blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Whitchurch on a Saturday night

Written on Feb. 6th, 2016
Saturday afternoon at the Kingstone Brewery
Today we drove to St. Arvans, where my niece Bethan lives, thence to Tintern for a latish lunch at the Kingstone Brewery, a microbrewery with bar and meeting room attached. Once a month on a Saturday they open this room and serve pizzas freshly cooked on a purpose built, wood burning stone oven that stands in the courtyard. The pizzas are carried in through the door in twos, so that it takes a long time to serve everyone, but they are very good, fresh and wholesome. The room with its pine floor and furniture is decorated as if for a family party, with home made paper streamers and dried flowers hanging from the ceiling, pretty candles on the tables, and very well painted framed watercolours on the walls. Today, as usual on these occasions apparently, Kingstone Brewery was full of small children with their young parents, all in a happy mood. On the benches at our table sat Bethan with her Sebastian (one-and-a-half), my other nieces Elen and Rhiannon (with her little son, Phoenix, three), Faith and Mel, our mum, Chris and I and another young lady, a friend of Bethan’s, with her own little one-year-old whose dad was Toby, the pizza chef, working outside. The little boys ran around and mixed with the other children whose toys they shared. It was all very relaxed, and fun. Mum surely found it a livelier experience than her lunches with the other residents at her nursing home in Whitchurch.

Toby's oven, Kingstone Brewery
There’s been an outbreak of “D and V” (norovirus symptoms) at the nursing home just now, with residents confined and no visitors allowed, so we had to make a special plea for Mum to be taken out today. “At your own risk,” they said. They let me go up to her room to collect her and bring her back this evening, but I wasn’t permitted to linger.

It has poured in torrents all day, with warnings of “poor driving conditions” on the motorway, as was indeed the case, the windscreen wipers going full tilt and blinding sheets of water on the screen when neighbouring cars splashed through the puddles. Tonight when Chris and I returned to the house the rain eased off momentarily, so we decided to get some fresh air and exercise by walking to the Whitchurch shops.

At the Co-op we came across a frail old woman on a bench in an incapacitated state, shaking and bowed, very pale in the face, surrounded by full and heavy bags, who occupied our alarmed attention for the next two hours. A lady called Heidi helped us look after her, two of us leading her across the busy road to the Fino Lounge, where she’d asked to be, where the waiter groaned and told us emphatically that this person was an ex-customer of theirs, quite well known. She makes a habit of causing consternation. She wouldn’t tell any of us her name for ages; eventually we found out that she was A[...], 73 years old, and had Parkinson’s disease, had spent a week in hospital recently, but didn’t want any help other than a milk shake, please, which the restaurant was refusing to serve her. A[...] retaliated by refusing the glass of water I got her.

We didn’t think she was in a fit state to be taken home by taxi. Chris and Heidi decided to call for an ambulance, but because our patient wasn’t unconscious she was by no means top priority and it would take a while before the ambulance came. We waited a good half hour with nothing happening, squatting in front of A[...] and trying to talk to her, not an easy job because she was not co-operating and the background noise was getting louder and louder. A young man waiting for a friend at the restaurant came over, telling us he was a trainee paramedic. He asked her all the same questions and was obviously concerned to help, but none of us made any progress. A[...] did not want to be taken anywhere, either home or to hospital. She just wanted to sit here and be given something to eat and drink. (One of her bags contained plenty of Subway sandwiches, but I think she had forgotten this.) “The service is rubbish, here!” she told me in one of her more coherent moments. “You should go to the pasta place down the road.” We established that A[...] had no family at home and no neighbours who’d be willing to help. She is visited by social service workers twice a day, but not very effectively, it seems, probably because she doesn't co-operate with them, either. In the end Chris hailed a couple of police who happened to be walking by.

These charmingly courteous officers came in, a man (community support officer) and a pleasant woman (regular police officer) who talked to A[...] very efficiently and soon established her identity by looking, with her permission, at the cards in her handbag. They cancelled our order for an ambulance and called for community police officers to come over with a vehicle: “community policing at its best,” says Chris. These people finally decided to give A[...] a ride home in their van, even offering to buy her some fish and chips on the way … until they noticed the bag with the Subway sandwiches. By this time Heidi had left us, because she was supposed to be hosting a dinner party. What a kind person to stay with us so long in this situation.

