Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Hastings Battleaxe hangs out in Eastbourne

Spent the day in Eastbourne yesterday - keeping Philosopher, and our car, company. Went to the Towner Gallery, Beachy Head, Waitrose- such excitements!

Sunny, but cold, on Eastbourne Beach
      Our old friends Sue and Graham were supposed to be coming to stay this week, but couldn't due to Sue having sick bug, so I decided to keep Philosopher company. Our faithful Skoda Yeti had to go and spend the day at the main dealership in Eastbourne - it is one of the cars affected by the VW emissions scam, so had to be modified, and it needed a new something or other that cost £400...Cripes. Not what you need before Christmas.
      However, they cleaned it as well, for nothing, and gave us a courtesy car - a new Octavia.  It was very comfortable, but all so automated that we couldn't see how to work anything and spent the day driving around with the car temperature at 29 degrees, with the blower thing roaring like a jet plane taking off.  It was a cold day but really....
      There's lots in Eastbourne, but maybe not so much before 9am on a cold November morning. Here's another blog post about the town.
      We started off with a short walk on the beach. it was beautiful but freeeezzzing....
      Soon gave in and slunk indoors for coffee and a huge sticky bun in Favo'Loso, the retro cafe/ice cream parlour opposite the Winter Gardens.
Favo'Loso - off the internet
     Apparently it is Bill Bryson's favourite place on the South Coast. Sure, it is pleasantly old-fashioned, the bun was yummy and they have a real roaring Gaggia machine for the coffee, but maybe you need to get a life, Bill.  Battleaxe is (surprisingly) not an afficionado of retro ice-cream parlours, but try Broadstairs for example... the beautiful Morelli's.  Read this if you are into such things.
      As soon as the Towner Gallery was open, in we went.  There was a much publicised exhibition 'Towards Night' that I wanted to see. It has some good things in - on until 22 January.  This is Philosopher's favourite (photo from the internet).

Gertrude Hermes 'Through the Windscreen' 1923
Then we discovered there was another exhibition as well - 'One day, Something Happens: Paintings of people' which we actually liked much better.  It is only on until 8 January. This is by a painter I had never heard of:
Kenneth Wootton 'Portrait of a Lady' 1934
    So, by the time we had studied both exhibitions (both free - well worth the outing) and had yet another coffee, it was midday and time to go up to Beachy Head.  I had a money off voucher from WI Life magazine for lunch in the pub....  Had a brisk shortish walk - the scenery never fails to please -  but still freezing. I took some scenic photos to put on Facebook for poor sick Sue up in Brum - to make her feel still sicker -  before a long, sleep-inducing lunch. Battleaxe always recommends The Beachy Head pub.

     Then down to Waitrose to browse and buy over-priced Christmas luxuries. Think Charbonnel et Walker chocolate shoes in a little handbag -  plus a few everyday essentials like Dorset raspberry and pumpkin-seed porridge and Burt's Bees almond hand-cream....
     All that made me quite fancy an afternoon cuppa in the Grand Hotel, but the car place called to say that our car was ready for collection, so we went home.
     Talking of sick bugs, in the evening we went round to friends Jan and Tom. She told me that while we were away on our cruise they had gone to Glyndebourne and she had been seized with nausea ten minutes into the performance. She just managed to get out of the auditorium before throwing up.  She said the staff were wonderful but how truly awful for her, and even more awful to speculate about what they do if someone is actually sick during a performance. It must happen.... Would they carry on?
     Anyway, we reassured her that Don Giovanni was not that good, so she didn't miss much.
     There are lots of nasty bugs around just now. Battleaxe says wash your hands, people.....

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Storms in Hastings.. Jerwood latest, WI Bazaar

Just about getting back to normal when I was hit by the WI Bazaar, followed by a night kept awake by Storm Angus roaring round the house, flinging rain at the windows with such force it sounded like barrow-loads of pebbles. Then, a visit to the current exhibitions at the Jerwood, which Battleaxe recommends....

