Friday, November 30, 2012

Brighton: Street Scene

This is a view of a fancy ferris wheel on Brighton seafront, down a little street of Regency terrace houses in Kemptown. I look for it every time we pass by in the bus.  I just love it.

A Day Out in Hastings

The COG, still riding high from his triumphant performance reading bus schedules in the Hastings rail station while waiting for the bus to Bodiam, said, 'We could take the bus to Hastings.'  We were sitting in the bay window of our sunny sitting room at the time,  both of us on the internet waiting for Lord Justice Leveson's report,  which was due at noon. I considered his suggestion.  I could see the sun on the ocean, sparkling in the distance over his shoulder.  It seemed a shame to waste such a lovely day by staring at a computer screen. And, anyway, by the time we got back from Hastings the Guardian would have read the 2,000 pages of the report and digested them for us so there seemed no reason to hang around.

And that is how we arrived in Hastings. By bus. For free because we are old age pensioners. God,  I love this country.  We walked to the bottom of our street where the bus appeared almost instantly. Two and a half hours later (with a short transfer in Eastbourne) we arrived in Hastings.

Once there, we realized we had no map and no idea where exactly to go, apart from a vague memory that we had once seen a sign that said 'Old Town' pointing sort of over there.  So we walked in that general direction.  We did have one major landmark-  a ruined castle on the highest hill. It's not too big a stretch to reason that the Old Town would be near the castle.

Did I mention that we were looking for the Hastings of Foyle's War?  Our previous excursions to Hastings had not been promising. In fact, I believe I have previously said some unkind things about Hastings, which I hereby recant.  I was wrong. I'm sorry, Hastings.  I called you 'unlovely' and 'worse than Rye,' I shouldn't have been so, um,... hasty.

The Old Town of Hastings is awesome.  There's quite a large area of medieval to 18th century houses now filled with antique and vintage shops and art galleries and wonderful little shops selling wonderful things.  It's like the Brighton Lanes and the North Laine combined, but, in many ways, with better shopping.  The kind of place that would be lots of fun with my sisters, though it was also fun with The COG. We followed some steep and narrow stairs that wound up the hill aside many old houses. At the top we found an open park with glorious views in the twilight.  There are some smugglers caves up there, too, but we did not explore them.

We wandered around to entry of the castle, which is closed in winter, then wound down the stairs again to the shopping area to look in more windows. Finally, once it was fully dark, we found the bus again.  The views from the bus were quite splendid, in part, coming to Hastings, but, as it was dark there were no views.  The COG amused himself by taking pictures of our reflection in the bus windows. I amused myself by watching the COG.

One small  moment bears remembering: near the end of the Eastbourne to Brighton part of the trip, a guy in a hoodie stumbled up the steps of the bus and sat in the seat across the aisle from us, at the front of the upper deck.  He carried on a slurred conversation with his own reflection for a few stops, then rose abruptly, rang the stop bell, and left the bus at Peacehaven. Through the big window, we held our breaths as we watched him stagger across the street barely missing, or being missed by, heavy and fast traffic.  When we saw that he was entering  Roy's Liquor Store, we smiled. No surprise there, even the fumes he had been emitting were heady.  Then, the lady who had been sitting behind him sniffed and said, 'it would have been no loss if he'd been hit by one of the cars, ' which sort of shocked us.  We smiled politely, but privately squeezed each other's hands to signify disapproval.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On Castles

I've seen a lot of castles.  It took me a long time to figure them out, though.  They come in two kinds: ruined or remodeled to a high standard suitable for life in the 19th/20th century.  And no two are alike, so I found it difficult to generalize to the 'idealtypus' or 'ideal type' of castle - the pure form. Oddly enough, though, we visited two castles last week - both of which I had seen before - and some things shifted into place.  I feel that I now have an even clearer understanding of castles.

Both of the castles we saw - Lewes and Bodiam - are ruins.   Above, is a picture of Lewes Castle, which is unusual in that it has two mottes, or is built on two hills.  The castle was built in 1069, very soon after the Norman Invasion. It began as a wooden fortification on one of the mottes, now closed to the public and surrounded by houses.  Then, it was replaced with a stone castle on a different motte,  artificially made higher with chalk blocks. A castle wall enclosed both mottes. You can still see parts of the wall in people's backyards. And part of the site of the original moat is a street called Castle Ditch Lane.

 This was a castle built for defense and squelching the populace, not for comfort.  Its primary function was military.  There are barracks and places for armorers and blacksmiths and saddle makers. People lived there, but it was a pretty Spartan existence.

Next we saw Bodiam Castle, which was built 300 years after Lewes Castle, in 1385.  It's a beautiful little jewel of a castle which appears to float on the water of the moat.  Ostensibly, Bodiam was meant to guard the English coast against a French invasion during the 100 years war. It's sited quite aways inland, but next to a river that was big enough to be navigable by big ships.   But it was probably never involved in any military action.  What it really was, is a Medieval MacMansion.

It was built by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge who made a lot of money, pillaging and plundering in France, and married an heiress. He got permission from the King to crenelate his manor and build a moat and chose, instead, to build a castle on a different site. It was built rapidly and all at one time, so the form you see today is the way it was built.  It's a classic style, square with round towers at each corner and a square tower in the middle of each wall. It has all the fancy defensive accoutrements - portcullis, postern gate, murder holes, machicolations and arrow slits. Then, there's the moat, which is fed by several streams, at least one of them inside the castle, so it would have continued to provide water under siege. The garderobes emptied into the moat, under the waterline, so it would not have been easy to gain access to the castle through them.

