On A Misty Morning

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This is the pier in Hastings.  The day before had been warm and sunny, and something about the cooling over night caused the length of the coast in East Sussex to be covered in this morning mist on Bank Holiday Monday.  It was considered significant enough an event for the mist air over Brighton to be featured on the local television news (which might say more about the quality of the news, and our love of discussing the weather, especially over Bank Holiday Weekends, than it does about the rarity of the meteorological event).

The pier has been through a few trials and tribulations in the recent past.  Over the ten years I have known Hastings it has grown more and more shabby and less and less of it has been open for access, and then, a fire nearly destroyed it a couple of years ago.   I believe there is now a plan, and some money, to restore it.  I hope so, as seeing it, even in its sadly bolted and barred, dilapidated state, on a morning like this, adds so much to the appreciation of the landscape and the sea.  The waves lap against the shingle beach, but we want to see more, to reach out; we want to walk out over the sea and hear and feel the water lapping under our feet.  There is something about the idea of a pier as a place of entertainment and promenade that feels integral to our seaside heritage.

With thanks to Ailsa for suggesting beaches as a theme for this week.

A Nice Quiet Day at the Seaside?

2013-05-06 12.05.32It was sunny and warm, once the sea fog had lifted, so what better way to spend the morning than to have a stroll along the front?

But rather than strolling along to the gentle rhythm of the ebb and flow of the tide, as soon as I reached the promenade the air was full of the thrum and throb of roaring motorbikes.  Turns out Monday was the day for tens of thousands of bikers to converge on the town, the so-called Bike 1066.  The closer I got to the centre of Hastings, the louder and more all encompassing the noise grew, and I realised I was part of a trickle, and then a  tide of people heading east along the sea front.

IMG_3309Some were dressed in green, garlanded with leaves and ribbons, heading for the traditional Jack in the Green celebration (‘revived’ in the early 1980s….) , others dressed in the ear rings and t-shirts suggesting an interest in motor-sport, and that other motorbike related seaside bank holiday weekend tradition.

By the time I reached the pier, the pavement was already filled with motorbikes, lined up like sardines, and the crowd now included the leather clad, standing in small groups admiring the shiny bits and pieces and accoutrements of biking.  Some arrived individually, others in big gangs all dressed in the same embroidered jackets.  All roaring and revving their engines as much as they could; almost comically show-off-y.

By the time I came to the end of the beach and wanted to turn around and walk back home, the pavements were more choked than those on Oxford Street on the last Saturday before Christmas.  The fish and chip shops were doing good business with queues snaking out across the pavement, and much lemonade was being consumed in pub courtyards.  It was a relief to escape.

But now they all have to drive home…..

Yellow or Black?

IMG_3304My optimism about an improvement in the bank holiday weekend weather proved well founded, and on Sunday we went for a walk along the cliffs in the Hastings Country Park.

If you don’t take the path immediately next to the cliff, depending on the time of the year, and the cycle of land management, you can find yourself in an alleyway banked on both sides by pillows of gorse and broom.  Walking there with friends for whom it was their first visit, I was asked several times where the sea was.  Pointing over the tops of the impenetrable yellow bushes, I launched into an explanation that it wasn’t always so hard to see the sea, that sometimes the banks of bushes are burnt back to control the growth and to clear the area that should, more naturally, be grassland.  The raised eyebrows with which this pronouncement was received indicated a certain scepticism about my information.

So imagine my satisfaction when, over the brow of the next incline we saw this.

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Eternal Optimism

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Following on from my rather hopeful comments yesterday about the weather forecast for this bank holiday weekend, and to provide further evidence for those who are not from the UK that we do have an insatiable, and not always interesting fascination, with the weather……..

After a very windy and wet day yesterday when people (apart from a few hardy Morris Dancers) had retreated inside cafés and other drinking establishments to keep warm, it was this view in the evening, as dusk approached, that gave me hope for better on Sunday……. and as I am sitting with a cup of coffee by my bedroom window this morning, I am bathed in warm sunlight and feeling optimistic for the day

A Little Bit of Blue

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A bank holiday weekend usually signals a change in the weather for the worse, but  given this view on a breezy Friday afternoon,  I’m hopeful.

I like the way it looks like an exercise in capturing as many shades of blue as possible.

Pale but Interesting

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The road into Hastings from the north is winding and, for some quite long stretches, there is nowhere in which it safe to pass. This can cause both long tailbacks and massive amounts of driver frustration, although the absence of one does not necessarily preclude the presence of the other.

For this reason I often drive down from London either early in the morning or fairly late at night.  This last Friday, I elected for a late evening departure, and did indeed benefit from a clear road in front of me.  In these circumstances, though, I am often aware that I am the cause of frustration in the car behind me; sometimes so close behind me that I am blinded by the reflection of the  poorly aligned headlights in my rearview and wing mirrors, which causes me to slow for fear of missing one of the bends ahead, thus compounding the problem. and the level of driver frustration in both vehicles.