Stormy skies from the Jerwood Cafe
     The annual WI Winter Bazaar is a big event in our calendar. I've written about it, and the amazing commitment of the WI women,  before. As ever, I did the bric-a-brac stall, this year adding toys to the empire. Philosopher helped as well, lugging boxes and clothes rails from our store room down in the Old Town, and then down to the hall and back.
     We were thinking, for just how many years, and from how many store rooms, have we done this? In Birmingham, I had a store room for the retro shop, and after the shop was sold, we did many vintage fairs etc. One day I'll do a blog post about the shop, Retro Bizarre.
     As usual, I was so impressed with the way the WI women mucked in and helped - we are truly an amazing force. I don't know what it is about the WI which makes people join in so readily. Folk are so creative too - made lovely things to sell. However, I don't think the event was quite as lucrative as other years, because there were a number of competing events round the town, but it will still have done well.
     Here is Digby with his new handmade cat toy.

     Storm Angus promised much, sounded impressive, but fortunately, delivered little in the way of damage. We just lost one bit of trellis, and a few plant pots were toppled.
     In the morning we went down to admire the waves. The wind practically blew us over and it was bitterly cold.

Aftermath of Storm Angus
     We went into the Jerwood to warm up, and after coffee, viewed the current exhibitions. There is a small room devoted to Stanley Spencer, but the bulk of the gallery has been reorganised to accommodate a joint exhibition with the Ingram Collection, which mostly lives in the Lightbox in Woking.
     Chris Ingram, who founded the collection, made his money from advertising. He only started collecting in 2001 and has accumulated a tasteful, creative and interesting collection of twentieth-century art - bigger and more varied than the Jerwood collection.There were many lovely things on show, and full marks to the Jerwood, the walls of all the rooms were full, and there was plenty to look at. It is so much better than having expanses of bare space. People who have to pay to get in really need to feel that they are getting value for money. We do have to pay as well of course, but we are members, which means we don't cough up every time - it feels like it is free....
     Anyway, it is a very good exhibition and well worth a visit. Battleaxe recommends.  For any Hastingas who still have not ventured through the gallery door, this would be a good starting point.
     Some of the Jerwood works on display we have seen over and over again - in fact, they are pretty much always out.... Christopher Wood woman in a bathing costume. View from window at Ditchling by Frank Brangwyn... Why not get out some different ones from the store?
     There were some things I particularly liked. All the pictures below are from the Ingram Collection, and all photos raided from the internet. I don't mind raiding the photos, because Ingram is clearly very generous about sharing his pictures - he takes them to schools and community groups as well as lending them to galleries. In the introduction to the collection catalogue, he says:
       'I want the pictures and sculptures in my collection to be seen. I want other people to enjoy them too. I think it is scandalous that some of our national collections contain works by outstanding artists that have not been on show for thirty to forty years.'
      I do so agree, Chris!
      Talking of catalogues, Ingram has a truly excellent, complete, illustrated catalogue of all their items, now running into two volumes - for sale in the Jerwood for a fiver each volume.
      Jerwood! Get yourself a proper catalogue of your collection!
      This Edward Burra, 'Near Whitby', invokes Yorkshire on a wet day, and I always like receding road pictures, travelling to....where?
Edward Burra - Near Whitby
 The Ruskin Spear cat picture is just so typically catty - look at the wicked glint in his eye. That vase is going to be knocked over any moment....

Ruskin Spear - Curious Cat
     The Laura Knight is not of Sennen Cove in Cornwall, but could well be - those rollers sweeping in across the bay...
Laura Knight - Sea and Rocks
Saturday night at the Local, William Roberts

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Marks and Spencer does me 'ead in. Hastings Battleaxe resurfaces....

Urgh, this week has been a bit of an effort. Still on Middle East time, Trumpoid horrors across the Atlantic and a struggle to alleviate the gloom with retail therapy. As I can't do much about the collapse of the world as we know it,  I'll stick to ranting at M & S. However, cataclysmic feelings of doom were finally soothed in the Lilac Room...

