Thursday, 11 February 2016

Marks and Spencer - no, not Alexa Chung!

Surprisingly, a post I wrote around this time last year about the ghastliness of M & S clothes is in Battleaxe's top ten most viewed posts ever. Given that I have been scuffling round Hastings the last few days looking for the last minute little something to take to Madrid, and that included a Marks brush past, I thought I'd do a quick update before I go.....
    Isn't it odd that however many clothes one has in one's wardrobe - and Battleaxe has loads, believe me - one always wants something different to take on holiday?
    That's beside the point. Back to Marks. The clothes in the previous post were truly dreadful. Has it got any better? Clothing sales continue to decline, Chief Executive Marc Bolland has gone, and Battleaxe still doesn't buy anything in there apart from Heatgen tops and skinny jeggings.
    Now I read that Alexa Chung has been appointed as the 'new face' of Marks and Spencer. What? What insane maniac at Head Office dreamed that idea up! In what conceivable universe is a 'thinspo' role model skinny girl who has never had a proper job going to appeal to Marks customers? For those who might not know, 'thinspo' is stuff for anorexic girls. Lots of 'proana' websites feature A Chung's skeletal limbs and xylophone ribs but my caring computer thoughtfully denies me access to them.  These articles from the Daily Mail say it all. (Get this absolutely clear, readers, Battleaxe does not touch the Daily Mail apart from guilty moments with free copies in coffee shops).
    I bet some Battleaxe readers have never even heard of Alexa Chung. I only know about her through reading loads of celeb magazines at the hairdressers for the ages it takes for my hair colour to cook.  Here she is - a real inspiration for Battleaxes.....
Alexa Chung, Glamour, 2015
    It is high time Marks realised that they are NEVER going to attract youth, and stopped messing about. Just because they sold a few horrible 70s style suede skirts (at £199) as worn by A Chung does not mean that their fortunes have changed. Young women would not be seen dead in those stores. Marks need to ensure that women grow into the store as they get into their thirties.
    The core Marks customers are 40+ adult women (and men) - not the real oldsters who wear the 'classic' range - who are fashion conscious but who don't want ditsy, impractical clothes, and don't want to look frumpy either.
    So, what's available right now down in Marks in Hastings?  Some of the stuff is actually slightly better, but I still wouldn't buy it. Bizarre cuts and garish prints. Skirts either far too short, well above the knee, or far too long and frumpy, well below the knee.  How is it the likes of White Stuff, Mantaray, Great Plains, Seasalt etc can get skirts just right, but M & S get them so wrong?
    So many things look shapeless and awful on the rails but maybe better on the website.
    Yes, they have brought back the t-shirts I liked last year with slightly longer sleeves, but what is it with the colours on display?
Bad tunic on the rails

Looks a bit better on the model



Nightmare floral

This skirt is too short

Too long....

Dress looks dodgy on the rails....

But actually quite OK on the model - too short though...

Not a bad coat
Good style but ugh - those colours....
      OK enough......
      Argh, I have an overexcited 'helper' making major mischief round my feet, shredding my new orange towelling dressing gown, biting the computer leads etc...... Hah, little does he know he's off to the cattery for a week tomorrow.... 
Digby helps Battleaxe with the writing....


Monday, 8 February 2016

Battleaxe on cheating death, Lanzarote instead of Tanzania

In my last post about Chichester I mentioned that I had bought expensive walking boots for a charity trek to Tanzania that I never went on, owing to death-cheating happenings. I have been reminded that I never told the story, so here it is. 
     In February 2011 a group of housing professionals went to Tanzania to support Homeless International, a charity committed to improving housing conditions for slum-dwellers. I'd signed up to join them. I was at the end of my career in social housing and wanted to put something back for all the good times I had enjoyed.
     Others I knew were going, including my old friend Jackie. The trip involved five days working on a housing project in Arusha, five days trekking through the boiling hot bush in the Tarangire National Park and up the side of the Great Rift Valley, and two days sight-seeing, including a visit to the Ngorogrongo Crater. It looked arduous, but great.
Tarangire National Park (Audley Travel)... never went there

