Sunday, 1 March 2015

Kino in Rye - ghostly town and ghostly Flying Dutchman

Last week we made our first visit to the new Kino cinema in Rye - Battleaxe promised to visit this in a recent post about the Kino in Hawkhurst.
     Well, the Rye Kino is excellent. The conversion of the old building is attractive and sympathetic and set well back from Lion Street. You would scarcely know it was there, and even the most anxious Rye resident must feel reassured.
Kino in Rye - outside

Cafe Bar

Cafe bar - much better photo from the architects
     Inside, there is a good size cafe bar with a mezzanine seating floor, and two screens, Red and Blue. The loos are sumptuous.
     We had planned to eat our supper in the cafe bar, but they'd sold out of the hot dish on the menu, so we opted to try elsewhere.
     Oh my goodness, has anyone tried wandering round Rye on a cold February evening looking for something to eat? That place is so quiet it's like some creepy gothic movie. We went into the George at the bottom of Lion Street, and they had stopped serving bar meals at 5.30pm. We were offered restaurant menus but we didn't want to settle down to a vast gourmet meal - no time, and too expensive. There was nothing else open on the High Street at all except for the chippie - no pubs, nothing, and not a soul to be seen.  It was totally silent. The Headless Horseman could have ridden past and nobody would have noticed.
Rye at night (Geograph)
     We walked down to the bottom of the town and found Simply Italian. We've been many times to the Hastings branch and sat outside for a salad lunch, and done the same once in Rye, but never eaten hot food in the evening. The restaurant was nearly empty, but the food was good, and quick, comfort eating, which is just what we needed by then. I had lasagne - a real traditional plateful. The freezing walk back up to the Kino did not seem so bad with a boiling Vesuvius of pasta inside.
      We had a coffee in the cafe bar and surveyed our fellow cinema-goers. We were there to see the live screening of the Royal Opera House production of Der Fliegende Hollander, so maybe the audience were not typical, but as so often for these events, they were predominantly elderly, white and thoroughly middle-class veering towards the posh. I overheard a good snippet of conversation when Philosopher was at the Bar:
    'There are no virgins left in Havana, one understands.'
    Did this refer to (mythical) cigar rolling on the thighs of dusky maidens? For our next poetry exercise for the Stanza group, the theme is Conversation. Potential there, methinks.
    Anyway, Wagner is not Battleaxe's thing, but Philosopher assured me that as this was one of his earliest works, I would enjoy it, and indeed I did. Bryn Terfel as the Dutchman did an excellent job as the Pale Stranger (not the Headless Horseman) and the setting was very dark and mysterious - shadowy ghost ships, spectral crew appearing from the floor. However, we both felt the sound balance of the broadcast was not quite right - too much orchestra drowning some of the voices. The production was 2.5 hours with no interval, so I did worry about the bladder continence of the audience, but they all held on.
    On that theme, while the seats were comfortable and spacious, one quibble I have about the design of the screen we were in (Red) is that there is an aisle only down one side, so long rows of seats can only be accessed from one end. Not good at all if people in seats down the far end arrive late or want to get out in the middle of a performance.
Comfy seating....
    That's it for a bit from Battleaxe. Next week we are off to the Arctic, hunting the Northern Lights. I gather the internet on our Hurtigruten boat is a bit intermittent, so will write about it when I get back.
     March 1 today - Spring is in the air. Here are some miniature irises in our garden.
Miniature irises in Battleaxe's garden