New White Stuff skirt from the Lilac Room
      Am I going to write about Trump? No.
      We have been back from our cruise a week now, and are finding it hard to readjust.  Am still waking at 4am thinking it is time to get up, while falling asleep around 8pm every evening.
      Things for me were not improved by having the AGM of our WI the evening after we came back. We had been travelling for at least 16 hours the previous day and arrived home at what felt to us like the small hours, even though it was only 9.30pm by English time. As WI President, the AGM is one of the biggest nights of the year - proceedings to be led, charity cheques to be presented, speeches to be made.  Despite excellent help from our dedicated and efficient committee members, at the end of the night I was so tired I felt sick and dizzy, and it has taken days to recover.
      Add to that miserable weather - wet, chilly English November instead of bright sun - and the true nightmare of the American election. Therapy was called for.
      Food and wine would be first choice, but both are out after gaining six pounds on that wretched cruise ship. I booked us another holiday to Malta early next year, but that was not enough. So, it had to be retail therapy.
      In our absence, Marks and Spencer had released the latest episode in the on-going saga of their declining clothes sales, and stated their intention to close a number of UK stores. For an already struggling town centre like Hastings, this would be an utter disaster, and I'll bet ours is one of the stores on the hit list.  I've ranted and blogged plenty about how Marks could turn themselves around before - see here - but of course they take no notice! Anyway, thought I'd better get down to town and turn their failing fortunes around.
     So, there I was, desperate to be cheered up, card at the ready.  What did I find?
     One everyday outfit choice I like for winter is a plain straight stretchy skirt with a longer top or jumper over, plus opaque tights and boots. So, I'm looking for stretchy skirts. Subtle grey and black check - dull, but cheap, and it would do for my purposes.. But stop right there! In Hastings the choice was a mini length at least four inches above my knee, or a frumpy midi which would be ankle length on me.  Am I going to wear either of those? No way. See picture below.
The long and short of it....
    Even if I had wanted to buy those things, needless to say our store didn't have them in a size 12. I looked on the M and S website when I got home, and ended up even angrier.  First problem. The mini skirt is photographed on a model - wait for it - 5' 11" tall, wearing a size 8.
    Now, in their press blurb, Marks rattle on about catering for 'Mrs M & S', who is apparently Mrs Average in her 50s. Well, that sounds gross to me anyway - am style-conscious Battleaxe, thanks.
    But let's talk realistic, and let's imagine Marks is indeed trying to cater to this poor old Mrs Average. Right. The average height of British women is 5' 4".  The average UK dress size is 16. OK, I can understand why they don't want to display their clothes on dumpy plumpies, but why choose a size 8 beanpole?
    Anyway, in what universe would Mrs Average woman over 50 wear a skirt that short? Just look at it!  Look at those bare, toned, skinny young girl's legs! Does that inspire any grown-up woman? And  in the middle of winter!
Marks skirt on a leggy beanpole - not for Mrs Average
    Secondly, and even worse, they do not specify skirt lengths for each garment on the website. The listings for all the skirts just say 'above the knee', or 'on the knee', 'below the knee' etc. On whose knees? The beanpole?  Mrs Average? Mine? Dammit, Marks, how much trouble is it to get a tape measure and tell us the actual length of the bloody things.
    I won't even go there with the long frumpy midi version. It was so horrible I couldn't even face looking it up.
    These are all such simple things it beggars belief. After spending so much on rebranding, restaffing, restructuring again and again, why can't Marks do better? It will be truly infuriating if our Hastings store goes, leaving the town centre knackered, just because the company is managed by IDIOTS.  Even Tu at Sainsbury's has more intereresting stuff in more sensible sizes.
    I like skirts just on the knee. Length between 21" and 23.5", depending on where it sits around the waist. This is not outlandish. There are many, many pretty skirts this length made by the brands I favour, for example White Stuff, Sea Salt, Mantaray from Debenhams. Could Marks do stuff like this? Of course it could. Do these other brands specify skirt lengths on their websites? Of course they do.  Better still, Debenhams photographs their clothes on size 12 models.  Here is an example. Note, also, how the models in White Stuff and Mantaray are wearing black opaques, like most women in the winter...
Mantaray - size 12 model.
    So, off to the Old Town and the lovely Lilac Room, with the lovely Robin behind the counter. What do I find? A delectable White Stuff skirt. Tweed, not stretch, far more expensive than Marks, but I had to have it, so did.  When was the last time I was in Marks and 'had to have' something? I can't remember. I rarely go into the Lilac Room without buying something, and have to ration my visits. It is truly one of my most favourite shops. Here's the link to their Facebook Page.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Cruising Episode Two - Floods, Petra, Red Sea fish, pirates and Oman

