Sunday, 23 April 2017

Battleaxe sighs over election horrors, Rye Harbour with avocets and creepy caterpillars

Sighing is about the size of it. A General Election on 8 June..... It is still freakishly dry, and the garden is like concrete.  But, to lighten the mood, some wild life pictures from Rye Harbour

Avocet at Rye Harbour
     So, what's to be done about this utterly wretched political situation? The Tory Government is running riot, slashing and cutting everything in sight, but have a huge majority predicted to enable them to do even worse things. The Labour opposition is in disarray. Brexit looms horribly. The BBC still insists on giving the odious Farage air time on the telly, even though, hopefully, UKIP will collapse.
     In Hastings, we don't yet have a Labour candidate to stand up against Amber Rudd, who now has a substantial majority. Since becoming Home Secretary has transformed herself from relatively easy-goin' ex-media luvvie to, albeit pale and strained-looking, hatchet-faced Tory yes-woman. Our previous candidate, Sarah Owen, is not standing again - who can blame her. The latest news is that our current Mayor, Judy Rogers has put herself forward. Bless her for that, and she would be excellent.
     On Facebook, in common with several others, I asked the local Labour group for news about our candidate. The answer, from the Branch Secretary, was that a message outlining the selection process had been sent to branch officials, but that the complete text was available on something called 'Sqwawkbox'.  I'd never heard of that, but I looked it up, and so can you by clicking on the link above. It is a place of resort for rabidly fanatic Corbynistas. Yes, you can read the piece slagging off Yvette Cooper. So useful for party unity. Yes, they print stuff from a Twitter account called 'We are His Media'.... oh, purleeze.... Do I want our local branch pointing me in that direction? No.
     In common with many millions of liberal persons in Britain, Battleaxe currently finds herself in the position of not identifying with either of the main parties. The Conservatives are moving way, way too far to the right. I'm one of the 48%, an anti-Brexit 'Remoaner', a 'Saboteur'. Despite being a Labour voter all my life, to the ruling Corbynites I am 'Tory-lite Scum', a 'Red Tory' and quite probably a 'Blairite' to boot.
     It totally beats me that Labour had not done more to prepare themselves for an early election. Why had they not got a pool of candidates ready?  Why no draft Manifesto?  Common management sense would dictate that an early election would happen, never mind what May said, and that their primary task was to ready themselves as best they could.  Then, given that they were not ready, why on earth did Corbyn agree so readily to the election? Grrr.
     Now, here's a thing. I saw somewhere that 8 June is the anniversary of the death of suffragette Emily Davison, who died in 1913 of injuries after throwing herself in front of the King's horse in the Derby. I put a post to that effect on Facebook, and urged women to use their hard-won vote. To date, it has been liked eight thousand times, and been shared twenty-three thousand five hundred times. If it even encourages a few women to vote it will be good, but on the other hand, I read that women are more likely to vote for Theresa May.....
Emily Davison
     I guess liberals like me, Philosopher and most of our social group have their backs to the wall across the world. Think Trump's America. Think Turkey. Who knows what will happen in France....
Rye Harbour. Pretty mauve patch.....

Old lichened bush and blossom....
     Ah well. Let's change the subject. We went to Rye Harbour the other morning.  Saw some wild life. There is an avocet up at the top of the post, a slightly indistinct skylark, and some really rather horrible Brown Tail Moth caterpillars in a spider's webby shelter on a bush.  It still has not rained.... apparently the early nesting Black-Headed Gulls at Rye Harbour have failed to hatch their chicks - the ground is so dry they can't get any worms to eat, so they are too weak, and the eggs have all been taken by predatory herring gulls. How sad is that.
Skylark.... way up above, singing its socks off
Nasty caterpillars


They grow big and hairy - a bit stinging, I gather....


Sunday, 16 April 2017

Granny stuff - and spring has sprung

Was on Granny duty most of last week - hard work as ever. Battleaxe feels really tired. The week before I had a trip to London - met old friend Diana, then Philosopher came up and we went to some exhibitions the day after. Weather has been fabulous - pretty flowers in the garden.

Yellow tulips....
    So, what did Granny get up to?  We took GD riding at Fairlight Hall again - the woods were beautiful, and so peaceful. Here is a pond with lovely reflections. The water was heaving with tadpoles - provided inspiration for a poem I am working on. Remind me to tell you about transformations, transitions etc on another occasion... Here, also, is the riding menage. It is hard to tell if GD enjoys the riding, but she says she wants to go again, so we must assume it is OK.

