Friday, 27 January 2017

Hastings Battleaxe freezes on the Pier and goes to poetry Slam Dunk

Battleaxe had a busy day yesterday, a WI Coffee morning, a chilly stroll on the Pier with old friends Bob and Alison from Horsham, and a first vist to the regular Hastings Slam Dunk poetry night.

Beautiful, and very cold

     Our friends had never visited the Pier, so we went for a cuppa in the Pavilion Cafe and a stroll. Crikey was it cold. It was looking bleakly beautiful, with a bit of watery sun leaking through the dank grey. We were the only people out except for a couple of hardy fishermen.
     The cafe was too cold to sit in comfort. But what heating system could have coped with the outside temperature?  I guess we were lucky to have found it open at all.
     Poor Philosopher has been laid low with the bug that caught me over Christmas and the New Year. It is a devilish thing, last for ages. Some days you think you are better, do too much and then are struck down again the next day. Yesterday he felt quite lively - today, not, and is currently in bed.
     Last night we had a Stanza Group outing for the Hastings Slam Dunk poetry event, as our group leader, the excellent Antony Mair, was one of the headline acts.
     What is Slam Dunk? Well, a load of poets get together and compete. Each person gets up and reads for about 3 minutes, and then the audience gives them marks out of 10. The two with the highest marks go through to a final, and then the winner gets to come back the next month as one of the headline acts, together with one or two guest poets. It is held in the Printworks - a somewhat cool post-industrial place tucked away up a rather intimidating alley round the back of the Hastings Library.
     I'd really thought of wimping out. It was such a cold night, plus I expected to be shivering and yawning in a dark and draughty venue while over-excited youths read rants off their phones full of  f*****g shit twat stuff about Trump. In the end I dragged myself down there. Antony is always so supportive to us.
     Had a struggle to find a parking place. In the end I lost patience and just rammed the wretched car into a disabled space that had, what's more, a big notice saying that parking was suspended due to building works. However, I'm very glad I went. It was a good night with some interesting poetry, and the Stanza gang were out in force, including Robin H, who has also written a blog post about the event. Robin is an accomplished poet, and her very good blog appears in the Favourites list on the left of Battleaxe posts, but here is the link anyway.
Nice fire effect in the background. That is Lucas, the compere.
    The place was warm, I had a good seat, nobody read off their phones, and there was only one Trump piece. Fair bit of f*****g shitty twattery though. Call Battleaxe boring, but I don't find that the repetition of tired old rude words makes a poem more interesting or exciting.
     Another Stanza first-time attender, Roz, read a very funny poem and got an excellent reception and good marks. Much braver than me, but she treads the boards, dears, and is more used to facing audiences.  I'll maybe have a go now I know what the form is.
     People of all ages, shapes and sizes participated, the youngest a girl aged 15 who read a piece about sex education.  A lot of wooly-jumpered, beardy, bespectacled geezers - a remarkable number of whom seemed to resemble my first husband. Perhaps, as one of my friends remarked, I have forgotten what he looked like.
    Getting good marks is clearly a bit of a lottery. It depends on what grabs the crowd on the night and the quirkiness of the performance as much as the quality of the poetry. The audience were enthusiastic, warm-hearted, and also generous - most of the marks were comfortably high...
     Antony read in the second half - he is an excellent, serious poet and a class act, and the audience clearly appreciated his material. Without over-bigging-up our mate, I'd say his selection of poems were the best we heard. Then came Sally Jenkinson, a young woman from Brighton who is an up-and-coming star of the poetry world.  She was good, but for my taste talked a little too much and read a bit too little.  Here's an image off her web site.
   So, I will have a go, honest. Watch this space.....
   Here are a couple more views from the Pier to finish off the post.


Friday, 20 January 2017

Hastings Battleaxe reflects on Trump Inauguration Day - Sad

I woke up this morning to a beautiful dawn and then remembered it was Friday, 20 January. A shameful day for America. A very bad day for all humanity. Is Battleaxe even going to watch the farce being acted out in Washington later today?  Shouldn't she just shut up and enjoy another sunny day in Hastings?