Well, where were we? In the last post I covered the first part of our Middle East cruise on the 'Voyager' - have added some more pictures to that now - and in this post I carry on cruisin'.  A wet day in Petra, a look at life below the Red Sea, fending off the pirates, and exploring Oman.

      So, after the floods in Sharm-el-Sheikh, we chugged up to Aqaba, in Jordan, for our trip to Petra. Unfortunately, the bad weather followed us, and it was a pouring wet morning. We saw scarcely anything of Aqaba.  Apparently, it has the sixth largest flagpole in the world - here it is. It carries the flag of the Arab Revolt commemorating the Battle of Aqaba that took place in 1917. Think Lawrence of Arabia.  You can look across from Aqaba to Eilat in Israel.
Aqaba flagpole

Looking across to Eilat, Israel.
      Rain or not, we all piled into coaches and set off across the Wadi Rum desert to Petra. Weather continued vile. We stopped at a rest house place, and horrors, were told that Petra was closed due to flooding. Collective collapse of Brits...
Weather not encouraging.....
     We hung about disconsolately for a while, and then were told that the site had partially reopened, so off we went. When we arrived, the rain had stopped, and the site was indeed open, so in common with about a million other people who had presumably also been waiting for the 'off', we walked down to the entrance of the gorge, or Siq. We had been strongly advised not to take a horse, or a carriage.....
Walking down to the Siq - with the crowds

      The first bit of the 2km walk down the Siq was fine, if a bit crowded - stunning rock formations and colours, but as we got further in, streams of water gushed from the walls onto the path, which rapidly turned into a fast-flowing stream. Worse, the smooth path was replaced by ancient paving - chunks of rock made slippery by the wet - and even deeper water.

Water appears
     Eventually, we were struggling to hop from stone to stone in a press of others, with horse-drawn carriages still splashing past.  However, Philosopher did capture the classic view of the Treasury appearing round the bend in the path.
Classic view of the Treasury


The Treasury
      To cut a long story short, it was wet, crowded and we were short on time. Still, I have made it to Petra. Some of our party walked further on, others barely made it to the Treasury, and one man slipped and broke his leg.... He broke it quite badly, but said he had not come all this way not to see Petra. They loaded him into a carriage which then took him down to the Treasury - the jolting must have been agony.
     By the time we had floundered back up again the sun was out. Philosopher had sore toes from his wet shoes rubbing his feet.
     Like many places these days, Petra felt so overun with tourists it was hard to appreciate it. We count ourselves lucky to have seen so many wonderful places in the world before the mass tourism explosion happened.
     The views of the Wadi Rum were much better on the way back. In the villages we even saw some Bedouin tents. Most of them are now no longer nomadic, and have houses, but apparently they still like to erect their tents in their gardens and sleep in them.

Bedouin tent

In the distance, a proper Bedouin encampment
     Next day, we sailed down a bit of the Red Sea and docked at Safaga, back in Egypt again. Many of our fellow passengers set off for a punishingly long trip to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. We had been there, so went on a day's Red Sea snorkelling instead. That felt more leisurely - there were only 30 of us.
     Our boat to the Giftun Islands, the snorkelling destination, set off from Hurghada, the next resort up the coast, and in former times, very popular with tourists. Now, it is like a ghost town. Our guide told us that of the 250 hotels, only 40 were open. It really brought home how depressed the Egyptian tourist industry is. The guy told us that he used to do five trips like ours in a week, but this was his first in six months.
Hurghada - a ghost town

     We had a good boat trip out to the islands - how blue that sea is - and landed at an island resort called 'Paradise'. The islands are just chunks of desert in the sea....