Lovely reflections in the pond

       According to her mother, GD is very stressed at the moment at the prospect of doing GCSE's in a few weeks, and she has also apparently been bullied at school. That is not good at all - can the school not do more to protect vulnerable children? It has been tackled, but should never have happened in the first place.  Anyway, the result of all that was that she was very quiet and withdrawn - spent much time in her room doing her own thing - but then I suppose most young persons of her age do that.  I hope she will feel better when school is out of the way. It is not yet certain what she will do next year - Birmingham has cut specialist provision for young people like GD, and the college her parents want her to go to has only limited places.
    The next day we took her up to Beachy Head, which she always enjoys. I think she appreciates the space, and the silence... We had a slightly breezy picnic, and as Philosopher's hip is not good for walking right now, her and me went down the steepest possible slope and walked down to Eastbourne - met Philosopher down there with the car. The skylarks were singing their heads off - must have had nests on the ground near where we were walking.

Walking down to Eastbourne - there is Hastings in the distance
    Next day, we went for a very long walk indeed in the Country Park, with lunch in the Coastguards Tearoom - what an excellent place that is. The food is excellent, and very cheap. They do fantastic home-made soup. GD ate an exotic combination of chicken and mozzarella panini with added crisps, gherkins and coleslaw.  She likes strange food mixtures - her breakfast the next day was a strawberry jam and Bombay mix sandwich....
The Country Park - slightly misty

Bright gorse

May blossom
    Had the most terrible journey up to Birmingham on Thursday - I suppose it was the day before Good Friday but you would not believe the traffic... we left Hastings at 11.15 and did not arrive in Brum until 6pm!  We could not go on the M25 at all - it was just solid - no accidents, just congestion, and of course by the time we got up to the M40 and M42 it was rush hour... GD was quiet in the car - mostly reading an Argos catalogue. When I was at work, I used to be very partial to an Argos catalogue myself - ideal for wasting time.....
    Here are a few photos from our London trip. Just a random selection.
Late afternoon near Tower Bridge

Water at Somerset House

A London Plane comes into leaf - Cleopatra's Needle in the background

Blossom of the Foxglove Tree

Shard beyond the cherry trees

    And finally, here are some photos from the garden. How vibrant the colours are. But it is so dry....
Amazing orange tulips

Dicentra - Bleeding Heart. One of my favourites

A new blue clematis



Saturday, 8 April 2017

Opera South-East's 'The Magic Flute' at the Hastings White Rock

Regular Battleaxe readers will know that whenever possible, we go to our 'local' Opera South-East productions at the White Rock. Sometimes great - sometimes less so. Last night we enjoyed ourselves at 'The Magic Flute'

   Having said that, it was partly because we already knew the story and the music - I think anyone who didn't might have struggled to understand what was going on. It is totally understandable that given the limited resources available, the Director (Fraser Grant) decided to dispense with much of the mystic baggage surrounding Mozart's opera and present it as a magical fairy story - largely designed by children. We didn't have to worry about the eighteenth-century zeitgeist of The Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, nor Jungian archetypes, Freemasonry, Ancient Egyptian religion, race and gender politics, the Tarot, Kabbalah, Eleusian mysteries, initiation rites and so on, which was a relief, but it left us with rather a lot of people rushing about on and off stage for reasons that were not entirely clear....
    The principals had become teachers or prefects, and the stage was inhabited by a squad of cute, pyjama-clad children, who gave a Harry Potterish dream-like, 'lost boys' feeling to the whole.  They (very expertly) manipulated large building-block cubes with letters on. Papageno's magic bells were glitter balls on strings, (couldn't they have made some of the strings a bit longer so the tiniest children could reach them? They had to keep jumping up and down). The trials of fire and water were balloons filled with red and then blue glitter. All this was very attractive and effective. 
    The Queen of the Night was supposedly the head-mistress, which was OK, and Sarastro was a science master, which wasn't. The role was played by the wonderful Toby Sims - his background as a Russian Orthodox priest gives him masses of deep-bass mystic weight, and we have seen him pull off some blinders, but his zany mad scientist persona in this production did him no favours. Sarastro should be a dignified, grave, powerful figure, and his famous arias are some of the most stirring - and challenging - in the operatic repertoire. They include some of the lowest notes possible for singers. While Toby managed to get his voice down to the depths, he could have projected himself much better, and more easily, if he had been allowed to call on more strength and gravitas.
Mad science teacher - no.
    Talking of vocal challenges, Opera South-East uses singers for leading roles who are either at the start of their careers, or on the outer fringes of professional singing life. Watching the Queen of the Night (Fae Evelyn) tackle her notoriously difficult arias was real edge of the seat stuff - would she reach the high notes? Would she manage the vocal acrobatics required? If Sarastro goes low, the Queen has to go very, very high, right up to high F, when most sopranos stop at, and frequently struggle with, high C. But all credit, she got there. Total respect. She could have used a bit more welly, but you can't have everything....
The Queen of the Night.... (all pictures from OSE website)
     Oh for goodness sake, I've just been distracted by videos of parrots singing 'Der Holle Rache' on You Tube. Get a life, Battleaxe. Get a life, parrots... No, I am not postng a link on here, even though the birds sing surprisingly well. Put 'Parrots Queen of the Night' into You Tube if you want to see them....
     The other principals have it a bit easier, and all did a really excellent job. You could hear every word Mark Bonney (Tamino) and James Williams (Papageno) sang and said. Pamina and Papagena were also very good.
Pap...pappa.... very good