Chris and I being famished by this time decided to stay at the Fino Lounge for our own supper, thanked profusely by the staff for taking the problem off their hands, but by this time it had become deafeningly noisy in there from the Saturday night crowd screaming across the tables at one another or shouting for beers at the bar. My sister rang to ask what was going on (we were supposed to be at her house by then) but I couldn’t hear her very well. My head was pounding by the time our meals came, so that I could only eat half of mine. Then we emerged into the blessed relative quiet of the street, where it was raining hard again for our walk back to Ashchurch Close.

Friday, February 19, 2016

In Chichester

Lancing College, seen from the train
Chichester city centre
Chichester is a small oasis of gentility below the South Downs, about half way between Brighton and Portsmouth. It has a cathedral, a university, and an excellent art gallery. The stopping train from Brighton took me through Shoreham-by-Sea (where we used to live) and Worthing, past Shoreham airport, Lancing college, winding along between the coast and the Downs like the previous day’s ride in the other direction. 

Chichester’s town centre is a short walk from the railway station; on 3rd February when I visited it, I soon reached the pedestrian zone centring on the old town cross, the market’s focal point, built of pale sandstone like the cathedral. Every pavement seemed to be made of flagstones and the cathedral lies in a leafy close. That is to say, in summer it would be leafy; this month there are just bare branches with their atmospheric silhouettes, plus yews and other evergreens. The bell tower is freestanding, next to the west door of the cathedral whose spire collapsed in the 1860s but was quickly replaced. Its cream stone looks beautiful in the sunshine.

The Piper tapestry behind the high altar
Noli me tangere, by Sutherland

Inside the cathedral is a wealth of art and history, a John Piper tapestry behind the altar, a copper font, a painting by Graham Sutherland of Jesus disguised as the gardener after his resurrection, wearing a straw hat and bending over the steps to tell Mary Magdalene not to touch him. There are stone dedications remembering the English composers Weelkes and Holst. The Arundel Tomb of a knight and his lady holding hands as they lie in state, made famous by a poem Larkin wrote, is to be found here. The hand-holding is now thought to be after all original, not a sentimental Victorian modification. The cathedral also housed a couple of 12th century stone reliefs depicting the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. On the northern side of the church is a stained glass window created by Chagall, based on Psalm 150 (Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord) showing many instrumentalists including King David on a harp and a goat reading from a book (typical Chagall!) also a Jewish candelabra. The glass is mostly red.
I sat in the choir stalls to hear the Choral Evensong sung by a girls’ high school chamber choir similar to the one I sang in once, although 2 parts was the most they sang in. Most of the music was for unison voices. Tormead School must be a private school. They sang responses by Ferial, the service by White and an anthem by Dyson, a setting of Herbert’s hymn: Let all the world in every corner sing. The vicar exhorted us to pray for a young clergyman about to be appointed, for the residents and carers at a local nursing home, for people who were sick and bereaved families, for a sick baby and for the United Nations presently trying to make decisions about Syria. The lesson asked if we were a reed blown in the wind. There was no congregational hymn. Other members of the congregation than me were the parents of the singing girls, one saying, “Come on, honeybunch!” as she walked up the nave.

I window-shopped and had a few snacks at the Crypt Teashop, Costa coffee and a pub, during my walk around Chichester. In a side-street, I was delighted to discover the Pallant House Gallery, where they were exhibiting 80 works of art --- paintings and engravings, mostly watercolours ---by David Jones. It struck me that his style is similar to that of his Canadian contemporary David Milne. That exhibition was in the extension to the old house. The house itself, built in the days of Queen Anne, had a smaller exhibition of "The Lost Works" of Evelyn Dunbar, a female war artist whose paintings documented life on the home front, the lives of the land army, for example. She loved her garden and there was an evocative painting of the garden in springtime which seemed to me quintessentially English.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

In Eastbourne

On Tuesday, 2nd February, I took a train to Eastbourne, another old fashioned seaside resort on the edge of the chalky South Downs. There are white cliffs inland, as well as on the coast. The train stopped at Lewes and went on through the flat, damp fields at the foot of the Downs, the home of sheep and rabbits.

Eastbourne is similar to Brighton, but not as brash, a quiet place full of elderly couples sitting on park benches, waiting for the last stages of their lives to go by. The benches themselves have inscriptions: In remembrance of … In loving memory of … All day long I was reminded of Alan Bennett’s play on this theme, Sunset Across The Bay, set in Morecombe in a diagonally opposite corner of England, but much the same as here.