      Martin Luther King is all over the internet right now, after that John Lewis business. Yes, OK, I admit I did wonder for a quick moment why Trump was bothering to insult our nation's favourite department store...
      I hope we Brits did not influence the rise of Trump with our jingoistic Brexit nonsense, but I guess many people in America won't even have heard of Brexit.
      I suppose Brexit makes the Trump thing a bit easier to understand. We can't act all superior over here because we have been, and continue to be, nearly as incomprehensibly stupid. The day after May's 'big speech' I saw the headlines in the tabloids.  How shameful to see the gloating in the Daily Mail about what is total fantasy. Already India are apparently saying that we can't have a new trade deal with them without us allowing free movement of their labour. Do we really think we'll get any sort of favourable deal with Trump without selling our souls to the Devil?  Does anyone really believe we can leave the EU and expect them to offer us the same terms as before? How on earth can that vile troll Boris Johnson continue as Foreign Secretary....
      Ah well, at least the slavemasters using unfortunate East Europeans to do the jobs our people won't dirty their hands to do will be able to get Indians and Bangladeshis instead. It'll be like going back to the good old days of Empire. Just what the Leavers wanted.
       Still, we may be bad here but at least we have not handed the nuclear codes to an out-of-control maniac. I won't go on about Trump. What is there to say that has not been said a million times over, and nothing can be said that will even touch his deluded followers.
      Why, all of a sudden, is the world drowning in lies? Why, apparently, are we now living in the 'post-truth' era?  Has it always been the case?  Are the liars more immoral now, the media more venial? Is it declining standards of education? Is it 'fake news' on social media? I don't know. There was a good article in The Guardian the other day about the discrediting of statistics.  Here is the link.  For sure, once we cease to believe in such things, we are in trouble.
      Oh no. Cold feeling of shame. Battleaxe is not innocent here. It is only a few weeks ago that I was boasting, yes boasting, to my stepdaughter Anna that I used to make up references to pad out my essays when I was doing my Psychology Masters. And yes, sometimes I used to make up statistics. If anyone from Aston University from 30 years ago is reading this, I'm sorry. I knew full well that the academics were only interested in experimental stuff - artifical intelligence and electrical impulses in the brain. I knew they'd never bother to check the veracity of, for example, an impressive sounding 'study' by the fictitious Rothenstein and Nitherswell, University of San Diego on something like the impact of short-term psychodynamic counselling on sexually-active males who did not use contraceptives.
      Well, after that confession, is Battleaxe going to watch the business in Washington this afternoon? I guess so, if only in the hope that something will go wrong... I'll have a glass of champagne to wash it down and think hopeful thoughts - sorry, MLK again.....

    Won't be able to watch all of it becasue we have our 'in-house' Pilates teacher coming. Yes, you did read that right. I was going to do a post on exercise - that'll have to wait, along with the current major issue round here - Toilet-gate.
       So, it is indeed a a sunny day in Hastings. Here are the pictures, taken an hour ago on Pelham Beach, to prove it.
Looking towards the Pier

So bright....

Leigh Dyer's sculpture, 'The Landing'


Friday, 13 January 2017

Winter in Hastings

A reminder of what it is like to live here, on the English Channel coast. Undoubtedly, the climate is milder than many places in the UK. We get plenty of wind, misty, damp days, the usual rain, but also glorious sun.  This year so far we have had little frost and real cold, and the first snow this year came last night.  It has mostly melted this morning. We are also conscious of the local wildlife....

Old Town from the West Hill Cafe, 2 January
     On 2 January we were sitting outside at the West Hill Cafe drinking coffee and admiring the brilliant sun. This is the classic view of the Old Town that first convinced us that we wanted to come and live hereNo luck for the seagull on this occasion.

    This is down by the sea at Rockanore beach on 8 January.  Such a beautiful light on the unusually calm sea.

    In our garden, the birds have been busy seeking food, and Philosopher keeps their feeders topped up. Readers of my Christmas post will have read about Digby bringing an unwelcome visitor into the kitchen. That wasn't the only one, either. I think it might have been Boxing Day that we spent ages chasing another very active, and very angry, rodent round the kitchen. I eventually captured it, squeaking and biting, in a towel.  However, a few days later we saw this:

     Many people are terribly afraid of rats, but Battleaxe is not that bothered. Mostly, they don't live in sewers, or carry disease. All the same, I don't want them round the house. I think Digby had found a nest of them in the scaffolding yard beyond our back hedge, so action had to be taken.
     Philosopher managed to find the extra heavy-duty squirrel baffle we had on the bird feeding pole in Birmingham - we were absolutely plagued by squirrels there, and the baffle stops them climbing the pole to reach the feeders. Rats are pretty much squirrels without cute furry tails, so the baffle worked a treat, and we have not seen a sign of one since. Or maybe Digby has wiped out the entire ratty family. Who knows.
     On the pole we have a little platform for birds that can't hang off the feeders. Partly as a joke we put a stale mince pie out there, to emulate the popular Waitrose Christmas telly ad, where a little robin battles the elements to fly all the way from Scandinavia to a little girl's bird table, and lovingly shares the pie with its robin mate. I have to say I didn't even know that robins migrated like that....
The Waitrose robin
     Anyway, much to our surprise and pleasure a real robin came and pecked busily away at the pie, just like its computer-generated counterpart. We found more mince pies, and it is now busy out there nearly all the time. I say 'it' but there are actually several robins in the garden, and this highlights one way in which life is definitely not like art. The real robins have no intention of sharing. Whichever bird occupies the mince-pie platform also spends time standing on the metal frame above it, singing furiously to repel its colleagues, who hide in the shrubbery.  Do they take turns? I don't know. They all look alike.

Repelling other robins....