     It was a good night out.   

Sunday, 2 April 2017

An exhausting WI week.... Meetings, Fair, Women going Wild!

OMG what a week. Am absolutely knackered - and all with WI stuff. Believe me, readers, it is not always like this.  Monday was East Sussex Board of Trustees. Tuesday our own committee meeting. Wednesday the East Sussex Annual Meeting in Eastbourne, Thursday the WI Fair at Alexandra Palace, Friday, editing the monthly WI News, Saturday, stomping round a camp site in Ashdown Forest.

Yes, it is a camping field - soon to be full of women?
   To crown all this, we have the first tiny bit of trouble in our Hastings Ore WI. Think resigning Treasurers. Nothing we are not getting over but very energy-sapping.
    So, I have mentioned that as well as being President of Hastings Ore, Battleaxe is a member of the East Sussex WI Federation Board of Trustees.  It is interesting. The WI, as a whole, is changing. The 'traditional' old-established, smaller, usually rural groups are starting to disappear as the members age, and we have an increasing number of much larger groups of younger women who are more political, less into traditional WI thinking patterns about royalty etc, very social media/internet savvy and have a very different outlook.
    Anyway, to cut a long story short, at our Trustees' meeting we elected the Officers for the coming year, and Battleaxe is now Second Vice-Chair. Yes, the title does sound more honorary, less about work, but..... at the Annual Meeting the current Second V-C was up on the platform having to look pleasant and interested the whole time in full view of the masses. No yawning or sniggering allowed. Worse, she read out the incredibly long list of prize winners, long service ladies, newcomers etc as they filed onto the platform. Now, don't get me wrong, Battleaxe is well-used to public speaking, but I do struggle to maintain the necessary gravitas. How much do you bet me that next year's list will include Artemesia Cholmondeley-Chetwynde, Aiobheann O'Ceileachaigh, Graznya Bogurslaw, Seung-Ok Ng and Dikeladi Kunto just for starters?
    The Annual Meeting is held at the Eastbourne Winter Gardens and is attended by about 600 women. I wrote about it last year.

Women, women everywhere....
    This year our guest speakers were a good mix. Bill Shelford, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, had Royal fairy dust drifting round his head, and those so inclined could bask in the vicarious presence of Her Majesty. Then, after lunch, Ruth Goodman, the TV historian. Now, here's a thing. She arrived late and told us she was feeling terrible - had a bug and had nearly lost her voice. She looked white as a sheet. We were really worried, but when she stood up she pulled a second wind from somewhere and sounded flawless.... that's real professionalism for you. She was quite funny and earthy - probably shocked some of the older ladies by talking about Bollocks..... I don't normally like her that much on telly but she did well.  I like her 50s skirt, too.

Ruth Goodman
    Thursday, we had a day out at the WI fair at Alexandra Palace. A load of us went up on a coach. Traffic was terrible going up, and we arrived later than planned. It didn't matter though, because after several  hours walking round we were all sitting happily in the sun, ready to come home again.

Sitting in the sun...
Great views....
    We had a good day, and enjoyed ourselves, but I don't think National WI got the best they could from the event. It was too much retail trade fair and too little that interested us. Here's a link to another blog post about the Fair - says what I want to say much better.
Very much a retail fair....
    There was much jewellery and many clothes, too many of which were expensive and too alike - voluminous floral/linen tent tunic thingies for the larger lady. I tried on some linen trousers and could scarcely prise the eager hands of the male stall attendant off my buttocks. He must have had a fancy for older women. We sampled loads of food and drink - gin and cheese seemed particularly popular.
    Alexandra Palace holds special resonance for me because I went there often with my parents - my mother organised dog shows. I used to sneak round the bits of the building that were hidden from the public, the basement, the area behind the organ in the Great Hall (destroyed by fire in the 80s) and the amazing theatre. Here is a picture of it now, still closed off and even more dilapidated.
Alexandra Palace theatre - photo from the internet.
    I had my first ever kiss in the gardens... Barry Adler, where are you now?  He was the son of a visiting American dog judge - a real New Yoick Jewish boy with curly black hair and big black spectacles. I never saw him again..... 
    My Dad watched the 1966 World Cup final in the TV studios - my mother burst into the middle of it, furiously screeching 'Jim? Jim? where are you?' It was lucky she was not broadcast around the nation....
    Friday, I was slaving over a hot computer. I've taken over the editorship of the monthly East  Sussex WI News. In the ideal world, it would be on-line, but many of the women still prefer/need a paper publication, and we have to keep producing/selling enough to keep the printed version going for the foreseeable future. It sounds a big thing, but it is a good job for me, living in Hastings - less travel required.  I hope to modernise it/jazz it up a bit - here it is as of now. Oh look, is that loo protesters I see on the cover?

