Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Bottle Alley in Hastings - deco delight or derelict disgrace?

The Coastal Currents Arts Festival is underway, and Bottle Alley has been transformed into an art installation. I thought I'd take a break from cleaning the kitchen (yes, really, a rare occurence in Battleaxeland) and go and have a look.
     Non-Hastingas may ask, what is Bottle Alley? Well, if like us, you'd lived far too long with crumbling sixties Birmingham concrete, you'd expect a very dodgy pee-smelling subway inhabited by cider-bottle-flinging street drinkers.
      To be honest, Bottle Alley is not that different. It's a very long covered walkway that runs along the seafront from the Pier up towards St Leonard's, below the raised promenade. It is so long, that looking along it from the end, the perspective almost reaches a vanishing point. It got its name from the inner walls, which are covered in a mosaic of broken glass bottles embedded into the concrete. It is actually a splendid piece of modernist/deco architecture.
Mosaic broken bottles

View along Bottle Alley

Sidney Little
       The remodelling of the sea-front in the 1930's, including Bottle Alley, was one of Sidney Little's most significant projects. Little, 'The Concrete King' was a true visionary. He designed the enormous, now demolished, Bathing Pool, created an entirely new water supply and sewage system for Hastings, and later worked on the design of the Mulberry Harbours in WW2. However, we should probably be grateful that his most ambitious plan, which would have involved the demolition of much of Hastings town centre, came to nothing.
        Once, Bottle Alley looked very elegant, as this 1935 postcard shows.
Bottle Alley in 1935
        Today it is certainly dodgy. Battleaxe is very intrepid when it comes to stomping around on her own at night, but even I might be a little intimidated by Bottle Alley.  Little's innovative underground car park, which fills the gap between the raised promenade and the town centre, is even dodgier - the exit routes always seem to be occupied by quite cheerful, but undesirable, street drinkers.
        Bottle Alley is desperately dilapidated. I read that £160k has been set aside by the Council to repair it, in line with general improvement of the seafront and the re-opening of the Pier, but from what I can see it would be a massive, and very expensive job to restore it to any semblance of decency and safety.  Great chunks of the supporting columns have fallen away, the ceiling is scabrous and leaky, and rusting ironwork can be seen everywhere.
Crumbling ceiling

Rusting ironwork
        So, I thought, the art can only be a good thing. Cheer the place up, bring it to people's attention, attract visitors etc.

        A group of local artists have decorated all the columns with black and white images. It's a great idea, and was quite interesting, but to be honest, it didn't totally float my boat. I'd have preferred a bit of colour. Some images form some sort of connected sequence if viewed from the right angle, like this wolf in New York, but getting the right angle is hard. To see this, I had to bend right down near the ground, dangerously close to a choice deposit of dog poo.

        Other images reminded me of those adult colouring books that are all over the shops right now. Has anyone ever tried one?  I can't really see colouring as a valid way of wasting time, even though it is supposed to promote mindfulness, reduce stress etc. Give me a large G & T any day. Anyway, someone could go down to Bottle Alley with their crayons and get stuck in.
         Finally, here's a picture of Little's underground car park - the first ever, I understand. Another structure worth protecting. The shelter/seat on the surface above is actually a ventilation shaft for the car park.
Carlisle Parade underground car park

Shelter/seat/ventilation shaft


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Ore in Bloom, general Ore update.

Just a quick up-date. Tomorrow we are off to Chichester for the night. We should be travelling along the A27 past Shoreham Airport, but the road will still be closed. That air crash at the weekend was horrific.
    Saturday was the prize-giving event for Ore in Bloom, and I went along to the Community Centre to support Philosopher, who is currently on the Committee.  My previous post about Ore is, for some mysterious reason, the most-viewed Battleaxe post ever, so it's good to do an update.
     Ore in Bloom aims to improve the look of the area and to develop interest in gardening among locals of all ages. It is heavily, and generously, supported by Sarah Kowitz from Fairlight Hall, and until he left recently, the head gardener, Peter, was the Chair. His departure has left the group in a degree of disarray. Many of our WI ladies used to enjoy his monthly gardening and flower-arranging groups - I have no idea what will happen to those.
      Sadly, Philosopher is not staying on the Committee. His high-level skills could have been useful, but being a kind and conscientious man, he seemed to end up doing things like making tea and, on Saturday, selling bulbs. Not that he minds, but I don't think he found it sufficiently interesting. Also, I suspect the Ore-istas on the committee might have seen him as an in-comer, and a posh in-comer to boot.
Philosopher goes litter-picking
      As well as local garden things the group also works with local schools etc., and could potentially do much more.  It deserves support, and if I didn't have the WI, I might get involved.  However, I also know from long experience that I find working with community-led groups difficult. Bossy, organising Battleaxes like me end up doing more and more while simultaneously getting savaged for our pains.
      I was sitting next to one of our local Councillors, Richard Street, at the prize-giving, and reflected that I would not like his job. Whatever one did, one would never be right. I've had plenty of chances to go into politics, and politicians must find ways of surviving and thriving, but I think I'd just expire with frustration.
     I wouldn't mind miraculously arriving on the parliamentary front bench without having struggled all the way up. Oh, hang on, yes I would mind. Look at the Labour party leadership contest. It makes me despair.  Never mind whether any of the wretched four candidates could win an election, (which they assuredly could not, take it from Battleaxe), the in-fighting will now be successfully antagonising the remaining Labour voters.
       Anyway, the prize-giving was a nice do, despite people grumbling about it being held too early in the year. The Mayor presented the prizes, which are for best local gardens and garden initiatives.

