Saturday, 28 May 2016

Hastings Battleaxe hits the Chelsea Flower Show.

Well, you have to go once, don't you?  We've never been to the Chelsea Flower Show, and thought we'd give it a try. Who knows, we may have become avid Chelsea addicts. We enjoyed our day, but fortunately for our bank balance, one visit is enough.

Our first view of the Chelsea crowds - not too bad
     Weather-wise, we had the best day of the Chelsea week - warm, sunny but not too hot.
     As usual, we'd been watching Chelsea on the telly - we do so every year. I'd been dreading the crowds. It always looks a seething mass of humanity on TV. Battleaxe doesn't do long queues or not being able to see things - but it was not too bad at all. You could move round fairly easily and get to see even the most popular show gardens. However, there was no time to stand and stare - no matter what the telly presenters say about being able to 'lose yourself in the tranquillity' of such and such, believe me, that was never going to happen.
    We started off with a cup of coffee and a faintly stale Chelsea bun, and then hit the Great Pavilion.  Lots of luverly flowers.  However, for Battleaxe, smell is as important as sight. I presume because the plants are so forced, most smells were absent. Some of the roses did smell, but when you bent down to sniff them, instead you got a pungent whiff of faintly rancid damp bark chippings.  They looked fabulous, though.
Perfect roses
    We went to visit the Birmingham City Council exhibit. They have a noble civic gardening history and always have a big display at Chelsea - once again, a gold medal. They were the only local authority to exhibit this year, and one of the few remaining to train gardening apprentices etc. Let's hope they can continue to afford these fantastic initiatives.... This year's stand was designed in association with micro-sculptor Willard Wigan, who makes little things that fit into the eye of a needle.  You could look down microscopes on the display and see them...
     We encountered the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Birmingham. The Lord Mayor is now Carl Rice - good solid Labour. We told them we were lapsed Brummies, and had a long chat - what a nice man, and his missus, too.
Battleaxe with the Lord and Lady Mayoress....

A little bit of the Brum display
     Next, we visited our own Rotherview Nurseries from Hastings, who had won their first-ever gold medal with their lovely display of tufa troughs.  We've been down to the nursery often, and it features in Battleaxe's 2013 post on Best Garden Centres.
Helen from Rotherview, gold medal card in the background

The Rotherview display
    One of the big 'must-see's' in the Pavilion was an old Pullman railway car built into a display of ferns. This has been featured on several of the TV programmes, and was supposed to be incredibly incredible. Like many others, we queued up and went through the car, which was pretty, and out the other side. Quaint? Yes. Interesting? Faintly. Incredible. No. Would it tempt me to buy ferns from that nursery? No. Worth the effort of dragging a hundred ton railway carriage to the showground? No, not in my view.  See also Show Gardens below - using vast publicity-grabbing items for effect.
Nice Pullman car

To promote a few tree ferns...
   Our verdict on the Great Pavilion? Interesting and very colourful, but not mind-shattering. I suppose if you were a dedicated plantsperson, you would have been more into the new varieties of this and that.Most of the stands gave you the opportunity to take a catalogue and even buy some little plants. I bought some seeds. Here are a few pictures...

Spooky pitcher plants. There is a fly on one. We watched him for ages, but he wasn't going to sacrifice himself..

Beautiful cacti - how do they get them all to flower?
Beautiful bonsai
    Next, we looked for somewhere to have a sit-down and eat something. Found a stage area with a troupe of buxom girls jumping around energetically and doing songs from the musicals.  They must have had excellent support underwear.  We did find a seat among a huge crowd clearly with the same idea as us.
Huge crowd taking advantage of seats....
    I had a plastic glass of Pimms for £6.95. (Battleaxe handy hint for tackling Pimms bars at events like this - ask for one ice-cube. Normally they put about 10 cubes in the glass and there is no room for the alcohol.....)
    Then to the Artisan Gardens - I liked this one with room for the Mini underneath.