   Saturday, off to the Blacklands Farm Girl Guide camping ground in Ashdown Forest. We are planning to organise a 'Women Go Wild' camping event there in June 2018. These camping things are currently dead popular with the younger WI contingent - yoga at sunrise, drumming etc. More about that later.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Goodbye to Cornwall, and the cooler side of Bournemouth

In my last post I wrote about the first part of our holiday, now for the last bit.  We are now back in Hastings, having returned a bit early - the weather was dodgy. We broke our journey overnight in Bournemouth. Can it be cool? Yes.

Impending storm - view from our house
Evening view

Our house from the coast path
    Plenty of cliff walks, but only a few classic coast path episodes with yellow gorse, blue sea and grey rocks. I like to take those pictures away in my memory. Sadly, Philosopher has a bad hip so couldn't do many walks, and unlike our Brummie friends, I am a fair-weather walker - after a bit, one grey and misty cliff path looks much like another.  Also, although our Hastings Channel sea is not like Cornwall, we do live in a seaside place and can look at it whenever we want. Oh there it is, outside my study window - looking blue and sparkly today. 
     This is the Cornwall I like - Carn Goose on a sunny afternoon:

   We spent a day in Penzance, where Philosopher and I visited one of our favourite places, the Penlee Gallery, where there was an exhibition of the best things from their own collection. They have such wonderful paintings by Cornish artists, the Newlyn and St Ives groups. The atmosphere and the light captured in these paintings enhances the Cornish experience for me. Here are a few examples. Internet reproductions never quite capture the light properly....
Frank Bramley

Henry Meynell Rheam

Walter Langley
    Another day, in St Ives, we re-visited the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden, which we discovered last year. I put plenty of photos on that post, so here is just one - the misty view of St Ives church from the garden.

      We visited the gardens at Trengwainton. I am particularly fond of the spooky mossy trunks of the ancient magnolia trees:

      Here are a few more classic Cornish views:
Cape Cornwall
Near Zennor

Walking down to Porthgwarra
Looking across to Lands End from Sennen Beach
     Our last view of Cornwall for another year..... Marazion. The clouds are drifting away - typical,  when we were on our way home.

     Then back to Hastings via Bournemouth, to break up the long journey and visit an exhibition at the fabulous Russell Cotes Gallery It was sunny when we got there.....
Looking across to the Isle of Wight
     This time we stayed at The Green House, a profoundly cool award-winning 'eco-hotel' full of hipsters, with organic goose-down duvets, waiters in tight black jeans and a variety of artisan gins in the bar. I'd booked it after careful research because last time we stopped in Bournemouth we ended up in an old-style unreconstructed place full of blue-rinse oldies on full-board holidays. Battleaxe recommends the Green House.  It is a pretty, nicely-restored Victorian Gothic house and is excellent value. The restaurant is good too, even though their vegetables were served dangerously close to raw. Perhaps our rickety teeth yearned for the over-cooked cabbage in the oldsters' hotel..... We had a comfortable night and the breakfast was excellent.
The Green House
      The Russell Cotes Gallery is just totally fantastic and Battleaxe would urge everyone to visit it. I wrote plenty about it in my last post on Bournemouth. The old Victorian house is fabulous. Then the pictures... the rooms... the collections.. the loo...
      This time they had an exhibition of twentieth-century art from their collection.  We have a print of this one in our bathroom at home - another thing about this gallery, they have an excellent shop selling reproductions of their own paintings.
Spray - Harold Williamson
   The main collection specialises in Victorian pantings and Pre-Raphs.  I say specialises but one of the joys of the Russell Cotes is that Mr and Mrs RC collected just about anything and everything. The place is absolutely crammed from top to bottom. Here is one of my favourite pictures:
Jezebel - Byam Shaw
     Got home to discover to my horror, that I had put on five pounds in weight. I knew the 'pint of Tribute and a packet of crisps' approach was bad, but that is very,very bad......