Friday, 20 March 2015

Battleaxe's downstairs loo - an insider's view

You know you want to! This is a quick post before I go away to Cornwall for a week, for our annual stay in Sennen Cove with Brummie friends.

   So, where were we in the last post? Looking at the fishy display.

   First question, why the fish theme?
   Back in Birmingham we had a Bollywood themed loo, following our big trip to India in 2001. It had Bollywood posters, South Indian buffalo bells and neck garlands displayed on a pair of horns, a dancing Shiva, a fierce Kali on the back of the door, dangling Indian wedding decorations, flashing chilli lights - oh, it was wonderful. Sadly, we have no pictures of it. However, when we wanted to put the house on the market in 2010 the estate agent took one look and nearly passed out. Getting rid of Bollywood was top of the list of things he told us to do to make the house remotely saleable. Sadly, we listened to him.
   When we came to Hastings, there was a nice empty loo crying out for adornment, and given our new environment, fish and the sea seemed appropriate.
   One of my more bonkers collections consists of 1950's and 60's lucite chunks, with real sea creatures, shells, seaweed etc. embedded in them.  Yes, I know it is all too wrong, particularly when the creatures are endangered things like sea horses, but these things are long, long dead. It's a bit like vintage furs. I'd never countenance wearing modern furs, but when you find a 1930's fur cape, what are you going to do with it?
   The chunks were often holiday souvenirs, brought home by early package tourists from the Costas with the straw donkeys and toreador tea-towels. There are paperweights, pen-holders, ashtrays, book-ends, lamp holders and shiny ornaments - I now have about 20 of them. The best of them are like miniature under-sea worlds. Here are a few examples




    I couldn't resist this ashtray, an old souvenir from Egypt, with added scary scorpions.

    Then, fishy glass paperweights - I collected quite few, but many are poor quality, made in China presumably, so I have cut back on those. This is a nicer one, possibly Murano.

     There are other things too. All this is just a sample of the total array. Everything needs dusting - urgh.
      I included a picture of these sea urchin cases because, on holiday in Turkey, Philosopher would dive down scarily deep to find them for me. He is a very good swimmer, far better than me, and swims underwater effortlessly.  I seem to be astonishingly buoyant and struggle to get below the surface. After years of practice I can now flounder clumsily down to scrabble a pebble off the bottom when out of my depth.


     Now, some of the things on the walls. Our house is full of pictures, and the loo has its share.
By Hastings local artist Alexandra Leadbeater
Picked up from an art show at the Stade Hall. Can't remember who the artist is, but it is a very sunny picture.

A watercolour of Gumusluk in Turkey, where we went on holiday ten years running!

    There. You can feel as if you have visited our house.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Eastbourne wanderings - a random Battleaxe day out

We have been to Eastbourne loads of times, but somehow never get familiar with the place.  
    It is larger than one might think, and very sprawling. After umpteen visits we still don't understand how the different bits of the town fit together, and get lost trying to find the quickest ways from place to place. I can't cover it all in one blog post, this is just a random outing. I am missing out the obvious things like sea front, bandstand and pier.
    We started off  with coffee in the Towner Gallery. I have written plenty of posts about previous visits, and how it compares with the Jerwood in Hastings, so I won't go on about it. This time, there was an exhibition of truly enormous monochrome sea paintings by John Virtue. We quite liked them, but after a bit, seen one and you'd seen them all... Here's an example.
John Virtue - seascape in the Towner

     Then there was work by Ori Gersht, an Israeli who photographs places where really horrible things have happened. Philosopher and I were much struck by 'The Forest', a film made in Ukraine, in a remote clearing where many Jews were shot in WW2.  At first, the forest seemed beautiful and tranquil, but then trees crash down, one after another, some silently, some with deafening crashes. I read that it relates to:
     'If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?'
    This is more Philosopher's department.
     Finally, we inspected the new Ravilious room, which showcases the Towner's large collection of Ravilious' works.
     One of my favourite things about the Towner is the view out of the window to the tennis lawns.
Looking out of the Towner window
     Next, a walk around some of the nearby streets, looking at the little shops. As mentioned above, we never seem to go the same way twice, usually get lost and have to go scurrying back to the car because the parking money is running out. I think the area is called 'Little Chelsea', but am not sure of its boundaries  This time we went up a road we had never been along before, Cornwallis Terrace, and  found interesting places and some nice looking cafes. I bought a pig mug in a homewares shop I can't remember the name of, then we went to the Emma Mason Gallery, which specialises in English prints. I loved this fold-out hare card.
Hare card by Mark Heald
     Round the corner into South Street, and to the Henry Paddon Gallery, which we have visited several times before, and always enjoy. Among many lovely things he sells pieces by Allister Malcolm, a glass sculptor who we encountered years ago at the Broadfield House Glass Museum in Stourbridge. Then, we bought a fish flask, which is now the signature piece in our fish-themed downstairs loo. Here it is, and here is a quick glimpse of some of the fishy display. Whoa, readers, I bet you never thought you'd go from a tour of Eastbourne to Battleaxe's loo (or bathroom, for American readers).
Fish flask by Allister Malcolm....

