Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Poetry, Pier and Jack-in-the-Green. Busy in Hastings Battleaxe Land!

Have been insanely busy since I last did a blog post - this is more like a diary entry.... Last week we went to London for the day to visit daughter Anna, I went on a WI book group outing to Smallhythe Place and Tenterden (have blogged about both those places before), went up to London to read poems at the Poetry Place in Covent Garden with my Stanza Group, went to a WI Coffee Morning, visited the newly opened Hastings Pier with Philosopher, and most exhausting of all, worked my socks off getting ready for, working on and clearing up after the WI traditional tea-room event at the big annual Hastings Jack-in-the-Green festival. I could write a separate post on all those things, but I will just give some highlights. I think this photo from the Pier is the best picture:
Stunning view...

    Firstly, poetry. Have also blogged about this event before - I did a Stanza Bonanza reading this time last year. This time, our team of six were up against a group from Tonbridge - quite a local derby!  Having done it before, I was not quite so nervous. Also, I find it so much easier to do things like that in front of strangers. My fellow team members had all heard the poems before when I took them to our local group and that feels OK because we are all in the same boat. I don't even like showing my poems to Philosopher...  I need to take part in more local 'poetry slams' etc. to get used to performing in front of people I know.
    Reading out your own poems is hard even for a show-off like Battleaxe, because there are three potential trip-up points - the risk of making an idiot of yourself as a performer, the fear that your poems are actually rubbish, and the self-revelatory material that seems to seep into the poems. I often seem to find myself writing about my childhood - I've noticed that other slightly older poets do also - it must be a sign of incipient second childhood.  Anyway, I think - or hope - I did OK. Like last time, our Hastings gang had an excellent variety of styles - some serious, some pure performance, some light, some heavier etc.
Some of the Hastings and Tonbridge Stanza Bonanza team participants
    I'm not going to copy any of the poems here like I did last time, partly for technical reasons - when I copy them from Word it seems to remove all the formatting. Two of the three poems need a very particular shape on the page, and fiddling around with them would take ages.... yes, I know, excuses...
    However, I will give a quick boost to one of my fellow poets, Tony Peek, who has just published a fabulous book of kids' verse. Adults love his stuff too! Here's the link to his web site.
    The new Hastings Pier is fantastic. It has created much controversy in the social media world... 
    One thing about Hastings is that a small, but vociferous, band of change dinosaurs lurk here. Maybe it is the same in all small towns, but goodness, they get on my tits. It is hard to believe, but you still mention the Jerwood Gallery on social media and out they trundle, moaning on about how the site should have stayed as a coach park. A grungy coach park with a nasty dilapidated 1960s block of loos? Purleese. Even if they disapproved of the gallery in the first place, it has been here since 2012, is here to stay, and they may as well enjoy it. Philosopher and I were down there the other morning, sitting out on the cafe balcony in the sun.... lovely. There's a new Prunella Clough exhibition in there now - some interesting and agreeable paintings.
     If it is possible, the Pier attracted even more frothing and foaming than the Jerwood. Waste of money (despite the fact that it was paid for by the Lottery and community fund-raising), too bare, too ugly, too everything. Never mind that the restoration of the thing was a difficult project that some of us feared would be impossible. Never mind that this is the beginning of the project, not the finish... What would the moaners rather have, a mass of burned-out twisted metal?
     In fact, the views from the Pier are just glorious.
     Pared back to its Victorian basics, the wonderful expanse of decking is uplifting - it looks and feels enormous - a real, solid, massive construction striding bravely out to sea, something to be proud of. It takes us back to a time when a walk along a pier was an experience in itself, without the need for tacky amusements and a clutter of buildings. The lower restaurant cafe served us excellent coffee and good cake, and serves a wide variety of food. The cafe on the upper balcony is more basic, but the space is sheltered by glass walls, making it a great sun-trap with incredible views. I suppose if I have one concern it is about wind - traditional piers have wind-breaks down the middle, for good reason.
    Interestingly, since the pier actually opened, the moaners have gone a bit quiet.....
Lower cafe

Upper cafe

There's the sea! It's lovely to see little kids on hteir hands and knees, peering...
Incredible expanse....

Sparkly water at the very end....

Different view of St Leonard's
    Lastly, Jack-in-the- Green. Every year, our WI puts on a charity traditional tea/refreshment room on the main parade day, upstairs in the Jenny Lind pub, in the Old Town High Street, right on the procession route. Last year, I got some good photos of the parade passing below us. This time, I didn't even have a chance to look out of the window. Every year we have got busier and busier, and this year, as the weather was a bit damp, it was totally manic. People were having to queue for tables. The room was absolutely packed - the fact that many of the customers were wearing huge costumes - wide crinoline dresses, spiky floral headgear, antlers, green leaves etc., made navigating the room treacherous. Our WI gang worked so hard - and worked so well as a team. As I've said before, if you could capture that spirit and put it in a management training book, you'd make your fortune.
    Battleaxe took the picture of the team, so she is missing from it - as are a couple of others... It looks a lot of us, but we needed at least four in the kitchen and all the rest running round waiting on customers and clearing/relaying tables.