    Main Avenue and the Show Gardens.  As I said above, the gardens were easier to view than I expected, but were we blown away by them? No, to be honest. Some of the planting was lovely, but they are so artifical, and dare I say it, in some cases, a bit naff.
    I also felt that some designers were so keen to impress by using massive trees, vast boulders, heavy chunks of iron, huge structures etc that they had lost their plots. Just don't get me started on those revolving bay trees.... Here's a selection of photos.
I liked this one...

Nice planting

Looked more washed out in real life than it did on the telly

This was the overall winning Show Garden.

Naff, and you'd kill yourself on that slippy marble

I liked this one - the Apothecary Garden

And I liked this one - for Great Ormond Street
    Then the smaller 'Fresh' Gardens, and really, that was it, apart from about a million trade stands.  The goods on offer varied from ridiculously OTT expensive to plain tacky. I heard someone on TV say that perhaps the show organisers should vet the goods on offer more carefully. Some of the stuff was the same as you'd see at the market in Hastings Town Centre on a Thursday, only three times the price.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking the market in Hastings, but when you pay a lot of money to go to Chelsea, you want to see goods that are innovative, high quality etc etc.
    Did we enjoy the day? Yes. Were we glad to have had the Chelsea experience? Yes. Would we go again? No.  People have told us that they prefer the Hampton Court RHS Show. We'll try that.
   Here are a few final pictures:
Obligatory Chelsea Pensioner

One thing I couldn't see well - carpet of poppies

Well dodgy geezer.....

Nice shapes



Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Hastings Pier official opening, Shanty Singers....busy

Just a quick fill-in.. It was the official opening of Hastings Pier on Saturday, and in the evening we went to a Shanty Singing session.  Been very busy with WI things, garden full of baby birds, and off to the Chelsea Flower Show tomorrow....

A grey day for the official opening of the Pier
    Saturday saw the official opening of Hastings Pier. I have written just a couple of weeks ago about how lovely it is, so won't go into it again here. As community shareholders we got tickets for the first part of the day, the official opening.  Oh joy, it was a wet, cold day. However, together with half of Hastings, we went down there. 
    Had coffee with friends Shirley and Brian, then joined the throng to hear the speakers. Nothing to say about that, but it is an excellent thing to have helped, even only a tiny bit, to get the Pier reborn.
Nice flags though
    I liked this picture Philosopher took of our esteemed MP, Amber Rudd, looking totally fed up, despite her speech about being so thrilled about the whole business. Since she became Environment whatnot minister she has become very stony faced, and shows even less interest in Hastings and its concerns than she did before. Battleaxe was standing next to our previous MP, Michael Foster (Labour) and chatted to him briefly. What a nice man he is, and by all accounts he was an excellent MP.
Amber - not looking happy to be in Hastings....
    These posters on the Pier railings caught my attention, remembering the famous bands that played there in the past.

    We didn't stay on the Pier very long - despite everyone appearing to get stuck into the festivities - and we didn't go to the Madness gig in the evening. I gather that it was an absolute blast. You could hear it all over the town, even up here in Clive Vale.
     Instead, we went to a Shanty singing session to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Fishermen's Museum down by the net huts in the Old Town. (It's in the former Fishermen's Church. A lovely little place full of interesting things, staffed by nice people and free to get in - Battleaxe recommends). Our friend Tom Kelly is in the RX Shantymen who were doing the singing.  They are really excellent, and the Museum was a great setting for them to do their thing, despite the fact that the enormous old fishing boat that lives in the main room somewhat obscured the view...  There are four of them, but this not-good photo only shows three.
Three out of four RX Shantymen
     Changing the subject altogether, our garden is absolutely seething with starlings at the moment. We get lots normally, but now all the babies have fledged, there are at least 30 or 40 squawking round the bird feeders - and I am not exaggerating.  We get this every year, but this year there are more than ever. Although the babies are perfectly capable of feeding themselves they still expect their poor parents to do the hard work and feed them.
     I thought starlings were supposed to be in decline?
Waiting for food in the hedge

On  the feeders

In the bird bath


Friday, 20 May 2016

Hamburg and other North German adventures with Hastings Battleaxe.

They all blur into one - Rathauses, Hauptbahnhofs, Doms, Schlosses, Grosmarkts... We are just back from Germany, starting in Hamburg, then on to Hannover, with visits to Braunschweig and Hildesheim.  Walked miles, had traumatic encounter with aggressive street person, equally traumatic encounter with German sat-nav Frau..