....in Battleaxe's downstairs loo
     Recently, we bought another glass piece from Henry Paddon, a green blob which will set the verandah on fire if I don't move it soon - it reflects the sun and has actually singed the shelf which it sits on.
     We also saw this, of houses near us in Old London Road, Ore, by local artist Graham Sendall. It is not a very good photo but I am including it because of local interest.
Sunbeam Terrace - Graham Sendall
     Back to Eastbourne. I know if you carry on walking round those streets you get to an amazing second-hand bookshop on many floors - one of the guys from my Stanza poetry group works in there, but this time we didn't find it.
     Next, Waitrose - still have to look on Google maps to find the quickest way. There are some interesting little shops in the streets behind the supermarket, incredible Arts and Crafts houses in the residential roads nearby, and the Manor Gardens, entered through an unaccountably spooky gateway,  opposite.
This Ravilious woodcut, Manor Gardens 1927, from the Towner collection, is possibly the same place?
     I think this is Eastbourne Old Town? Have read that a pub in the area has been turned into a branch of the Two Bulls Steakhouse, from Hastings, but needless to say I don't know where it is. We had lunch in the Counting House pub, handily situated at the end of the Waitrose car park, then wiggled our way right across town to the big retail park.
Countin House pub - handy for Waitrose
     Eastbourne has some good architecture, medieval, Regency, high Victorian, grand hotels, mansion flats, art deco etc. Will look at more of this in future, but to finish, here are two interesting buildings.
Buccaneer pub, near the theatres

Deco style Pearl Court, Cornwallis Terrace
Other Eastbourne posts: here is one on the Redoubt Fortress, another on the Devonshire Park Theatre, Sovereign Harbour, and of course there are loads about Beachy Head. You may ask, did we ever think about choosing Eastbourne to live in? Answer no, too sprawling and city-like, prefer Hastings.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Hurtigruten voyage in the Arctic - but no Northern Lights

Just back from the far, far north. Saw many things, including Europe's most northerly shoe shop, but not the Northern Lights. We were not too disappointed, because the trip was so interesting.
    We flew to Tromso, which is already way above the Arctic Circle, to board the Hurtigruten MS Richard With (or, as the boat tannoy lady would announce, CostalStrimmer ReyaVeet), our home for the next few days. Hurtigruten boats sail up and down the coast of Norway, calling at little ports up the fjords, ferrying passengers and delivering essential supplies. The boats are like large cross-channel ferries, with cars and cargo on the bottom, cabins in the middle, and bars, lounges etc on the top.
     Our boat was very clean and well-kept. Shipshape, I guess.  The decor was a bit alarmingly 80s retro though.
Richard With, moored at Honningsveg
 
A sighting of one of our sister ships....
Wonderful clouds
Retro decor....

      We got the cabin I wanted, in the upper middle of the boat, where there is less noise and movement, and on the promenade deck, where you have a window instead of a port hole. It was snug, with two bunks that folded down from the walls, and a tiny bathroom with a shower.
       We were right by a door out to the deck.  You could walk all the way round the boat, but our section was a narrow passage between lifeboat davits and other bulky nautical equipment.
The Promenade deck!
       Outside, at night, we looked (fruitlessly) for the Northern Lights. It was either romantic and beautiful, spooky and  atmospheric or disagreeable and a bit scary, depending on the weather. Unfortunately, although we had some sunny days, it always seemed to cloud up at night, so the Lights did not show themselves. We had brought every thermal garment imaginable but it was not too cold except for a knife-like wind that froze any uncovered skin.
Romantic night view
       For me, a big turn-off about living in the far north would be all the dressing and undressing. It reminded me of that faffing around getting ready to go out when you have a small child. Interiors are heated to volcanic levels, and before venturing outside you have to layer on fleeces, coats, gloves, hats, face protection, thick trousers, heavy socks, boots (with ice spikes for going ashore), and then take it all off again as soon as you come in.
       Our fellow passengers were mostly English and German, plus Norwegian people travelling from port to port. I wondered if the locals resented the tourist passengers. There you'd be, in some hamlet miles from anywhere, waiting eagerly on the quay for your Amazon package, only to see the boat barrel past without stopping, because it was running late and a load of Brits had to catch the Gatwick flight.
       We had heard that Norway is fiendishly expensive, and the prices on the boat even more fiendish, and indeed it was the case - a bottle of wine was £50, and a glass £8!  Two small beers and a packet of crisps - £15. We were very frugal and were on half board, so had an enormous breakfast and an enormous dinner each day.
        Dinner was a set menu. No choice. Very authentically Norwegian - excellent soup, lots of fish, reindeer stew, root vegetables, pickled cabbage, cloud berries, snow berries and so on. One night we had a buffet with piles of huge spiky crustaceans (king crabs?) roughly hacked into chunks. Tasty but very hard to extract.  Philosopher and I happily hoovered everything up, but I don't know what more picky souls made of it.
         Throughout the trip, Hurtigruten could not be faulted on their organisation, from when we checked in at Gatwick to when we checked back in at Tromso airport, but I did sense a desire to extract as much money from us as possible.
         Our friends from Birmingham, the Lutz's, had just returned from a Hurtigruten trip and told us to avoid the excursions, too expensive. We had already decided this. Dog sledding? £150  - per person, and apparently you only got around 20 minutes on the sledge, after coffee, talk, prolonged husky petting etc.  We met some huskies out walking in Kirkenes, and I petted them for free. They were very big, friendly and bouncy, with amazingly thick coats. Very unlike the deracinated specimens you see here as pets of people who should know better.
         On the first night, we had a safety session, and it occurred to me for the first time that we were sailing in Arctic seas in a smallish boat, very close to rocky reefs. A volunteer passenger was laboriously stuffed into an unwieldy survival suit, and a man asked how long we could survive in the water. The crew member avoided that question, but said the suit would give 'an extra few minutes'. I suppose all it would do is stop you dying of shock the moment you hit the water.  The crew were efficient and pleasant, spoke excellent English, but largely kept themselves to themselves. Some of the blokes were absolutely enormous - real Nordic giants. The captain was called Oddleif Engvik.
Giant crew person.....