When in this situation, I have found that the statistics of fatalities for road traffic accidents in rural areas with which I was furnished on the National Speed Awareness Course I did last year, leap unbidden into my mind.  Suffice to say, they are not good, and do nothing to make me go any faster.  (And before you roll your eyes and mutter about middle aged drivers, I should point out that I am usually driving at or near the speed limit….)  As usual, just after I’d recalled the poor chances of survival on a country road, the souped up hatchback roared past me, and disappeared into the darkness ahead, my relief tinged only a little by sympathy for the next car he encountered on the road.

I was pondering the recollection of my last very late night journey down; I had been nearly on the edge of town when I came across a police road block, which meant that I had to turn around and find an alternate route.  At night, with only a rudimentary knowledge of the surrounding countryside, I took a rather circuitous route into town and had the leisure to wonder if the blockage might have had something to do with the dangerous driver who had passed me earlier on the road.

As if conjured by my memory, around the next bend there were the blue lights and orange cones of another police road block, and a policeman windmilling his arms pointing us up a small turning.  Instantly lost again, none of the village names helped, the weakness of the telephonic network meant that for all the allegedly whizzy navigational apps on my phone I was none the wiser.  It’s very dark out there when you don’t know where you are, but I eventually found my way, via a big loop I subsequently discovered when I looked at a map.

Having had an unscheduled drive around the county in the dark, it seemed only right to explore somewhere new in the sunshine when it came on Sunday.  So off we went to Camber Sands.  I’d heard about the beach, and I saw it on the map, but it seemed unlikely that a county with a shoreline dominated by long shingle beaches, should boast such large sandy dunes.  They are there, lying between a wide sandy beach and the road.  It’s seeing things like this that makes me wish I knew more about geology…….

Glass

IMG_2223This is a window in the Fishermen’s Museum in Hastings, a deconsecrated church by the beach.  It’s a tiny museum, but still has an old fishing boat as its centrepiece.

Hastings has been a fishing town for centuries, but what makes it unusual is that it has no natural harbour, so the boats are dragged out of the sea on chains to moor them safely.  When they are returning from fishing, the skippers have to race the boats towards the beach so that the momentum will carry them high enough onto land to catch on the shingles and not be floated back out on the tide.  The boats are so small it’s hard to believe that they can be ocean going, but they are.

Some of the fishing yards have been preserved and the tall black multi-storey fishermen’s huts, like the ones depicted behind the man at the bottom of the window, still stand on the beach.

Inevitably, as in any such community, there are tales of tragic losses, when boats disappeared with their crews, as well as of astounding rescues.  So even though the building is no longer a church, it feels entirely appropriate that it should be decorated with a stained glass window, with all of its associations of memory, memorial, contemplation and celebration.

Near and Far – A Photo

Here’s another one from my day at Dungeness.  I didn’t see who made the footprints, and wonder if they actually met where the paths converge.

Missing the Start of the Film

When, of the two reviews I read for the movie The House of Tolerance (L’Apollonide Souvenirs de la Maison  Close), one gave it 1 star (dull, voyeuristic and with no story) and the other 4 and a half stars (richly textured, claustrophobic examination of the end of an era), there was nothing for it, but to go and see the film for myself, and to form my own opinion.

But first I had to get to the cinema; my second visit to the tiny Electric Palace in Hastings Old Town. The walk along the front took a good deal longer than it might have, because every couple of minutes I had to turn around to wonder at the colour of the sky, and to try fruitlessly to capture the rich pink of it all.

Suffice to say, we were about 10 minutes late for the film, and, creeping in, trying not to let the street door bang, we were allowed through the curtain into the showing with whispered promises that we would pay at the end, so as not to disturb everyone any further, so they could all turn their attention back to the screen.

Consequently I can’t really tell you about the very beginning of the film; but by the time we arrived, the girls, courtesans in a high class Parisian brothel in the dying days of the 19th century, were in their underwear, combing each others hair and preparing for the evening’s work ahead.

My assessment of the movie, inevitably, falls somewhere between the two which had prompted the visit, although I tend more towards the textured and claustrophobic end of the spectrum.  Although at the outset, in the careful, lingering shots of the actresses bodies, and the evocation of a languorous decadence, to my eye, there was little titillating voyeurism.  It was, instead, an unsettling portrait of an entirely closed world, from which there was little chance of escape, as no matter how hard they worked, the women’s debts to the madam kept increasing, where they weren’t allowed to go outside unaccompanied, and where, no matter the superficial air of solicitousness of the clientèle, there was always an underlying risk of violence and disease.

It was too long, and there were extended periods when I hope for nothing more than it would finish, but that may have been part of the intention; I came away feeling as if I had been released from tense claustrophobia.  It’s true that not a great deal happens, but there is enough incident to keep the narrative moving, and it is beautifully shot and very well acted, and not a little disturbing.

Strolling Around

There are little bits of history lurking in nooks and crannies all around town and on some days I actually notice them.

And then there’s always lunch……

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