Friday, 13 January 2017

Winter in Hastings

A reminder of what it is like to live here, on the English Channel coast. Undoubtedly, the climate is milder than many places in the UK. We get plenty of wind, misty, damp days, the usual rain, but also glorious sun.  This year so far we have had little frost and real cold, and the first snow this year came last night.  It has mostly melted this morning. We are also conscious of the local wildlife....

Old Town from the West Hill Cafe, 2 January
     On 2 January we were sitting outside at the West Hill Cafe drinking coffee and admiring the brilliant sun. This is the classic view of the Old Town that first convinced us that we wanted to come and live hereNo luck for the seagull on this occasion.

    This is down by the sea at Rockanore beach on 8 January.  Such a beautiful light on the unusually calm sea.

    In our garden, the birds have been busy seeking food, and Philosopher keeps their feeders topped up. Readers of my Christmas post will have read about Digby bringing an unwelcome visitor into the kitchen. That wasn't the only one, either. I think it might have been Boxing Day that we spent ages chasing another very active, and very angry, rodent round the kitchen. I eventually captured it, squeaking and biting, in a towel.  However, a few days later we saw this:

     Many people are terribly afraid of rats, but Battleaxe is not that bothered. Mostly, they don't live in sewers, or carry disease. All the same, I don't want them round the house. I think Digby had found a nest of them in the scaffolding yard beyond our back hedge, so action had to be taken.
     Philosopher managed to find the extra heavy-duty squirrel baffle we had on the bird feeding pole in Birmingham - we were absolutely plagued by squirrels there, and the baffle stops them climbing the pole to reach the feeders. Rats are pretty much squirrels without cute furry tails, so the baffle worked a treat, and we have not seen a sign of one since. Or maybe Digby has wiped out the entire ratty family. Who knows.
     On the pole we have a little platform for birds that can't hang off the feeders. Partly as a joke we put a stale mince pie out there, to emulate the popular Waitrose Christmas telly ad, where a little robin battles the elements to fly all the way from Scandinavia to a little girl's bird table, and lovingly shares the pie with its robin mate. I have to say I didn't even know that robins migrated like that....
The Waitrose robin
     Anyway, much to our surprise and pleasure a real robin came and pecked busily away at the pie, just like its computer-generated counterpart. We found more mince pies, and it is now busy out there nearly all the time. I say 'it' but there are actually several robins in the garden, and this highlights one way in which life is definitely not like art. The real robins have no intention of sharing. Whichever bird occupies the mince-pie platform also spends time standing on the metal frame above it, singing furiously to repel its colleagues, who hide in the shrubbery.  Do they take turns? I don't know. They all look alike.

Repelling other robins....

    You can see that it snowed between the first picture, when robin first appeared, and the later close-up ones.
     The snow is almost gone. It's a pity. To finish, here are a couple of pictures from back in February 2012. We still have time this winter.
February 2012. Path at bottom of Harold Road

February 2012. Old town from the West Hill


Friday, 6 January 2017

The world closes in on us. Hastings Battleaxe reflects

This post is prompted by the news that Voyages of Discovery, with whom we went on a Middle East cruise just a few weeks ago, and its sister company, Swan Hellenic, have just gone into administration and shut down. This is a sad indication of the state of the world.

Voyager in Port Said
    Readers will remember that we decided that cruising was not for us, but we had some excellent adventures, and it is still sad. Here are the links to the two blog posts about our cruise:
    Part One: Alexandria and along the Suez Canal
    Part Two: storms in Sharm-el-Sheik, Petra to Oman via the pirates.
    So what is going on?  The company only had two small ships, our 'Voyager', and the Swan Hellenic 'Minerva', both accommodating 400-500 passengers. Both ships specialised in trips to far-flung places, in particular, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle and Far East and North Africa. While the owner of the parent company commented that it was hard for small ships to trade profitably in the current environment, (hint, try laying on less food...) he also said:

     'Since the Arab Spring and as a result of other events, the world has become a smaller place and it was no longer possible for us to take our small ships to many areas. Egypt, Libya and north Africa, Lebanon, Syria, the Black Sea have all become difficult and even Istanbul and Turkey have now been removed from the cruising map.'

