Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Tall Ships at Greenwich - Battleaxe voyages down the Thames

Over the last week or so, around 50 tall ships passed up the Channel on their way from Falmouth to Greenwich, for the 2014 Tall Ships Festival.  Here in Hastings, we had our telescope ready in the verandah, but unfortunately the weather was hazy every single day, and we didn't see a single one.
     However, at the weekend we had a lovely couple of days in London, firstly, visiting 'Art and Life', an exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery featuring the work of Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis and the pottery of William Staite Murray. It was all quite maritime, preparing us for the visit to the Tall Ships the next day.
     We travelled all the way from London Bridge to Dulwich on the bus, passing through my old haunts of Camberwell and East Dulwich. Camberwell looks much the same as it did 40 years ago, but East Dulwich is so gentrified you would not know it was the same place. All artisan chocolatiers and organic bakers.
      That night, we stayed in the Premier Inn by Tate Modern, which was fine, except we had a room right on the top floor by some noisy fan outlet. I went down the following morning and told them at Reception that we had not had the excellent night's sleep they promise, and my money was refunded then and there.... amazing. We will certainly stay there again - and ask for the same room. No seriously, I was impressed by the customer service.
Night view from Bankside Pier
       There is a river-bus pier right by Tate Modern, and on impulse, we decided to take a boat down to Greenwich. All the years I lived in London, and all the times I have visited since, I have never been on a boat on the Thames.  Our City Clipper boat emitted great belching clouds of diesel particles, which I guess would be one downside of increasing commercial boat traffic on the Thames. Still, I don't quite know why that Boris hasn't introduced the London equivalent of the Venetian Vaporetto.
      Anyway, it was good fun. We cruised under London Bridge and then Tower Bridge, and down past Canary Wharf, stopping at various piers along the way.
The Shard and HMS Belfast

Under Tower Bridge...

Tower Bridge recedes

The Tower - The Traitor's Gate
Canary Wharf
        Both of us were astonished at the incredible number of Docklands apartment blocks, mile after mile of dull, not very attractive waterside developments. They looked just like Brighton Marina/Birmingham Brindley Place/Eastbourne Sovereign Harbour and a hundred other similar places. Could they not have tried a little harder with such a world-class site?
Uninspired Docklands development
       We arrived in Greenwich just in time for the start of the Sail Past, which was fortunate. The place was absolutely heaving, but our boat neatly dropped us off at a place where we could stand by the railings in front of the Old Naval College and get an excellent view. We saw many ships pass by, very impressive, but we felt it would have been even better if more of them had their sails up. There wasn't any wind, so I would have thought it would have been possible, but I know absolutely nothing about sailing, can't tell me barque from me brigantine....
Romantic ships
        Many of the ships were surprisingly new, used for up-market holidays or sail training for young people. Lord of the Rings Fever seemed to have afflicted some of those responsible for their names. We saw Tolkein, Loth Lorien and Queen Galadriel.
        After watching the ships for about an hour, we got hungry, forged our way inland until the crowds thinned out and found a pub with nobody in it for beer and steak sandwiches. The caught the boat back up-river again. It was all most satisfactory.
We sail away from Greenwich


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Lamb House in Rye - a literary ladies outing

All the time we have lived here, we have never visited Lamb House in Rye. Philosopher was a tiny bit sniffy to hear that I had arranged to go with a group of friends from the WI Book Group, particularly as he reads, and enjoys, Henry James, and I have never managed to struggle through more than a couple of chapters.
    I can't see us tackling any of his books at the Book Group either, but clearly Lamb House is essential literary sight-seeing.
    We went to Rye on the bus - supposedly for the scenic benefits but we women all chatted solidly throughout the journey there and didn't look out of the window at all.
     Of course, we started with coffee and cake, today at the Apothecary House, one of my favourites in Rye. The front window seat is an excellent people-watching spot. I don't think I mentioned this place at all in a post I did a while ago on Shopping in Rye. Recently, it seems to have improved in all areas, less waiting, serves better coffee and cakes, but there is no outside seating and it must get very hot inside on sunny days.
Apothecary House - excellent people-watching window
     Then we wandered up to Lamb House. By this time the sun was out and it was a lovely late summer day.
Lamb House
      Lamb House is heavy with literary associations. First, of course, Henry James lived there from 1897 to 1916. His presence attracted many other literati, including H.G.Wells, Ford Maddox Ford, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Rudyard Kipling and Edith Wharton. They either visited, or in some cases, settled nearby. After Henry James, the house was home to E.F Benson, and then to Rumer Godden. See more on the local history site.
      Rumer Godden wrote 'Black Narcissus', the book of one of my favourite films. I just loved that mad Sister Ruth. Made by Powell and Pressburger in 1947, apparently part of it was filmed in Leonardslee Gardens, near Horsham.
      Currently, a BBC re-make of Benson's 'Mapp and Lucia' books is underway, featuring Lamb House in its original fictional role as 'Mallards', the home of Miss Mapp. We had to postpone a planned earlier visit to the house because it was closed for filming. (Note to readers: if you want to visit the house, go before it shuts for the season at the end of this October. Once the new telly series begins, you won't get near the place).
       Now, I may have struggled with James, 'The Master', but I loved the Mapp and Lucia novels. I think they get a bit neglected these days, but they are honestly, very funny.
      Apparently, for the new telly adaptation, they made a temporary reconstruction of Henry James' garden room, where he did his actual writing, with its bow window facing down the street. It was unfortunately bombed in 1940.
Old photo of Lamb House showing the Garden Room. Apparently Henry James is sitting on the doorstep.
      The old walled garden is surprisingly large, very peaceful, and lovely. We could have had our coffee sitting out there, but as it was we settled down for at least another half-hour of essential chatting.
Lamb House - the garden

