Tuesday 13 December 2011

Oh my head!

Now is the time to beat a path to the achingly wonderful Harvey's off-licence. Stocking up on Christmas booze from our favourite local brewer - Harvey's of Lewes is one of life's great pleasures. A visit to Lewes is a treat in itself but get thee to Cliffe High Street and really put the brandy butter on the Christmas cake! The low black and white building has large windows displaying every kind of refreshment you can imagine plus breweriana in the from of jugs, glasses and clothing sporting the name of Sussex's finest. Enter through the narrow doorway and step down into the shop - I like stepping down into a premises - so sort of Wind in the Willowsy somehow. You are met with a cornucopia of beer wines and spirits, a temple to tipplers who are there for no other reason than to be tempted. A small glass-paneled office sits beyond the counter where things are still entered in large ledgers...by hand. Helpful staff will nip out the back to the brewery proper and draw off whatever draught beer you want into your container or theirs. Dropped 'bright' this stuff tates better if consumed quickly which all adds to the obligation to polish it off with due dedication. All the bottled beers are there too including the brain-zapping Christmas Ale, which at 8.1% ABV will send grandpa off to the Land of Nod whilst you play a noisy hand of Happy Families - "Mr Bun the Baker" - "Sorry, not at home" - answering with a mere "No' will incur severe penalties in our house...the niceties must be observed. The comically ugly portraits on the Victorian Jacques cards always make the kids screw their faces up with revulsion. Anyway, back to Harvey's. Never ones to waste their profits on uncalled-for slick graphic design, they tend to adopt a minimalist approach and push the boat out on special occasions, and even then you get the impression that the whole operation is more Letraset driven than having had a computer anywhere near it. When you think of what a brewer like Adnams of Southwold, whom I also admire, must spend on their marketing, it makes the Harvey's operation even more remarkable. They don't really advertise at all for goodness sake but do they win prizes...yes they do...by the Tun (TUN..pun) geddit? and deservedly so. You may purchase beer online from Harvey's...I urge you to try it...incidentally I have no commercial association with them...save that of passing them large wads of cash over the years in pursuit of their excellent product.

Friday 4 November 2011

Lewes November 5th

Well here's the jolly rhyme which traditionally accompanies Bonfire Night...quite gruesome as you can see.

Tonight Lewes has its night and the town becomes really quite anarchic...you have to be there to 'get it'.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November

The Gunpowder Treason and plot

I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes 'twas his intent

To blow up the King and the Parliament

Three score barrels of powder below

Poor old England to overthrow

By God's providence he was catch'd

With a dark lantern and burning match

Holler boys, holler boys, ring bells ring

Holler boys, holler boys, God Save the King!

A penny loaf to feed the Pope

A farthing o'cheese to choke him

A pint of beer to rinse it down

A faggot of sticks to burn him

Burn him in a tub of tar

Burn him like a blazing star

Burn his body from his head

Then we'll say old Pope is dead

Hip Hip Hoorah!

Hip Hip Hoorah!

Hip Hip Hoorah!

Thursday 27 October 2011

Raise the Standard!

The North Kent Coast has always held a fascination. From the Dickensian locations to Mr. Jorrocks' trip to Margate...there's a deep attachment. We decided to share this enthusiasm with some American friends who soon became equally entranced. From the wonders of the fabulous architecture of the Chatham dockyards via Faversham to the recently Islingtonised Whitstable (which succeeds, despite all, in clinging strongly to its roots) - Reculver, with its own twin towers of great antiquity and on to the new Tate Gallery outpost in Margate. The Tate I feel works better than its cousin in St.Ives, although maybe lacking the views, it enjoys better gallery space. Blessed with fine weather we enjoyed every moment. No trip for me is complete without a little automobile archaeology and the now quite rare gem shown was unearthed behind some buildings in Whitstable. It's a Standard Ensign the basic model of the Standard range introduced in 1957 and made up until the mid sixties. It seems that few of these bread and butter cars have survived and the Standard motor company has dissolved into that great scrapyard in the sky. I rather like the old Avery scales weight used as a chock in front of the offside wheel. Surprisingly she appears relatively rust free although it would require some diligent work to enable her to cruise the 'B' roads once more. Break open the Erinmore, suck on a Callard & Bowser boiled sweet, open the AA road book and discover the North Kent Coast!