Paradise Resort, on the Giftun Islands
      It was indeed lovely, and almost as soon as we splashed into the water, there were some brilliant yellow and blue fish nosing around. I'll have to get some pictures off the internet. The weather was fabulous, too.
First fish we saw...
      Then the boat took a little group of the more intrepid amongst us out to deep water and a coral reef, which was just amazing. The only down side was the bloke who came with us from the Hurghada dive place - he kept on trying to keep us together in one group. Philosopher and I are both experienced snorkellers, and like to drift along quietly on our own - we don't even wear flippers to avoid churning the sea up and frightening the fish. We had to literally, physically, fight this man off - he kept grabbing my arm and trying to drag me back to the group. However, we managed, and had a blessed few minutes exploring the reef in peace - until another boat arrived full of Italian schoolkids...
      However, the fish were wonderful - I had not expected them to be just as you see on telly....

Yes, the reef and the fish did look like this
A blue-lipped clam - saw one like this.
      The beach was beautiful. For the first time, I felt as if we were on holiday.....

Great beach
     After leaving Safaga, we had five days at sea sailing through pirate-infested waters. The ship was hung with razor wire, and had to be blacked out at night. We attended a pirate lecture from the captain ('Leddiesngenelmen'), and had a special pirate drill. If we heard 'Code Purple' we had to lie on the floor in the inside corridors wearing life jackets, in case anyone fired a rocket through the windows... Why Code Purple? Why not just 'Pirates Ahoy?' We also took on board some special security men, who had strange shaped black bags - presumably they'd brought their golf clubs....
Mysterious people arrive on board

Unloading their gear

Razor wire
     We didn't see any pirates of course - even if they had passed by, a ship full of Brits would not have made very impressive booty. The restaurant staff put on a special pirate meal for us. We told them we came from Hastings, pirate capital of the UK.
The only pirate we saw!
     One bit of excitement, someone fell ill and had to be taken off the ship as we were sailing between Somalia and Yemen - probably the worst place in the world for that to happen, except maybe Aleppo or Mosul I guess.  It was too far to send a helicopter from Saudi Arabia, so they had to send a fast boat, and load the poor devil into it before a very long and rough ride up to hospital In Saudi, presumably in Jeddah. The ship had to stop for several hours in one of the most dangerous bits of waterway.
     So, how was life on board for the five days? The daily lectures were quite good, so added those to our routine of Sea Stretch classes, and I visited the gym daily. Ate loads of course, and got hooked on daily cocktails....
     We didn't sit out in the sun that much - too hot. However, there were 'lizard' folk who just lay out on sunbeds all day - crikey were they orange and wrinkly. The temperature was well over 30 degrees most days....
The lizards
     I began to find cruise life uncomfortably like boarding school. The routine, being pushed together with people you didn't know and did'nt like the look of, and the constant feeling of not quite 'fitting in'. The experienced cruisers had their wardrobes well sorted, and many women appeared in different dresses every night. It was so like not having enough of the right 'mufti' at school.
     Then there was the competitive talk - it moved from who had done the longest and most exotic cruises to wild-life sightings - I saw a dolphin today, well I saw a whole pod of them, I saw a turtle, well, I saw a huge leaping sword fish bla de bla. We didn't see anything at all until the last sea day, when I think by sheer will-power we summoned a school of dolphins from the vasty deep. They gambolled around our bit of ship for at least five minutes.
     We did meet some nice people - an Australian woman travelling on her own, and an English/American couple who lived in Tavistock. To be fair, most of the passengers were pleasant enough, just not our sort of people.
     What else? I visited the Bridge. No big wheel to wrestle with - in fact there was nobody driving the ship at all, it does it all automatically with computers, and there was just a little joystick thing to adjust the course if necessary.
     We went to some of the evening 'shows' delivered by the hard-working entertainment team - surprisingly high standard. One night the senior staff did a 'Call my Bluff' session, interspersed with spontaneous music. That's the Captain on guitar....