Lovely Rye roofscape beyond the walls
      The house now belongs to the National Trust. You can only see three rooms of the house downstairs, but they contain plenty of interesting things, including facsimilies of some of James' letters. He had a fine waspish style. I took photos of some.
Lovely round window

View towards the church from the parlour

One of James' manuscripts

Good letter!

A dictated letter - easier to read
      He also was a technology early adopter, and had the first telephone in Rye installed in his Telephone Room in 1912.  It is interesting to wonder who he could have phoned up. Maybe Rudyard Kipling at Batemans? We have the manager of Batemans coming to talk to the WI about Kipling next year, so I can ask him.
      After our visit to Lamb House we had lunch at Hayden's - I am particularly fond of their Welsh Rarebit. Then back on the bus - we all enjoyed our outing.
Pretty view across the Marsh from the garden at Hayden's

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Billy Smart's Circus - but where are the dogs and horses?

Have just recovered from week with grand daughter followed by a couple of days in Birmingham catching up with friends.
    We took her to Billy Smart's Circus, at Glyne Gap field. We all enjoyed it. The big top was classic, the band was rumpty-tumpty, the ring mistress was dashing, and the acts were of a high standard.
     To our surprise, GD seemed particularly taken with the clowns. That sort of slapstick humour has always left me cold, and when I was little, I spent my time quaking with dread in case a clown spotted me and singled me out for some unimaginable public humiliation.
      It wasn't a circus, but I'll never forget being pushed up on stage by my grandparents at a pantomime in Torquay, having to sing 'The Happy Wanderer'. Even worse... no, don't even get me started on being on stage with Ken Dodd at that Housing Conference.... I cringe to think of it.
Woman in cube thing

The flying trapeze...
Woman on large motor-bike. In the old days, she would have balanced on a horse - see below
     However, what was missing for me about the circus was the animals. Now, don't get me wrong, I am perfectly well aware that the use of wild animals such as lions, tigers, bears and elephants in circuses is not in accordance with current thinking on animal welfare.
     When I was a child at the circus it was so exciting to see the lion cage in place. The lights would dim, and the big cats would come slinking along their tunnel, growling and roaring. It was pretty clear they didn't enjoy it though. Although I used to enjoy the elephants, I always felt it was a bit undignified for such big animals.
     However, I can't see any problems with horses, dogs, birds, or even camels - any domesticated animal, in fact.
     Cats would be useless - No - I lie, I've found the Chicago Acro-cats, and a current article about the Moscow Cat Circus.
The Acro-cats - that looks like Digby on keyboards

Moscow Cat Circus
     Hmmn - I'm not sure about these cats - I'd have to see them.  But dogs, no problem. What is the difference between what dogs do at Crufts and dogs performing at a circus? Well, never mind Crufts, look at the agility and obedience classes at any dog-training club. Generally, dogs regard such goings-on as one big game.
     Then, there were the horses. I used to love the liberty horses, one of the classic images of the circus. A group of glossy matching palominos would come cantering into the ring, feathery plumes nodding on their heads and glittering diamante on their harnesses, controlled by a beautiful woman in a sparkly frock. How I longed to be her.
Palominos at Bertram Mills Circus, 1962
     What about the bare-backed riders? Traditionally, a girl in a ballet tutu, sometimes a whole troupe of acrobats on several horses.
Jan Ashton, 1950s
Zoppe troupe, 1950s
     How is being in a circus any more unpleasant for a horse than competing in the Grand National? Or being a police horse in the middle of a riot? Or being neglected in a field and then sent for horse-meat? Or what about show-jumping, which also involves constant travelling around.
     I have looked on the internet and currently only two circuses touring in the UK, Zippo's and Gifford's, still use horses, dogs or birds. The RSPCA appears to be against the use of any animals in circuses, as do a variety of other animal-rights pressure groups. This seems a misguided use of their energies - it would be better to focus on agri-business, and the sad lives of the animals we use for food.