Tuesday 23 August 2011


Last weekend, for reasons too curious to mention, we found ourselves at The Beautiful Days Festival in Devonshire. A well run event sponsored by The Levellers, it provided bands for all tastes in music. As I trekked about the site there were, as you can imagine, many sights of a highly entertaining and diverting nature to provide distraction - let alone ample opportunities for refreshment. The combination of slippery wet slopes and pouring rain made progress 'random' to say the least. As I slithered down one particularly damp incline I saw a fellow struggling, and he was struggling, to walk up it. Far from being able bodied he was using two walking sticks and clearly had severe disabilities. Hearteningly, several young people offered to give assistance, which he politely declined with good grace and a cheery smile, preferring his independence. As he got closer I could see that the t-shirt he wore carried but a single word message on it - BUGGER. How stoical, that message spoke volumes about his condition - to my eyes almost as bad as it gets but which he portrayed as a minor inconvenience - how brave. I could have wept, and I certainly wouldn't have dreamed of taking a photograph.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Arlott country

We had the extreme good fortune to spend last weekend in Hampshire. Now although Sussex is our home...Hampshire runs a close second and my wife's family spent two idyllic years in the charming village of Cheriton back in the 1950s. We stayed in nearby Alresford (pronounced Awlsford) once home to John Arlott and possessed of one of the most lovely streets in all of England. Of course the town is famous for its watercress and even today it's a large industry. Our accommodation was the Bell Inn on the High Street, run by young, enthusiastic Frenchmen, serving good food and wine with a smile and witty repartee. A short walk took us to the railway station and the preserved Watercress Line which runs to Alton...the day we visited there was some sort of wartime re-enactment going on, peopled by elderly, time-served policemen (2), vicars (several of these), agricultural labourers (one), spivs (2), ARP Wardens (2) and ladies of indistinct casting although very much of the nylons and fox fur persuasion (many). After foregathering, this unlikely ensemble all boarded the train together - as if! in the day! But all good fun, and I particularly liked the camouflaged Austin 7 box van with which to defeat the might of the Third Reich's Panzer divisions.

Sunday found us driving, just for the sheer pleasure of it, through the quiet narrow winding lanes that are such a feature of this area. A look in at Hinton Ampner House and gardens gave us the sight of the unusual church tower in the grounds. The views to the South are fabulous, stretching, unspoilt for miles. A pint at The Tichborne Arms was a delight. The locals are still entitled to The Tichborne Dole, a charitable donation to the villagers of Tichborne and Cheriton of a gallon of flour for adults and half a gallon for children. Originally instituted in around 1150 by the ailing Lady Tichborne, her mean and spiteful husband didn't share her generous plan and came up with the novel scheme of agreeing to it on the basis that produce would be made available from land around which she could crawl whilst holding a burning torch. The plucky lady managed to gird twenty three acres until the flame died - an area still known as 'The Crawls'. Like all good stories there is, rightfully, a mathematical/child bearing curse attached to it which runs thus: If the family decided to stop providing the dole, then it would first have seven sons followed by seven daughters and then...zilch! the family name would vanish forever. Well blow me down, it was banned because it had become too rowdy a ceremony - the then baronet was (you're there before me) the seventh son and he had seven daughters. In order for the curse not to take effect the dole was restarted and from then onwards the details of the family inheritance became confused, tragic and convoluted...culminating in the famous Tichborne inheritance trial...one of the most celebrated in English legal history involving a false claimant to the family title.

The countryside and cool chalk streams of the Itchen valley are magical at this time of year. Taking the time to stop, look, and listen, has been a most theraputic experience. Try it.

Thursday 9 June 2011

The Garden City by the Sea

I am reminded over on Philip Wilkinson's excellent blog 'English Buildings' of the plotland developments which took place in various parts of England. As this blog is named for one such, it's worth a mention. New Anzac-on-Sea was the prizewinning name resulting from a competition, set by Charles Neville, to christen his baby town. Later of course it became Peacehaven, a place reviled by planners throughout the land. Some plotlands grew up as a result of like-minded religious or political groups wishing to establish very basic self-sufficient communities. The homes they built were often rudimentary and made from that most adaptable of materials, corrugated iron - often redundant railway carriages were purchased and, devoid of their wheels, set Rowland Emmett-like upon railway sleepers - to my mind a most attractive and commodious dwelling. A wonderful hangover of this 'adaptation' still sits, not in a plotland at all, but in the chocolate box village of Slindon West Sussex, where one such carriage is wonderfully preserved and thatched to blend into its surroundings. Peacehaven however was born of no such social or altruistic intentions, rather it was the brainchild of the entrepreneur Charles Neville a land speculator whose sometimes questionable interests had taken him to Canada, Australia and beyond. During the Great War he purchased his first tract of land which comprised some of the coastal strip running from Rottingdean in the West to just shy of Newhaven in the East. Ever the grand publicist Neville used press advertising and direct marketing to great effect and one of his first stunts was to run a competition to name what he would later describe as his 'Garden City by the Sea' and from some 80,000 entries, the name 'New Anzac-on-Sea' was chosen, it is said as a tribute to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who served so valiantly in France. The prize for naming was £100 and the runners-up were to receive building plots to the value of £50 each...the straws were in the wind however and instead of there being just a few second prizes, there were 12,500! and these were then asked to pay various 'registration fees' . Once these were gathered in the number of takers dropped considerably and eventually Neville made a considerable profit on his 'Free' plots. Subsequently with the backing of The Daily Express 150 plotholders succeeded in suing him for fraud and he was forced to pay back his ill gotten gains. Ever the fighter, Neville counter-sued the Express for libel and won £300 damages. This then was the inauspicious birth of 'The Garden City by the Sea' - I will return to its history for as well as being an object lesson in how not to plan a town, some of its early social manifestations were luadable in their intent. As I think John Seymour said, what was so awful that men returning from the horrors and carnage of The Great War should spendtheir pathetic little gratuities in an attempt to find calm for their souls and troubled minds in such a perfect South facing strip of Sussex downland.