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, Hastings and Brightling

One of the founders of the campaign for women's suffrage, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, lived most of her life in or near Hastings, and sadly, is little known or celebrated in her home town. I'm doing a Centenary Timeline for our WI Facebook Page, posting about every year from 1915 to 2015 - 100 years of the WI. I've got to 1928 now, when every woman in the UK over 21 got the vote - it felt appropriate to write about Barbara.
Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, painted by Mary Osborne
    She was born in 1827 in Whatlington, and was brought up at 9, Pelham Crescent in Hastings, the illegitimate daughter of an MP, Benjamin Smith.
Pelham Crescent in the 1830s
    It is possible that her illegitimacy led to Barbara's achievements being played down, both during her life, and after her death. However, she was one of the earliest and most significant campaigners for women's rights, initially concentrating on the legal position of married women. The work she undertook, with a small group of like-minded women, was the first organised feminist action in the UK. It eventually resulted in changes in the law allowing married women the right to their own property and earnings.
    In 1866 Barbara formed the first ever Women's Suffrage Committee, and their suffrage petition was presented to the House of Commons on the women's behalf by John Stuart Mill in 1866.  The motion to amend the Reform Act to include votes for women was defeated by 196 votes to 73.
Mill accepts the first suffrage petition, 1866
    Barbara wrote and published a series of pamphlets on the subject of women's rights, and toured the country, holding meetings on the subject of women's suffrage. Her speeches converted many women to the cause, including the future leaders of the movement, Emily Davies and Lydia Becker, who would in turn recruit Emmeline Pankhurst. However, women would not be fully enfranchised on the same terms as men until 1928.
     Barbara was also passionate about improving women's education, and in particular, opportunities for university education. With Emily Davies, Barbara raised funds for, and founded, the first women's college in Cambridge. Girton College was opened in 1873 but no women students were admitted to full membership of the University of Cambridge until April 1948.
    As well as being a strong-minded and charismatic political activist, Barbara was a gifted artist. She studied with the painters William Henry Hunt who lived during the winter in a small house at the foot of the East Cliff, and William Collingwood Smith.  Barbara's work was exhibited at the Royal Academy and examples can be seen in Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.
    In 1855 Barbara stayed at Clive Vale Farm with her friend, fellow painter Anna Mary Howitt. The two women clearly found the place to be of particular interest because three years earlier, the great Pre-Raphaelite painter Holman Hunt had lodged and painted at the farm, producing, amongst other works, 'Our English Coasts'. Sheep in the farmyard served as models for the 'strayed' sheep in that painting.
   Battleaxe also finds this of particular interest. Our house is built on the site of Clive Vale Farm. The extract below is from a book of reminiscences by another of Barbara's friends, Bessie Rayner Parkes, 'In a Walled Garden' (1895). Sitting at her computer writing this blog post, Battleaxe shares the same view. The sun is indeed streaming in, and the sea is just as vast, but of course the 'undulating green hills' are now partly covered in housing.

    Barbara's paintings from Clive Vale Farm were widely exhibited, and her picture of the cornfield  'with all the shocks tossed over by a gale' was singled out for particular praise by Ruskin. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of these paintings are now unknown.
Barbara Bodichon, Ventnor, 1856
    In 1857, Barbara married a French doctor living in Algiers, Dr Eugene Bodichon. Although she wintered in Algiers she spent her summers in Hastings, or at a new family home, Scalands, near Robertsbridge, where she died in 1891.
    She was buried in Brightling Churchyard. Yesterday I persuaded Philosopher to come on an expedition to find her grave.
    Dating from Norman times, Brightling Church is very old, and very beautiful. It has an impressive history. William of Wykeham, eventual founder of Winchester College and New College Oxford, was Rector in 1362.
    The peaceful churchyard, overgrown, muddy and full of mole-hills, is dominated by a large pyramid, the grave of 'Mad Jack' Fuller (1757 - 1834), who lived next door. Fuller, a larger-than-life figure who derived his money from Wealden iron-works, could be the subject of a blog post all his own. He was an MP, a philanthropist, a builder of follies, a patron of the arts and sciences, a notorious drunkard - and a supporter of slavery.

Brightling Church

Fuller's Pyramid
    We found Barbara's grave, apparently it was restored by the village after a campaign by feminist academics in 2007, following many years of overgrown disrepair. Strangely, her name is not even mentioned in the church guidebook.
Barbara's grave

    Helena Wojtczak, who was responsible for getting a blue plaque put on 9 Pelham Crescent in 2000, has written a good account of Barbara's life, and Battleaxe would recommend this biography: Hirsch, Pamela (1998). Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon: Feminist, Artist and Rebel.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Bodiam Castle to Beachy Head. Granny Battleaxe on parade!