     Restrictions on travel have made many places inaccessible, populist movements like the Brexit campaign are trying to turn us against global thinking in favour of 'stand-alone' insularity. Think Trump as well.
     More than any actual threat factor, there is the problem of perception. We live in a world dominated by fear. Terrorists thrive on the currency of fear. Our political 'leaders' use fear to attempt to manipulate us. The gutter media use fear to sell their wares - and people buy all of it. Many are increasingly afraid to travel to parts of the world they perceive as unsafe. Often, these perceptions are far removed from reality.
      Sure, you can still set off independently, intrepidly (and expensively) to visit most countries, but companies like Voyages of Discovery offered ordinary people a comfortable 'taster' of places they might otherwise not visit, and an opportunity to learn about, and experience life and culture through cultural lectures, guided tours etc.
     Of course, it is only one company with two small ships, but it is a sign of how the world is changing.
     We could see how difficult - and probably expensive - it was for the company to make our cruise happen. All the security precautions in Egypt, the pirate malarky on the Red Sea etc etc.
     We could also see the desperate plight of people in those countries who depend on the tourist trade - the empty and semi-derelict hotels, the unvisited shops, the guides with no clients.
      I think too about how delighted ordinary people were to see us. They cheered in the streets of Alexandria, rushed to the banks of the Suez Canal to watch our ship gliding past and to wave at us. A bunch of tourists was a rare and wonderful sight, a sign that life was getting back to 'normal' and they were still part of the wider world.
     And now Turkey, one of our favourite countries, is in danger of going the same way. We have a holiday there booked in June. Will we go? Of course we will. Where we go is miles from any threatening activity.
    Would we go to Istanbul again? Of course we would. It is a wonderful city, and I think Hagia Sophia is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited.
Hagia Sophia
      However, even this 1,400 year old building is not safe from politics. It has long been a museum, embracing both its Christian and Islamic heritage, and a powerful symbol of the secular state. Now, moves are in hand to turn it back into a mosque, in line with the wishes of the government and the increasingly repressive Islamification of the country.  We were probably lucky to visit when we did.
     In fact, Battleaxe and Philosopher are very lucky.
     Let's think about Tunisia for a moment, where Brits no longer visit, and where tourism has virtually collapsed, leading to massive hardship. We've spent two holidays there, one in Sousse and in 2008, in Tunis, where we stayed in an amazing hotel in the old Medina.(The Dar El Medina - it's still going).  One thing I'll never forget - I was in the middle of negotiating some massive deal at work and the only computer in the hotel had an Arabic keyboard.... I managed to send emails to England that were, amazingly, understandable, but full of j's and d's.....

Our hotel in Tunis
     We visited the Bardo Museum, crammed with wonderful things from Carthage, which was attacked by IS in 2015 and now deserted. Here is my photo of one of the rooms, just by the attack site, and some of the mosaics.

      In 2007 we went to Egypt. Yes, you can still go, but not with the sense of freedom we had then. Virtually on our own in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, we gazed on the face of Ramses II. We wandered freely round the pyramids at Giza. We went on the sleeper train to Luxor, stayed in the Old Winter Palace, and visited the temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings, crossing the Nile on the public ferry.
Battleaxe, I believe....
     Never mind the shrivelled face of Ramses, we visited Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings on the very day in November when he was removed from his tomb to be readied for public display.
     He was lying on top of his tomb, out in the open air and unwrapped when we wandered in. We didn't realise at the time, but we are among the few to have actually looked so closely at the ill-fated boy king.
      I wanted to visit Syria - Damascus and Aleppo - but that will never happen in my lifetime now.  In 2008 I read this article about the train from Istanbul to Aleppo. We never got round to booking..... 

Friday, 30 December 2016

Hastings Battleaxe's 5th Blogiversary. What will 2017 be like?