Lake Manyara... or there
Great Rift Valley (Safari Travel)... or there

Ngororongo Crater. Nobody in the group got to see this...
     In the summer of 2010 I raised the money for my trip through sponsorship from old and current clients. I also discovered that the others who had signed up were mostly athletic young things. I was probably the oldest, and the least fit. I went on a diet and joined the gym. 
     All went well until the autumn, when I developed slight abdominal pain and thought I could feel a little lump in my lower tummy. I thought I had strained a muscle and went to the doctor in order not to disrupt my training schedule. He said that as I was going on this strenuous trip he'd just send me for a routine ultrasound.
     I still remember the feeling of utter horror when the ultrasound man said he had found a 'mass' on my ovary. Then, a blur of consultant visits, MRI scans etc., and just before Christmas 2010 I had an operation in Birmingham Women's Hospital to remove all detachable female bits. The mass was a cyst, but inside the cyst was the beginnings of ovarian cancer. It was caught so early I needed no further treatment. I was very, very lucky. If I had not been preparing for the trip I would not have gone to the doctor so quickly.
      Needless to say Tanzania was off, and I felt sad to be left behind.
     The story is not over. In Tanzania, ten days into the trip, the group were travelling in a fleet of jeeps. The jeep I would have been in (sitting next to Jackie) was driven too fast, went up a bank and turned over. It was not fitted with roll bars. Most of the passengers managed to throw themselves clear in time and only suffered minor injuries, but one woman (next to Jackie) was not quick enough and was, tragically, killed. Most likely, I would have been sitting in her place and would not have been quick enough either....
     Back in England, it was very snowy, and so we went off to Lanzarote. It was great to get some sun, but we didn't much like the island.  The coastal strip was covered in boxy little apartments, all  too touristy and felt a bit tacky, and the interior was featureless and bleak. It was warm enough to swim in the pool, but quite windy. We went to a volcanic national park and rode on camels. Quite interesting, I remember, but not much volcano - our guide had to throw straw down a hole to get a faint puff of smoke and flame.
     Our hotel in Costa Teguise,  the Gran Melia Salinas, was good, however. It was a fantastic 70s building, partly designed by Cesar Manrique, with a fabulous tropical atrium where frogs croaked all night. It had massive pools and its own beach.
     Out of everything in Lanzarote, I liked the cactus garden best.  I'll put a few photos below.
     This is a quick post because on Friday we are off to Madrid for a week - I'll have to write something else before I go.
      Looking on blogging sites/Facebook groups, many other bloggers seem to write posts every day. How on earth do they find the time? What is the point? I mean, who would want to read it all? Beats me. Once a week is plenty for me.
Snow in our garden in Birmingham

Lanzarote - view from our room

Hotel atrium
Cactus in Lanzarote

Cactus in Lanzarote

Cactus in Lanzarote



Monday, 1 February 2016

Chichester with Hastings Battleaxe - Women in Black

If one was into C of E dioceses and bishops and whatever, Chichester is our nearest Cathedral city. Presumably the Bishop of Chichester oversees spiritual life right across Sussex, yea, even as far as Hastings.  The 'Women in Black' in the post title refers to an encounter I had during our last visit to Chichester about ten days ago, when I encountered a woman keeping a solitary vigil outside the Cathedral.
    Despite the fact that is a long way from Hastings, we've been to Chichester several times, sometimes just for the theatre, sometimes passing through, sometimes visiting on purpose, but I've never written a proper piece about the place.
     It's is only sixty miles from here, but the drive can be awful. Just a tad more grumbling about transport from Hastings - see previous post. The opening of the Hastings to Bexhill Link Road has eased the journey a bit, but then it's a long drag along variable-quality A259/A27 with regular jams round Worthing and Arundel.
     Chichester's quite a hard city to get to know - a maze of little streets surrounded by traffic-choked roads and a strangling by-pass, but we are beginning to get our bearings now, and to get to really like it. The centre is basically four pedestrianised shopping streets in a cross shape, with this Market Cross in the middle.

