish Riding School-style showstoppers - capriole, levade (we saw one brief one, or was it a courbette....) Oh, when I was little, how I longed to see the white stallions performing in Vienna. Now I'd probably be bored to death. Oh what an utter nerd Battleaxe can be.  But I grew up pony obsessed...
Dressage horses
     There was a little Jack Russell terrier, who clearly thoroughly enjoyed his job, as he would, and some very clever budgies.

     Principally, though, I wanted to see the cats, as they are reputed to be so untrainable. We found them before the show, sleeping in the sun in their trailer.  They looked happy enough.
Snoozing in the sun
     They were all apparently rescue cats, and they must pick food-obsessed ones, because it was immediately clear that they only strutted their stuff in return for copious quantities of cat treats, administered during and immediately after they did a trick. I'd guess, also, that they had not had a meal before the show, making them hungrier and more receptive.  They jumped around, walked tight-ropes, balanced on balls, climbed a pole to jump down onto a cushion (although that particular performer spent a typically long cattish time balanced on the top of the pole savouring the treats left up there for him, while the audience waited in suspense).
      The cats looked fine. They all had their tails well up and seemed unfazed by the noise and the lights. Only trouble was, act was a bit short.
Tail up.

Over too fast....

I'm only here for the grub....

Just hang on while I have a snack....
      Of course, we have a food-obsessed rescue cat here at home. Digby already will appear from wherever distant place he may be hiding or sleeping at the first rattle of the treat container (and also, interestingly, at the sound of a tin-opener, even though he has not had tinned cat food in the four years he has been with us). So yesterday, I rattled the pot, he blatted in through the cat door, and within five minutes I had him sitting and raising a paw to 'ask' for a treat.
      I think, however, he is a little too spoilt - and portly - to be a circus cat. That pole would probably snap if he climbed up it. I can't see myself in the obligatory spangled leotard either, never mind selling the popcorn in the interval, dears.
Digby learns to 'ask' for a treat

Catching on....

But actually, one pities those who have to work for a living....