Five years ago today Hastings Battleaxe was born. Let's start with some thoughts about the blog, look back on the global horrors of 2016, and finally, wonder about making things a bit better for 2017

 I've read that the average lifespan of a blog is 33 months. Well, we've well exceeded that. Battleaxe started slow - it took over a year to reach over 1000 page views a month. Oddly, this month is the busiest ever, with over 10,000 page views.
    This blog is never going to be a viral sensation, or make me money. Why?  If I just stuck to the original brief I set out in my first post - Hastings and the surrounding area from the perspective of a newcomer - I might do better, but it wanders round over the place.
     Successful blogs have a niche, but as well as Hastings, Battleaxe rattles through UK travel, overseas holidays, art and exhibitions, home and gardenconcerts and theatre, (including, this year, a first commissioned review post), clothes, politics, poetry. The most popular posts ever are about the Chelsea Flower Show, and a stay in the Conquest Hospital Hastings.
     Do I care about this mish-mash?  Not really. The blog has a life of its own and I still enjoy writing it. Many people clearly enjoy reading it - strangers stop me in the street and tell me they are Battleaxe fans - and in 2016 I had my first ever visit from an American reader, who came to check out Hastings and the Battleaxe - +Tina Batori 

      So, what of  2016?  What a grim year. 
      In this country, the Conservative Government was consumed with out-of-touch hubris, totally underestimating the 'up-yours' mood of the voters, and the self-serving, wicked yet highly effective  propaganda from trolls like Johnson and Farage. We are now stuck with the disaster of Brexit, with nobody apparently having the least idea how to take it forward. The only certainties are that it will cost us millions, trash the economy and deprive us all of our European Citizenship.
      In the meantime, all our public services are unravelling before our eyes. Councils are starved of cash, the NHS is on its knees etc. etc.
      Effective opposition to the government is desperately needed, but the Labour Party is dominated by a cult obsessed with Jeremy Corbyn as their (and the country's) saviour. It's so embarrassing. I tell you, I can't even have a political argument with my Tory relatives any more. 'What about Your Labour Party...' they hoot derisively, 'Honestly, imagine that ghastly man as Prime Minister! An utter farce!'  Trouble is, they're right.....
      The Middle East and the world migration/refugee situation?  Putin? Just horrendous. Where to start.....
      Then, to crown it all, across the Atlantic, the Trump card was played. It's bad enough being ashamed to be British, but I'm so glad I'm not American.....
Farewell to decency, grace and dignity......
     What can Battleaxe do to make 2017 better?  In global terms, absolutely nothing. Alarmingly, we don't know what will happen next.
     In the words of Churchill, one could 'draw the sword of freedom and cast away the scabbard'. Unfortunately, as a Battleaxe in Hastings, brandishing even a plastic sword of freedom round the town centre would only get me arrested......and no way am I ever going to attend Labour Party meetings - one whiff of Momentum and I'd have a stroke. So what will I do?
     I won't buy any nasty fear-mongering tabloid newspapers - but I don't buy them anyway, so that's not hard.
     I'll challenge any incidents of racist or suchlike behaviour I witness - but I do that now, too. Sometimes it can be risky. A while ago I tackled a horrible man who was shouting racist abuse at some poor cashier in a motorway service station and nearly got myself beaten up.
     Of course I'll carry on with the WI stuff and such-like - I enjoy it.
     Oh, rats to anything else worthy and meaningful.  I know....
     I'll resolve to wear all my clothes, shoes and boots, and use every one of my handbags. Sounds easy, but no. Battleaxe has a clothes excess. I have eleven winter coats - one of which I only acquired yesterday. I have twenty pairs of boots. Shoes and handbags? Am ashamed to tell you....
     If I get something out and decide I really won't ever wear it/use it again, I promise I'll get rid of it.
     So, the world as we know it may be collapsing, but at least I'll be well dressed.
     Here's me in the latest winter coat - a vintage faux fur, bought in Rye with Philosopher and our old friend Shaun, who has been  staying for a few days. Am looking a bit pale and wan because it was my first real day out after being laid low with evil virus all over Christmas. Am still not right.

New coat, with Shaun (in new hat) and Philosopher....

      I'll finish with a lovely photo taken a few days ago - sunny Hastings Pier. Whatever else, we are lucky to live here.

                            Happy New Year from Hastings Battleaxe!