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Dungeness and Camber Sands - what a lot to learn!

The spring seems to have vanished for the moment, and when we went on an outing to Dungeness and Camber Sands with our old friend Bill, it was very cold and windy.
   We started at Camber Sands, and puffed over the dunes to show Bill the expanse of beach. It was deserted except for a party of shivering French schoolchildren, kicking stones disconsolately.
    We often visit Camber Sands in the summer with grand daughter (see previous post), park up by the cafe and beach-goods shops and get into the traditional scene of windbreaks, castle building and sand in the sandwiches. It is the archetypal sunny sandy holiday beach, even if you do have to walk half way to France to get the water above your knees, and it is often very windy.
Camber Sands

Camber Sands

     After the beach, we called in for a coffee at the Gallivant across the road. This place features in  up-market seaside and lifestyle magazines, in lists of top seaside eateries and hotels etc., so Battleaxe wanted to see what it was like.  The bar area was very attractive and cosy, with comfy sofas, furry seats, lots of papers, board games etc.  The coffee was good, and they served us a slice of excellent lemon gateau.  Looking at the menus, they do lunch at around £15 for two courses, which looked good - we'll come back and try that.

The Gallivant - nice furry chairs
     Then we drove on to Dungeness. We've been there a good few times, and never fail to take pleasure in the strange landscape, but I have never blogged about it before.
      The huge shingle spit is a protected National Nature Reserve, home to all sorts of rare plants, birds, insects etc. We didn't see a single living thing, and only the beginnings of plant life. It was freezing cold with a biting wind - so un-springlike.  For us, the most interesting things are from human intervention - there are two lighthouses, a nuclear power station, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, all sorts of strange little houses including Derek Jarman's cottage with its garden made with found objects. Above all though, when you look across the flat landscape, it is dotted with rusted, abandoned things - strange metal winches, machines and chunks of metal, broken boats, twisted railway lines and collapsed huts.

Broken boat - Dungeness

Broken boat - Dungeness

Dungeness - looking across to the Power Station
      I've found a quirky website about Dungeness which may be written by one of the locals. You get the feeling, looking at the little houses, that they are inhabited by people who want to disappear from twenty-first century life, and totally do their own thing. Many of the houses started life as railway carriages, and according to the website, one of them  is made from Queen Victoria's personal carriage - we'll have to have a look next time we visit.
      The most famous inhabitant of Dungeness was Derek Jarman, the film maker. Although Jarman died in 1994, his garden at Prospect Cottage has been well preserved by the current owners of the house.
Prospect Cottage - Derek Jarman's former home 

Prospect Cottage garden
      The old lighthouse at Dungeness was built in 1904, decommissioned in 1960, to be replaced by the far less attractive new automatic lighthouse nearby. You can climb up the old lighthouse, and I'm sure the view from the top is spectacular, but opening times are erratic and the climb looks punishing.
Old Lighthouse, Dungeness
       The Nuclear Power Station dominates the skyline. Formerly, there were two, Dungeness A and B. A is currently being decommissioned,  but B will remain operational until 2028.  The position of the power station on the ever-shifting shingle spit provides logistical problems, as the sea tries to move the Dungeness shingle north and east. I hadn't realised until now that part of the reason for the fleets of lorries you see constantly moving shingle at Rye Harbour, Winchelsea Beach and Pett Level is to protect Dungeness, and in particular, the sea defences of the power station. Around 90,000 cubic metres of shingle are moved around each year.
       I also see on the web site that you can book tours of the power station. Battleaxe will definitely be doing that - watch this space!
Dungeness Power Station
      We've been on the little Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway several times. Although it is very sweet and good fun it does spend a lot of time chuffing past people's back gardens, which are only of limited interest.  Currently, the Dungeness Station, which is the end of the line, is being extensively reconstructed, so there was not a lot to see. However, one of the little trains was due to leave - the engine looked beautifully shiny.
Lovely little engine

I like the Brasso!