By the way, the picture of the thatched railway carriage is by Simon Carey and used under The Creative Commons licence.

Monday 23 May 2011

Sea Cloud

A brief glimpse into the past. Last Friday, the 360 ft full-rigged ship 'Sea Cloud' docked at the nearby port of Newhaven. Her passengers (for she is luxuriously equipped) apparently were whisked off to Brighton to savour the City's charms. She made a fine sight too moored at the East Quay as the sun went down with her white hull shining brilliantly. The towering masts gave just a hint of how the port must have looked like when sail held sway. Poor old Newhaven - abused, neglected and largely ignored, is such a historic port and town deserving far better treatment. An unwise town centre development in the 70's placed a blight on the once-bustling high street and since then it has failed to recover. We still have a ferry crossing to Dieppe which is a blessing and a boon, although sadly, busy Dieppe only serves to highlight Newhaven's current state. Sea Cloud returns briefly on the 30th May where once again she will moor adjacent to the scrap metal wharf!

Thursday 7 April 2011

Ooh er missus!

What do you think is going on here ? We are all travelling at 60mph plus; this was taken on a recent road trip through North Carolina, I took it on an iphone...clearly I didn't die unless this is being sent from the spirit world...

Friday 4 March 2011

Land on Sea

Down here in the sunny South we have seen many wonders, but one of the most extraordinary must surely have been 'The Daddy LongLegs'. Designed and built by the man who gave us Britain's first electric railway (also in Brighton), Magnus Volk's scheme was to extend the line from Black Rock to Rottingdean across the seabed. Track was laid on concrete blocks which formed the sleepers and many are revealed, ghost-like at low tide. The device was virtually a giant Victorian drawing room standing high above the sea on four legs through which were driven the bogies. Power was supplied from overhead cables and the thing resembled a teetering tram on stillettos. A sort of show plough arrangement was fitted to clear the shingle which inevitably washed over the track. Travellers could enjoy the saloon and chintzy comforts of 'The Pioneer' (for that was its name) or take the air around the deck...in plan view it was boat-shaped. Trippers ploughed the raging ocean to the inventor's son's seaplane station at the terminus of Rottingdean some 3 miles distant. Sea travel without sea sickness! Marvellous on a fine calm day but hopeless in any sort of 'weather', the whole plot was virtually scuppered only a month after its opening when a storm wrought huge damage. Undeterred, Volk rebuilt, but various sea defence and groyne works by Brighton Corporation meant deviations and alterations to the track which proved beyond his resources. The car was eventually scrapped around 1901 and so ended surely one of the most curious railway experiments ever. Volk himself was a true pioneer of electric transport and his 'Volks Railway' still runs its Victorian carriages between Black Rock and the Palace Pier Brighton...he even supplied an electric dog cart to Sultan Abdul Hamid of Turkey. What I'd give for a one way trip to Rottingdean on The Daddy LongLegs today.

Thursday 10 February 2011

'The Right Crowd and no Crowding'

That was the slogan of Brooklands motor racing track...so clearly related to its horse racing cousins, it even had bookies. Here are a couple of snaps taken recently at the old place. Although a shadow of its former self, the pre-war banked circuit survives in part. The Club House and the tuning sheds plus a few hangars have been restored and are in use being managed by the Brooklands Trust. Part of the old concrete track still lives. When it was built I believe it was the largest concrete project in the world, its length being 2.75 miles. Hugh Locke-King constructed and completed it in record time; the opening was on 17 June 1907. This was a great British first - the original purpose-built banked motor race circuit - Indianapolis was to follow later. The place still oozes atmosphere and it requires little imagination to hear the roar of the cars and catch the aroma of Castrol 'R' on the breeze.

It's worth a visit if you have any interest in such matters...lots of old iron to drool over in the sheds and charming vignettes of the class-ridden society of the 20's and 30s in the gentlemans clubby atmosphere where drivers and their guest drank and made merry...the stiltedly precise english of the signage brooks no flouting of the rules.

When I was there I took the opportunity to capture the image of the radiator badge of a delightful Vauxhall 30/98 with its reminder that proper Vauxhalls, after their namesake were made in London before Luton.