    You can see that it snowed between the first picture, when robin first appeared, and the later close-up ones.
     The snow is almost gone. It's a pity. To finish, here are a couple of pictures from back in February 2012. We still have time this winter.
February 2012. Path at bottom of Harold Road

February 2012. Old town from the West Hill


Friday, 6 January 2017

The world closes in on us. Hastings Battleaxe reflects

This post is prompted by the news that Voyages of Discovery, with whom we went on a Middle East cruise just a few weeks ago, and its sister company, Swan Hellenic, have just gone into administration and shut down. This is a sad indication of the state of the world.

Voyager in Port Said
    Readers will remember that we decided that cruising was not for us, but we had some excellent adventures, and it is still sad. Here are the links to the two blog posts about our cruise:
    Part One: Alexandria and along the Suez Canal
    Part Two: storms in Sharm-el-Sheik, Petra to Oman via the pirates.
    So what is going on?  The company only had two small ships, our 'Voyager', and the Swan Hellenic 'Minerva', both accommodating 400-500 passengers. Both ships specialised in trips to far-flung places, in particular, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle and Far East and North Africa. While the owner of the parent company commented that it was hard for small ships to trade profitably in the current environment, (hint, try laying on less food...) he also said:

     'Since the Arab Spring and as a result of other events, the world has become a smaller place and it was no longer possible for us to take our small ships to many areas. Egypt, Libya and north Africa, Lebanon, Syria, the Black Sea have all become difficult and even Istanbul and Turkey have now been removed from the cruising map.'

     Restrictions on travel have made many places inaccessible, populist movements like the Brexit campaign are trying to turn us against global thinking in favour of 'stand-alone' insularity. Think Trump as well.
     More than any actual threat factor, there is the problem of perception. We live in a world dominated by fear. Terrorists thrive on the currency of fear. Our political 'leaders' use fear to attempt to manipulate us. The gutter media use fear to sell their wares - and people buy all of it. Many are increasingly afraid to travel to parts of the world they perceive as unsafe. Often, these perceptions are far removed from reality.
      Sure, you can still set off independently, intrepidly (and expensively) to visit most countries, but companies like Voyages of Discovery offered ordinary people a comfortable 'taster' of places they might otherwise not visit, and an opportunity to learn about, and experience life and culture through cultural lectures, guided tours etc.
     Of course, it is only one company with two small ships, but it is a sign of how the world is changing.
     We could see how difficult - and probably expensive - it was for the company to make our cruise happen. All the security precautions in Egypt, the pirate malarky on the Red Sea etc etc.
     We could also see the desperate plight of people in those countries who depend on the tourist trade - the empty and semi-derelict hotels, the unvisited shops, the guides with no clients.
      I think too about how delighted ordinary people were to see us. They cheered in the streets of Alexandria, rushed to the banks of the Suez Canal to watch our ship gliding past and to wave at us. A bunch of tourists was a rare and wonderful sight, a sign that life was getting back to 'normal' and they were still part of the wider world.
     And now Turkey, one of our favourite countries, is in danger of going the same way. We have a holiday there booked in June. Will we go? Of course we will. Where we go is miles from any threatening activity.
    Would we go to Istanbul again? Of course we would. It is a wonderful city, and I think Hagia Sophia is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited.
Hagia Sophia
      However, even this 1,400 year old building is not safe from politics. It has long been a museum, embracing both its Christian and Islamic heritage, and a powerful symbol of the secular state. Now, moves are in hand to turn it back into a mosque, in line with the wishes of the government and the increasingly repressive Islamification of the country.  We were probably lucky to visit when we did.
     In fact, Battleaxe and Philosopher are very lucky.
     Let's think about Tunisia for a moment, where Brits no longer visit, and where tourism has virtually collapsed, leading to massive hardship. We've spent two holidays there, one in Sousse and in 2008, in Tunis, where we stayed in an amazing hotel in the old Medina.(The Dar El Medina - it's still going).  One thing I'll never forget - I was in the middle of negotiating some massive deal at work and the only computer in the hotel had an Arabic keyboard.... I managed to send emails to England that were, amazingly, understandable, but full of j's and d's.....

Our hotel in Tunis
     We visited the Bardo Museum, crammed with wonderful things from Carthage, which was attacked by IS in 2015 and now deserted. Here is my photo of one of the rooms, just by the attack site, and some of the mosaics.

      In 2007 we went to Egypt. Yes, you can still go, but not with the sense of freedom we had then. Virtually on our own in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, we gazed on the face of Ramses II. We wandered freely round the pyramids at Giza. We went on the sleeper train to Luxor, stayed in the Old Winter Palace, and visited the temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings, crossing the Nile on the public ferry.
Battleaxe, I believe....
     Never mind the shrivelled face of Ramses, we visited Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings on the very day in November when he was removed from his tomb to be readied for public display.
     He was lying on top of his tomb, out in the open air and unwrapped when we wandered in. We didn't realise at the time, but we are among the few to have actually looked so closely at the ill-fated boy king.
      I wanted to visit Syria - Damascus and Aleppo - but that will never happen in my lifetime now.  In 2008 I read this article about the train from Istanbul to Aleppo. We never got round to booking.....