Many of the shops date back to the first half of the 20th century, stores selling sensible shoes and Scottish woollens. Pansies bloom in the rectangular flower beds. On Marine Road and the promenade with its painted metal railings is a line of regency houses, many of them serving as guest houses or hotels. By the sea are rows of groynes with the pebbles piled up unevenly beside them, the waves washing in with their “melancholy roar”. I have a taste for holiday resorts in the dead season, with their closed stalls advertising Wall’s Icecream or Fish and Chips. Eastbourne Pier was open for business, the Victoria Tea Room selling cream teas. Gift shops on this pier, as opposed to the one at Brighton, were marginally less tacky, one full of glass ornaments being made (blown) on the premises. On the streets leading to the pier are shops selling seashells.

In the distance I could see the Seven Sisters white cliffs. The sea itself looked like a Turner painting, grey, green, brown and full of fascinating shadows, under a blue sky. I could imagine France not far away across the Channel, not in sight.

East of the pier I walked as far as a row of fishing boats, personal motorboats and life boats drawn up on the pebbles. A lone swimmer was in the water, though not for long; it must have been terribly cold and he must have been terribly hardy. There were a few dog-walkers and a scruffy old fellow concentrating on making a fire among the stones.

I found myself some lunch at a place on the seaside walk with big glass windows, the toilets marked Gulls and Buoys. On the pebbly beach I found fish skeletons, “mermaids’ purses” and curly little white shells.

I shared the train back to Brighton with some school children in uniform and a group of French speaking students.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Brighton Rock world

Written on 4th Feb, 2016

"That clock's always right,"
the man said. "It doesn't 
stand for phoney alibis."
"The tide ...washed against the piles of the Palace pier."
I have been rereading Graham Greene's novel Brighton Rock of 1938, which I picked up in a bookshop in Hove on our first day there, this week, and have subsequently devoured. (I finished reading it on the train to Reading tonight.) Not much has changed since the days of "Kolley Kibber" and his criminal associates. Brighton is still London-by-Sea, sleazily old-fashioned, perhaps sleazier than ever. It reminded me of some of the older beachside suburbs of Sydney. The pier was opened in 1899; the little stalls on it still sell cockles, whelks, toffee apples, candy floss (in a bag or on a stick). In the gypsy caravan, painted green, fortunes are still told. The fairground at the end of the pier has a merry-go-round, with one of the horses symbolically named Grace, and there's a rickety helter-skelter with the paint peeling off. The Victorian aquarium on the front is preserved for its original purpose. As you walk up the hill to the station on Queen Street you pass pawn and antique shops, Ladbrokes betting shops, shoe repair shops and money lenders. The Metropole Hotel stands proudly next to The Grand, still in competition with it. You can order teas at the Royal Albion, as Greene did, but not before 11am, and gaze out through the large dirty wet bay windows, hung with rather scruffy drapes, from its lounge. Buses still trundle up the hill to the Kemp Town racecourse. Between the arches below Kings Road, they offer bike repairs, fishing boat repairs, Tarot readings and other Old Time Amusements, including a hall of distorting mirrors, but these outlets are mostly boarded up for the duration of the off-season, including the Brighton Rock stall where they murdered Hale in the book. They left his body to be discovered in a shelter on the prom near Hove, you know; the shelters are still there too, in a spaced out row.

"... he got down onto the beach where he was more alone, the dry
seaweed left by last winter's gales cracking under his shoes."

"He came up the parade cautiously, from the Hove end, from the
glass shelter where Hale's body had been set ..."

"You could be saved between the stirrup and the ground ..."

"... to the little covered arcade where the cheap shops stood
between the sea and the stone wall, selling Brighton rock."

"They were drinking cocktails
[at] the Grand ..."
Maybe it was because I was so immersed in Greene's novel that I didn't much notice many 21st century additions to Brighton; I deliberately walked around looking for the things described in his book. A new eyesore makes its presence felt, though, the concrete pole that later this year will support the revolving observation station 400ft above ground, just outside the big hotels. It is topped by a red light after dark and clashes rather with the regency terraces  round the square in Hove, newly painted yellow, but not with the ferris wheel on the other side of the pier. The West Pier is just a rusty skeleton now, a vivid momento mori of all endeavours and fashions. The gales we experienced on our last visit in 2014 had washed away its last link with the shore.

It was windy this time too, though not so extremely. The waves looked more under control though they had thrown the pebbles a good distance up the shore just before our arrival on Monday. On Tuesday evening we met Hyder, Lea, David and Margaret in the foyer of The Grand, and once again had a very congenial supper with them at the Café Rouge in the Lanes where I'm afraid our merriment may have disturbed some of the other diners. On Thursday I treated myself to a plate of fish and chips elegantly presented in the glasshouse on the pier, the Palm Court (with real palms).