Hamburg - the Waterfront
      Our Ibis hotel in Hamburg had the advantage of being close to the Hauptbahnhof. Too close. The railway lines were about 50 metres from our window, which you couldn't open because of the train noise. The air-con wasn't working. Why choose this place, one asks, and having chosen it, why not change rooms, hotels even? Well, we had managed to arrive at the start of the German Whit weekend - or Pfingsten as they call it. The city was packed, and hotel prices were way above the usual - hence the low-rent Ibis. Not much sleep for the three nights we were there.
    However, Hamburg is a really attractive, interesting place - Battleaxe would totally recommend it as a city break destination. We wandered for miles round the city - much destroyed in WW2, but now much restored and with some surviving old buildings. As well as being a major port on the Elbe, Hamburg is built around a series of lakes, canals and inlets, which makes it very photogenic.
Bit like Amsterdam



New and old

    Just briefly thinking of WW2, it is sobering to remember 'Operation Gomorrah', the Allied bombing of Hamburg in July 1943. RAF raids caused a devastating firestorm that killed 42,600 people and destroyed 215,000 homes.
    A vaguely connected thought - can't anything stop our cretinous politicians using the word 'Hitler' to make meaningless points? First, we had idiot Ken Livingstone, and now vile buffoon Boris Johnson. Are they that stupid not to know that the 'H' word will inevitably offend large sections of the public? Trouble is, Boris has sufficient low cunning to believe that the 'H' word will provoke certain witless sections of the population into knee-jerk support for Brexit....
    Grr, back to Hamburg. We visited the ornate Rathaus (City Hall). German cities were/are very big on civic pride. So were we, once. Why don't they open the ornate Birmingham Council House to the public? What about Manchester Town Hall?
Hamburg Rathaus




    We went on a fantastic boat tour of the harbour, on a New Orleans-style paddle steamer. The boat was obviously reproduction, but the huge churning paddle wheel at the back was incredibly scary to look down into, and its greater height meant that we had an excellent view.

The Louisiana Star - pseudo but fun...

    It was all totally riveting - getting up so close to the huge container ships we see trundling up and down the Channel from our windows at home in Hastings, the ships undergoing repairs in dry docks, the machinery, the fancy waterfront architecture.

    Our visit to the Kunsthalle, the main art gallery, was also excellent. It was much bigger and better than we expected. They had a fantastic collection of Caspar David Friedrich, including his famous 'Wanderer above the Sea of Fog'.

    Hamburg has incredible shops, including whole streets of the most high-end brands you can get - Hermes, Dior, Cartier, Chanel, Missoni. Like most German cities, it seems incredibly civilised, very clean and very affluent. But, also, there are many rough sleepers and streetpeople, and unpleasantly aggressive beggars (of which more later).
    Like Berlin, there is clearly a strong alternative culture - squatters, activists of all descriptions. We wandered into the middle of a large, fortunately peaceful protest in favour of refugees.