And another....
        The voyage was full of interest, particularly for the likes of Philosopher and me who have read too many books and seen too many movies. We started out from Tromso in Scandi-Noir drama  mode. The little ports were just made for it - modern square painted houses, a warehouse shed at the dock with the door open, light streaming out, muffled-up blokes casting long shadows across the snow. Cars, idling with their headlights on. A solitary woman lighting a cigarette etc etc.
Scandi-Noir
         When we rounded the North Cape (the very top of Europe) and docked at Kirkenes, we switched to Cold War Spy Thriller. Kirkenes is only a few miles from the Russian border, and has a real frontier town feel. It was bleak, snowing heavily. The signs are in Norwegian and Russian. We saw a clutch of rusty Russian trawlers, lashed together, moored in an inlet surrounded by beat-up vans and barbed wire. We saw bullet-headed men with their huskies, bad-tempered babushkas with little push-along sledges (and that was only Battleaxe who'd trodden in a snow-drift while trying to push one of the things).
Kirkenes

Kirkenes

Kirkenes


Kirkenes

Russian trawlers

         Rounding the Cape again to return, we were into WW2 Action Movie. The Battle of the North Cape in 1943, involving British, German and Norwegian ships, was the last battle (probably ever) between giant fighting ships, resulting in the sinking of the German Scharnhorst, with the loss of nearly 2,000 men. Next, the Tirpitz. We passed Alta Fjord, where the huge battleship hid before being attacked by derring-do Brits in mini-submarines (think Donald Sinden, Above Us the Waves). We followed the route of the Tirpitz as, damaged and under attack from Lancaster bombers, it limped down to Tromso, before finally being sunk with the loss of another 1,000 lives.
        We did wonder why there were no old buildings in the towns and villages north of Tromso. Turns out that everything was destroyed by the retreating Germans in a 'scorched-earth' initiative. All the modern buildings made the towns look a bit samey.
         Our boat stopped long enough for us to have a good break ashore at Honningsvag, Europe's most northerly town. I found a website with the northernmost cash-point, Burger King, cathedral, university, hospital, brewery, supermarket etc etc with which to bore Philosopher - many of the things were in Honningsvag, Hammerfest, where we also stopped, or Tromso.
Northernmost shoe shop? Selling only boots, in Honningsvag

Honningsvag
     
Hammerfest
     The ship broke down at Kirkenes, and we moored in the quiet fjord for four hours while they repaired it. The water was grey and totally still, the sky was grey, the hills hidden in the mist, and the snow fell gently. We were all snoozing peacefully in the top-deck viewing lounge when a woman shouts 'WHALE'.
     'It's like shouting 'Fire' in a crowded theatre', sniffed Philosopher as we all rushed to look. Of course there was no whale, just a floating chunk of ice.
Grey
Greyer - with floating ice

A ghostly ship
         As we had lost time, that night the boat missed several ports and forged down the open Barents Sea while we were safely in our bunks. I woke to find the cabin lurching up and down.
         Shore visits apart, we spent much time in the top lounge, looking out over the bows, feet on the window ledge, watching the passing scenery. The light changed constantly, and there were amazing cloud patterns in the sky. The sea was calm, and the boat glided along quietly, almost silently. Then the hooter would blare, and we'd judder in, sideways on, to a quay in some obscure village. Many of the stops were only ten minutes. I  thought the stops would wake me in the night, but not so.





         

     Were we disappointed not to see the lights? Only moderately. There was so much else to see. Would we go again? Probably not. There is not much to see in the towns, and once you have feasted your eyes on snowy fjords, they all run into one. Would we recommend the holiday to others? Yes.