     The senior staff also did a question and answer session for us, all about the running and management of the ship. It was really interesting - we could run for about 15 days without refuelling, and carry enough food for about three weeks. I didn't like hearing how cruise ships discharge 'black water' i.e sewage into the sea once they are 19 miles off the coast. Ugh. Imagine the pollution from all those huge ships....
     When it wasn't boarding school, it was a holiday camp. Foxtrotting with Sarah and Tony in the Darwin Lounge. Putting with Paul on the Lido deck. Bridge club in the Lookout Lounge. Origami in Scott's Bar.....  No, no, no. We read lots of books, played scrabble, slept. They had a good library on board.
      As well as the lizards, other subgroups to be avoided included the good-time gals - older women on their own who gathered together to drink cocktails and shriek. The drunks - swaying on bar stools and getting embarrassing with the Fillipino waitresses.  The solitary nerds and saddos - say no more but to be avoided at all costs. The ancients - say absolutely nothing but grit teeth while someone on a zimmer frame holds everyone else up.... Before each trip, they said whether or not it was suitable for persons with restricted mobility, but did they take any notice. No. The bores, the stupid.... oh, stop right here....
The Verandah restaurant, our usual haunt for breakfast and lunch
     Eventually, we arrived in Salalah, Oman, before sailing on to the capital, Muscat. Now, this is a strange country. Ruled by Sultan Qaboos, an absolute dictator/monarch, but apparently relatively benevolent, it has been totally transformed since he took power in the 1970s, and there is scarcely an old building left - at least in the bits we saw. Everything looked like it was built five minutes ago in 'international oil-rich Arab' style. Massive irrigation projects have turned desert into parks and gardens, huge road systems built for the huge cars they favour. Enormous mosques, opera house, Sultan Qaboos schools, universities, hospitals etc.
   In Salalah, we visited a brand new mosque and a very boring, brand new museum. The place is big on frankinsense.
Mosque in Salalah

Frankinsense tree at the museum

Classic desert palm trees
   Oman was interesting, because we have never visited anywhere like that before, but also alarming. There is apparently little unemployment - you wouldn't dare not work, and also because they invest so much in infrastructure projects.  If there is not enough domestic labour, they import Bangladeshi and Indian labourers. It may look pleasant on the surface, but I wouldn't fancy your chances as a dissenter in the Sultan's model state. I read that many bloggers are in prison.......
     It is possible things may be different in the mountainous interior of the country, but I do faintly doubt it.
     In Muscat we went out walking on our own - phew was it hot though.  You can see how shiny and  clean it is. Very few women were to be seen, and many of the men wore long white dish-dashas.

The incense burner - symbol of Muscat
The Sultan's palace

Shiny marble pavements

Muscat Corniche at night

The Sultan's yacht - nearly as big as our ship
     We had been told that as it was a conservative Muslim country, we all must cover up, which we did.  However, there was a German cruise ship which tracked us from Salalah to Muscat, and those Germans are totally shameless. Around they trotted in shorts and strappy tops - I saw two women trying to get into a mosque dressed like that - and on a Friday.  Then when their ship left, sailing back into the pirate zone, it was not blacked out like ours, but lit up like a fairground.
     Talking of shameless, on our last night a beautiful three masted sailing ship tied up near us, the brand-new Omani navy Sultan Qaboos sail training vessel. We went to look at it with Graham, the nice bloke from Tavistock mentioned above. Philosopher and I would just have gawped but Graham blagged his way on board, and crew members showed us round.  Just my luck - had no knickers under my long skirt. Just the thing for climbing up and down breezy ladders in front of a load of Omani sailors....

    Long journey home - flight from Muscat to Dubai, then seven hour flight on a huge Airbus that holds 600 people.
     Would we go cruising again?  Probably not until we are older. We liked the ship, the staff were truly excellent, the food was great, but both of us disliked being herded about on outings with lots of others, and the whole on-board culture schtick. By the end, I had just about had a basinful of my fellow Brits.
     Also, ports big enough to accommodate even small cruise ships like ours are very inconvenient places. They are usually a long way from town centres, and sure, you can walk off the ship, but then you can't walk about in the port because pedestrians are forbidden, or get to the towns without being pestered by hordes of taxi drivers etc.
      Anyway, to finish, here is a cute Omani kitty...