    No visit to Hamburg would be complete without the obligatory walk down the Reeperbahn. What a seedy, run-down place. 
    Unfortunately, the worst incident of the whole trip happened here. I noticed a dog, apparently on its own, playing with a traffic cone. Innocently, I photographed it....
Looks innocent enough....
    It belonged to a group of beggars sitting on the pavement a few yards further on. A young, manic man flew at me, shouting and demanding money for photographing his dog. He shoved a collecting tin in my face. Furious, I shouted 'Go away, leave me alone' at him, and turned to walk off. He chased me up the street, screaming 'bitch' and then spat in my face. Philosopher shouted at him also, and he too was spat at. I was shaken up, but more angry than frightened. The other passers-by just gawped at us. We retreated a few yards to decide what to do. The young man came at us again, so we retreated further, and a doorman at a nearby erotic peep-show directed us to the nearby police station. We reported the incident, and the police asked if we wanted to press charges. Given that this would have, presumably, taken up much of the rest of our time in Germany, we declined. They assured us that they would go and tackle the street people, but we sensed that for whatever reason, the German attitude to aggressive begging is different to ours...
     Big mistake to choose Whit Monday to catch the train to Hannover.. The train was packed, the aisles were jammed and there was no chance of a seat. To make matters worse, we had to make a platform change two minutes before the train arrived, which meant the orderly queues of reserved ticket holders standing by their appropriate car stopping places were ruined, and people just crammed on anyhow. We, not understanding the station announcements, were among the last people to struggle on board.....
     However, I love huge continental stations. The train announcements for Copenhagen, Prague, Brussels, Paris, Berlin etc makes one feel like a proper traveller.
     Hannover, being a business city, was of course deserted for the Whit holiday, and I had booked the 5 star Hotel Kastens Luisendorf for less than 100 euros a night - much less than the Ibis in Hamburg. What's more, they upgraded us to a superior room. What blissful peace and luxury. Deep carpets, crisp white linen, bone china, attentive staff... Tom came to meet us at the hotel early evening, and we consumed bloody mary, whisky sours and the like.
     Hannover is spacious, clean, and affluent. Life started up again the next day, and the streets filled with suave Euro-businesspersons in immaculate suits and well-dressed women with carrier bags from designer stores. Sleek black Merc and Audis cruised between the almost-silent trams. I did wonder about this Europe business. Do the Germans actually care one way or the other about us silly Brits? Why on earth do we think we have any global significance?
     We hired a car to drive ourselves to visit some surrounding towns, or cities, as they turned out to be. The car, a Kia Rio with remarkably poor visibility, had sat-nav but we couldn't understand the German to make it work. Tom has been working in Germany for at least 7 years now and is fluent - Philosopher has quite good German also, but in both cases, their vocabulary seems to totally desert them in times of stress..... after much effing and blinding and random button punching, she barked German instructions at us, but then directed us into roads closed due to road works. I got up my Google maps navigation, only to find the app totally hijacked by a taxi advert.......
     'Jetzt links abbiegen...LINKS...zwiete rechts...RECHTS...' shouted Frau Sat Nav, uselessly, her little map arrow whirling like a windmill. We were in and out of that Hauptbahnhof about three times, up and down the tram lines, into the taxi rank.... Emerged from that only for Frau SN to order us onto an incredibly busy autobahn.  The other side of the motorway looked like Operation Stack - an unbroken line of lorries crawling - where? German traffic has got nearly as bad as ours....
    'If we'd wanted to visit Braunschweig, we could have gone on the train', someone said.....
    Eventually arrived in Braunschweig (Brunswick) with nerves in shreds. I had thought it would be about the size of  Lewes, turns out it was a large city more like Coventry.....  I can't think of much to say about the place, or the next place, Hildesheim. They had old centres with medieval houses, old Rathauses, cathedrals etc. Hildesheim had a 1000 year old rose tree?

   We walked miles.... Somewhere I had good tomato soup,  somewhere else a cup of tea, and somewhere else still, the car got stuck behind a van delivering sofas. Poor Philosopher had to reverse a long way down a narrow back street accompanied by more shouting from Frau SN.
   Eventually, we learned enough about the sat nav to avoid the motorways, and travelled along a quiet road lined with lime trees. North Germany is totally flat.
    Talking of tomato soup, you'll remember that following the gall-bladder op, Battleaxe has been on a low-fat diet? Well, how much do the Germans love their fatty food?  Everything was fried, greasy, creamy, buttery, sausagey, fatty, cheesy, smothered in mayo and/or sour cream. Skim milk? Nein - only fullfat! I had quite a lot of difficulty in finding things I could eat, and for lunch, resorted to smuggling a banana and a breakfast roll with a hard-boiled egg or a bit of plain meat.
    On the other hand, they have incredibly clean loos, and are a very kind and helpful people.
    Finally, if you are wondering what Tom does in Germany, read the earlier Berlin post. We did ask him how the Institute reacted to the news about gravitational waves being discovered for real. I imagined them running down the corridors like in that film about Alan Turing with Benedict Cumberbatch. Not so. They had known for ages before the news became public....
    Last pictures: the Hamburg Chilihaus - 1930s German Expressionist architecture.