Busy Busy. Last weekend I couldn't help with the WI Cardi Gras event (part of Fat Tuesday) because we went to a neighbour's wedding. Wedding was at the Durbar Hall in the Museum - what a lovely place for it. Cardi Gras went well too - they raised plenty of money. 
   On Monday we took grand daughter Eve to Bodiam Castle. Philosopher and I had never been properly. We visited briefly back in 2008 when we made our first exploratory visit to Hastings. We stayed in the lovely Swan House in the Old Town, and I remember we got thoroughly lost trying to find Bodiam, goodness knows how, driving up and down what seemed endless narrow tunnel-like lanes with trees arching over from high banks. We were surprised that the countryside inland from Hastings was so pretty, wooded and undeveloped.
    I think we had fallen into the way of thinking shared by many of our Brummie friends, that the South-East is covered in new-build estates of executive homes interspersed with shiny hi-tech business parks and out-of-town retail emporia. (Sounds like the current HBC vision for Hastings and St Leonard's, methinks. Well, dream on.)
Bodiam Castle
    On that earlier visit we just walked round the outside of the castle, but on Monday we did the full thing.
    There were folk in medieval get-up offering meaningfully educational activities. I think a couple of them came to the WI and did a hilarious talk on medieval women's undergarments. Is that right, or am I getting muddled? 
    However, Eve has the attention-span of a flea so we just hurtled round the place at break-neck speed. There were lots of little rooms and nooks and crannies for her to rush in and out of, and a lung-bursting climb up a steep spiral staircase to the top of one of the towers.
Fine view from the tower
Eve pauses to try a medieval 'bed'
     Bodiam is everyone's idea of a classic romantic castle, standing in the middle of its moat. It seems pretty intact from the outside, but of course inside it is mostly ruins. Historically, it is not actually that interesting. It was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, ostensibly to defend the area against French invasion, but actually it was a medieval vanity project for its wealthy builder, and its authentic-looking but ornamental fortifications were never used. Partially dismantled after the Civil War, the castle spent most of its life as an ivy-clad  'picturesque ruin', before being bought and partially restored by Lord Curzon in 1916, and then given to the National Trust in 1925.
Bodiam as picturesque ruin, painting from 1906

Arty view from an arrow slit

    Tuesday was a glorious sunny day, so we went up to Beachy Head. Eve always enjoys that, and it is also one of our favourite places. I wrote in a previous blog post about supernatural stuff that the atmosphere up there, and the wide open space, has a strangely calming effect.  The sky was blue and clear, the sea was blue and calm. We even heard skylarks. Eve likes being able to see both Brighton, where she was born, and Hastings, where we had come from.
    After a walk, we went for lunch at the Beachy Head pub. I had a 25% off voucher from the WI - whoo hoo! I've said before that the place is well run. Yesterday was another good example. I ordered food and the guy at the bar said it would be a wait of at least 30 minutes. I reported this, groaning inwardly, to Philosopher and Eve. Eve doesn't do waiting. However, well before she had finished looking through all the photos on my iphone, the food arrived - in less than 20 minutes. Customer delight factor? Check. Most places would have said the food would come in 20 minutes and then it would take 35.

Glorious sun - and space
Bit near the edge there, dear...

Good view of the lighthouse, and a reminder that for some, Beachy Head is not the place for a nice day out.....

Heading to the pub for lunch
     Wednesday was even more warm and sunny. Grandpa went to do his stint at the Jerwood Gallery so me and Eve did hairdressers and clothes shopping. Much hanging about in the sweaty depths of H&M and New Look when I wanted to be out in the sun. I see two new shoe shops are opening in Priory Meadow. I hope this is not overkill. Still, when all the shops in Priory Meadow are occupied, only then will I start to believe hyped-up Tory blather that recovery is on the way. Hastings has a very long way to go.
      Then we had an actual picnic on the beach. Lots of people were sitting around in tee-shirts, but I couldn't see anyone actually take to the water. I do still half-wish Battleaxe was one of those intrepid, lean and leathery women who would strip to their cozzies in front of the astonished crowd, stride briskly into the sea and then knife out through the waves with a perfect crawl. Paff.
      It's Thursday today, so we are driving up to Birmingham to take Eve back, and then staying a couple of nights.