Ready to leave - with the new lighthouse in the background
       We went for lunch at the Pilot Inn, which Derek Jarman thought had the best fish and chips in England.  We've been before, in mid-summer, and it was absolutely heaving. This time, on a chilly April weekday, we thought it would be just us and a few grizzled locals, but no, it was heaving again....  We really needed those fish and chips though. However, they run a very tight ship, we got served quickly and the food was indeed excellent.  I always have a lot of time for places in high profile locations that bother to be good. The Pilot could be a vile pit and still be packed. Another example is the Beachy Head Inn, which is the only pub for miles, in an absolute prime location, also very well run.
The Pilot Inn - heaving

Those fish and chips..... and that was only the medium size.
       On the way home I stopped to photograph what is quite probably the worst situated caravan park in England. It's right under one of the huge pylon lines that carries electricity from Dungeness, with a pylon actually straddling the caravans. Access to the sea is totally blocked by the huge Lydd Firing Range, stretching along the shore-line for a couple of miles, right up to Camber. Who in their right mind would want to stay here? Perhaps they love pylon architecture - actually, they are impressive.
       Aha... I see from the web site that the big draw here is not sun, sea and sand but pike fishing, on the little lakes behind the caravans. They do week-long fishing and caravan packages for £350, which still seems a lot. Those poor pike must be very special. Ah well, each to their own.
       What a lot Battleaxe learns from blogging.
Fabulous situation

I don't think so....

Good pylons, though.


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Rye Harbour dazzles, Henry James at Lamb House, Rye

The weather has been amazing the last few days. Colder, but sunny with a crystal clear, brilliant light. I've read that people have been seeing France from Hastings. We have not seen that, but with our telescope chez Battleaxe we can see ships passing both ways in the Channel - we can usually only see the shipping lane closest too us.
    On Sunday we started a lovely day out with a walk down at Rye Harbour.
    The horizon is so wide and the land so flat that we were just stunned by light and the cloudscapes.
Rye Harbour

Looking towards Pett Level

Rye Harbour
     There were many, many birdwatchers down there with their kit. Birds are nesting on the reserve now. I expect many people had come to see the avocets.  Avocets disappeared from Britain in the 1840s, and only reappeared in the 1940s, in Suffolk. They are still a rare bird, with around 1500 breeding pairs in the UK, but appear plentiful at Rye Harbour. We felt a bit smug because our walk took us round the corner from the mass of birdwatchers and we encountered a pair of avocets busy shovelling away in the mud with their strange spoon-shaped beaks, only about twenty metres from us. Here they are, followed by a shelduck.
Avocets at Rye Harbour

Avocet at Rye Harbour
Shelduck taking off

      After our walk we had lunch in Simply Italian in Rye - they run a really tight ship. Service is fast and friendly, food is fresh and good.
     We had a browse round the shops, and a wander round Rye, which was looking lovely in the afternoon sun.


Rye Church
     Then, to Lamb House. I have previously written about the house, and about Henry James, after an earlier visit with my reading group.
     Philosopher volunteered there for a while, for the National Trust. He thought, being a great Henry James fan, that he would enjoy chatting to like-minded American academics et al. However, he found himself overwhelmed by visitors with no interest in Henry James, they had come to view the setting of the recent Mapp and Lucia TV dramatisation. E F Benson, who wrote the novels, lived in Lamb House.  Also, the rooms open to the public are quite few, and Philosopher got bored after a bit.
     However, he was invited to an afternoon of readings to mark 100 years since the death of Henry James, and I went along too. Battleaxe confesses she has never managed to finish a Henry James novel, but may try again. The dry wit and waspish tone of his letters are often very funny.
     We had a glass of wine and wandered in the garden for a while, then squashed into the hall for the readings - there were about 40 of us. The readings were by local group the Lamb Players, featuring guests Henry Goodman and Miriam Margolyes. It was very good indeed, both in terms of the selections they chose and the skill with which the material was delivered.  Miriam M and Henry G were totally excellent. I have to do some more poetry readings soon. Reading well is a real art.
Henry James readings at Lamb House

The readers take their bow
     One or two in the audience were fast asleep, presumably after a heavy Sunday lunch, while others, clearly James afficionados, (have I spelt that right?) were hanging on every word. One bloke in front of me kept repeating the last few words of the extracts... 'most arrangements,' 'at Torquay', 'she's always blowing at me' with a gentle little titter and a frisson of delight.
     Anyway, it was a lovely day.
     At the moment we have our old friend Bill from Birmingham staying with us. We went for a walk over the East Hill this morning, then called in to the Jerwood - Philosopher was down there doing his bit. My arrival with Bill coincided with the arrival of the Duke of Gloucester, who appeared to be visiting various things in Hastings, including the Source Park. One was met by a welcome committee of the great and the good in the Jerwood foyer, but soon realised it was not meant for me. Of course, one is not too interested in minor royals, deah.
      Tomorrow we are going to Dungeness.  More material for Hastings Battleaxe.....