     The shopping is very good, lots of independent shops as well as all the up-market chains. They have the biggest branch of Lakeland I've ever seen. No department stores however. There are loads of pubs and eateries.
     The Festival Theatre is a modern building just beyond the centre, at the end of an enormous car park. We've only been twice, the last time in 2010, to see 42nd Street. It was excellent, but it was a long time ago. On that visit I bought a very expensive pair of walking boots for a charity trek to Tanzania, which I never went on. There's story attached to that. Battleaxe missed death twice. I'll include it at the end of this post if I have time.
Ship Hotel, Chichester
     Then, we stayed at the excellent Ship Hotel, which is handy for the theatre. We've stayed there twice, and most recently, when I was booking, I asked the woman on Reception if we could have a room with a view of the Cathedral.
      'We don't have any like that', she said.
      'Yes  you do,' I said, 'we had one before.'
      'You can't have done - we don't have any.'
      'Oh, never mind', say I, 'just give me a room at the top of the hotel on the right hand side.' She did, and on reaching the room, we looked out the window - and there was the Cathedral. Duh?  I wanted that aspect  because it was quiet - on our first visit we had a bit of extractor fan trouble, and had to change our room. However, it's a lovely old hotel, and the food in the restaurant is excellent.
      Hotel extractor fans are a bad business in Battleaxe-land, along with bad showers and noisy guests in the room next door. We have had so many fan-related run-ins up and down the country in hotels great and small.
      Ten days ago the Ship was full, so we went to the Premier Inn on the Chichester Gate 'Leisure Park'. The 'Park' is a fairly dreadful place, a huge, bleak car-park on the outskirts of the city centre. Cineworld, Frankie and Benny's, Nando's, McDonald's... Yuch, but OK I suppose if you like that sort of thing.
     Like all Premier Inns we've been to, the hotel was infuriatingly excellent. Cosy, cheap, incredibly helpful staff, no fans, clean, no noise, comfy bed, huge telly, good shower.... what's not to like? It was a pouring wet night, so we ate in the Premier Inn restaurant. You wouldn't crawl across hot coals for the food, but it was freshly cooked and perfectly OK.
      Despite my love for old, creaky, characterful hotels, I increasingly find myself drawn to Premier Inns. Half the price and no hassle.
      Back to Chichester. Our recent visit was mostly to see an art exhibition that Philosopher had picked out, at the Pallant House Gallery. Now, that's a truly fabulous place. An old Queen Anne house with a modern extension, it has a range of gallery spaces from white-walled modern to crowded old rooms.
Pallant House Gallery
     It has an excellent restaurant with a garden sitting-out area, a coffee shop, and the best-stocked shop ever. We spend ages browsing in there, and never emerge without buying stuff. The gallery has a fantastic permanent collection of modern art. The exhibition was Evelyn Dunbar - the Lost Works. She's little-known and sadly neglected - a WW2 war artist. Philosopher bought me the book about the exhibition for Christmas - here are a couple of pictures of women doing war work, from the book:
Evelyn Dunbar - Learning to stack stooks

Evelyn Dunbar - Hoeing Onions
  Chichester Cathedral is not one of the greatest, architecturally, but it is interesting, attractive, and has beautiful cloisters. The spire is a landmark from miles around - except, apparently, for staff at the Ship Hotel! On summer visits we have sat outside at the Cloisters cafe - see previous post. Battleaxe does seem to have an increasing penchant for ecclesiastical tearooms - what does this imply? By and large though, such places are pretty, quiet, reasonably priced and full of hearty, wholesome food.
Here are some pictures - not all from this visit.
Chichester Cathedral on a dark day....

From the cloister

Sunny afternoon in the Cloisters tearoom
   This time, I encountered a woman, standing in silence outside the Cathedral, in the drizzle, with a peace placard. I stopped for a moment to talk to her and take her photograph. She was a member of the Women In Black movement. I was ashamed to confess I hadn't known anything about them before - they are a large world-wide women's peace network, founded in Israel in 1988. They conduct peaceful demonstrations and vigils in trouble spots across the world.
    I didn't think Chichester was high on the list of global war-zones, but the nearest group is just down the road in Portsmouth, hence this lady's presence.
    Later, we had coffee in the Costa right opposite the Cathedral. It has a great view from the upstairs seating area and we could see the woman still standing there, alone. I'd like to get someone from that movement to talk to our WI, but Portsmouth is a long way from Hastings.
Women in Black standing for peace

There she still is - outside in the rain