       Ore itself seems to be doing quite well at the moment. The Co-op store, which we use a lot, has
just been refurbished, which presumably means it must be surviving the competition with the unwanted Tesco along the road.  I see the Co-op food business is rebranding itself as 'local, little and often', which seems a good move. Battleaxe never goes into the Tesco on principle, but every time I look in the window, the store seems practically empty. Heh heh, sez I. 
       Ore seems to be becoming the take-away food centre for Hastings - as well as KFC, Pizza Hut, a chippy, kebab shops and a couple of down-market Chinese places, we are apparently now going to get a Domino's pizza..... I suppose it is better than an empty shop, but still, a bit unfortunate.  Far too much junky food.
       I am currently vaguely thinking of developing a WI resolution to go forward from our branch calling for a 'sugar tax'.
       In my last post I mentioned the controversy surrounding Ore's open space, Speckled Wood. It has now largely been saved from the developers, which is good news.
Speckled Wood
       It's nice to get proper coffee in Ore Village, at the Community Centre Pepper Pot Cafe. The other day we walked up to Aldi and stopped on the way back, sitting out in the sun. Excellent.
Proper coffee....
       Last year I entered our front garden for the 'Best Newcomer' category in the annual competitions, but came nowhere. Peter said he liked our garden, with its wild, Great Dixterish look, but presumably the other judges didn't appreciate random outcrops of valerian, dead teazle and thistle heads etc., or maybe it just wasn't good enough.
       I didn't enter this year. It's hard to know what the Ore in Bloom judges are looking for (note to them, how about more feedback from the judges?) but I do know I look at the garden from a 'before and after' perspective. The part I have redone looks so different from the featureless chippings desert we inherited from the house's previous owners.

Before -  arid chippings desert, taken on moving-in day, June 2012
After - chippings scarcely visible
         Just come back from the hairdressers down in the Old Town (Mitchell and Millyard). I went out in the rain to deal with a dying/dead run-over seagull outside the salon door, because none of the girls could bear to go near it. Ah, the trials of being a Battleaxe. Reminds me of the invasion of ants in the middle of the housing association board meeting..... but that's another story.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, then Strawberry Hill House

Weekend in London in Anna and Gareth's flat in St Margaret's, between Twickenham and Richmond. They were on holiday so we cat-sat. Cat seemed to lurve me. Don't know why, it was Philosopher that looked after him. He insisted on lying on my chest and licking/biting my face at 4am. No, fools, the cat, not Philosopher.....
     On Friday we went up to the V and A to the Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition.  Sadly more pain than pleasure, the place was heaving. Why don't they manage visitor numbers in these major exhibitions better? What's the point of timed entry if you can barely glimpse the contents of the cases through a sea of bodies?  And it was so hot - have they never heard of air-con?  And dark. According to Jess Cartner-Morley, the dark signifies eroticism:

     'The themes of the show are transformation, status and seduction. That these are all linked, and     that sexuality is imprinted through their core like a stick of rock, is suggested by the decor: in a boudoir’s half light, areas are semi-divided by velvet curtains falling in thick crimson folds.'
      I suppose a press person strolling around the preview, glass of fizz in hand, might appreciate that particular design concept, but not the rest of us, crushed in a mass of humanity.
      As a life-long lover and collector of shoes, what did I think? Not much, to be honest. The tiered displays of shoes in glass cases felt sterile, and it was hard to read the labels because of the crowds. A bit tame, too. 'An exhibition for beginners,' sniffed Philosopher.
      There was more eroticism on show in the recent TV documentary about Christian Louboutin. Well, at least I wasn't tottering round in his 5" stilettos. I don't know why high heels are still so inflammatory in gender political terms. Surely feminism is about having choices, and we can pretty much choose whatever footwear we like. If we had been Chinese women with forcibly bound feet then we'd have something to worry about.
A bit sterile?

      But I digress. Really? A life-long love of shoes? As a solitary little girl, I do remember being drawn to the two little companions in the Start-Rite advertisement. Presumably that illustration is based on the picture of 'The Cat who walked by himself' by Rudyard Kipling.

     The next day, having had enough of crowds, we decided to stay local and walk along the river to Strawberry Hill House, which neither of us had ever visited. It was semi-derelict when I was in London, and  restoration has been underway since 2004. 
     It was a lovely sunny day, and the Thames was looking particularly leafy and sparkly. We stopped for coffee by Twickenham Church, and then passed Eel Pie Island. I went to a party there in the early 70s, wearing a new Biba dress and fearsome cream suede platforms, all in the hope of snaring the too-hip-it-hurt man from work who had invited me. I don't think he spoke to me all night.
Beautiful trees on the bank of the Thames
Looking up -river to Eel Pie Island
A willow-tree curtain
     Strawberry Hill House is the eighteenth-century gothic fantasy castle/house created by wealthy Horace Walpole, son of Sir Robert Walpole. All that remains of his extensive 'collection' that once filled the house are pieces of old painted and stained glass, preserved in the house windows.  The house is now largely unfurnished, apart from some strange stuffed people and sculptures. I liked the poodles, modeled on a painting of three society ladies.
    We followed Walpole's suggested tour of the house, using his own guide-book, reproduced for visitors. The man sounds a complete nightmare, arrogant, egotistical and always falling out with people. To return to the cat theme, Walpole owned Selima, the cat immortalised in Gray's 'Ode to a Favourite cat, drowned in a tub of Gold Fishes.' The tub, actually a very large chinese pot, was once displayed at Strawberry Hill.
     It was all interesting and curious, and we were glad we went. On the way back we stopped at a nearby pub named after Alexander Pope. Pope had a huge grotto built underneath his house. It is still there, and is currently being restored. Now, that I would like to see....
Waldegrave poodles - Laura Ford