Although it has the most up-to-date defensive mechanisms, they are mostly built for show. The castle is small, it wasn't built to contain a whole town full of armorers, saddle makers etc, or to barrack many soldiers.  The living quarters were truly luxurious, an up-to-date manor house concealed within a castle. There were  fireplaces in every chamber, 28 garderobes or toilets and the well was easily reached from the kitchen, just down a few stairs. The living rooms for the family were on the southern and eastern walls, so they got light and warmth from the sun through many windows.  The standard of comfort was very high.  And it's such a pretty place.  The light from the moat dapples the interior in a very pleasant way, even on a cold and overcast day and you keep getting little glimpses of the moat from the interior.  Although, maybe it wouldn't have seemed so pretty when the moat was an open sewer.

I learned something, by the way.  The word 'garderobe' which refers to the kind of toilets they had in castles, comes from the Norman for 'protecting clothing'.  Clothing was hung there to protect it from moths and other vermin, who were kept away by the powerful smell.  Nice, eh?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

For Georgette Heyer Lovers Only

Remember The Toll Gate?  In which, the hero, Captain John Staples, takes over a toll house for a time and becomes involved uncovering a heinous crime, and also a romance?  Well, yesterday I saw a real Toll House at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum (about which, more later).  This one was built in about 1807 in Beeding, but was disassembled and reconstructed in its original form at the Museum. The Georgette Heyer book takes place just after Waterloo, in 1815, so they are likely to be similar.  The front of the house looked like this. The law said that the Table of Tolls must be posted on the house, that's what you see on the right side. And, of course, that's the toll gate on the left.

This toll house had 2 rooms - the one in The Toll Gate had four, but was likely about the same size overall.  Here's a description of the kitchen, from Heyer: "The kitchen was small, over-warm, and extremely un-tidy. Since it was lit by a couple of dip-candles in tin holders, an unpleasant aroma of hot tallow hung about it... The Captain seated himself in the Windsor chair by the fire..."

Here's Heyer's description of the bedroom: "The [bedroom] was furnished with some degree of comfort, the bed even being provided with cotton sheets, and a faded patchwork quilt."  That is a spot on description of this one, too.

The house in The Toll Gate had two additional small rooms partitioned off, one, a store room with a truckle bed, that could be used as a bedroom and the other  a toll office, which this house didn't have.

Brighton, Friday November 13th, 1987

At the bottom of our street is a row of Regency Terrace houses that face the sea.  At about 2am on a Friday November 13th, 1987, the face of the end unit collapsed, shearing off vertically when a giant hole -20 feet deep- opened up under it. The unit was being used as a student dormitory at that time.  Miraculously, no one was killed. The only person injured was the warden's wife, who had a broken leg.  The building was so dangerous that no one was allowed to claim any of their belongings, including all their class notes and books for their upcoming exams. The warden and his wife (with the broken leg) had lived there for 28 years, and lost everything.

The unit was demolished the next day.  There were rumors of Victorian underground plumbing pipes and hidden caves etc.  But the engineers who investigated decided it had been caused by erosion. The land underneath is a mixture of sand, silt and chalk which is very vulnerable to eroding and, when saturated, large holes can be created.  Most of this part of the city is built on similar ground, but since this is the only time in 200 years that this has happened, it's unlikely to happen again.

Here's a picture I took yesterday of the reconstructed unit - it's indistinguishable from the others in the row. The scaffolding on the right side is because it is being repainted.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Prunes in Armagnac?

No, actually, prunes in crappy brandy.  So crappy, in fact, that it comes in a plastic bottle.  Here's the story: At home, we always have a jar of raisins in rum in our cupboard. No recipe - just a glass jar with some raisins macerating in some rum.  We serve a few spoonfuls over ice cream, then add some more raisins and some more rum.

So when we found prunes d'agen at the grocery store,  we thought that we could have some prunes macerating in Armagnac here and just leave it between visits.  But, Armagnac is expensive so we thought we'd try brandy, starting with cheap brandy just to see how it was.  We figured that the prunes flavor the liquor so strongly that it might not matter what alcohol we used.  I think it was Elizabeth David, maybe, who said to use wine you would drink, but would prefer not to.  This brandy was not terrible - it was better than the cooking brandy I keep in my cupboard at home.

The result, after 10 days or so, is not a complete failure - they have gotten better every time we've tasted them. Tonight they are quite tasty.  However, next time we will probably use actual Armagnac.

A Comprehensive Prohibition from a Motorway Rest Stop

So... in other words,  that would be no alcohol anywhere at all?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's where I spent Thanksgiving, what about you?

This is Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. We took a train that stopped 16 times before depositing us in Hastings at stop 17.  Then, the Bodiam bus was a bit late coming,  so we had to hang around in the train station waiting in the cold and wind.  The COG beguiled the tedium by reading us a bus schedule and suggesting various ways we could have gotten there free on the bus, instead of by buying a train ticket, in only 6 or  7 hours each way. We finally arrived at Bodiam a mere 3 hours after we left home.

After walking around the castle for a couple of hours we went home by the same route. All in all, it took 8 hours, of which 2 were spent at the castle.

It was a good day.  And we finished the whole thing with fish and chips from the local chippie. A good Thanksgiving, with no cooking.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Lovely Walk

The weather yesterday being sunny, we decided to take a walk. In the end, we walked 7 1/2 miles from the outskirts of Eastbourne to Beachy Head, then to Birling Gap, where we stopped for tea. Finally, to East Dean, where we had a local beer called 'Legless Rambler' at The Tiger, a lovely old pub.   Got home after dark, very tired, but happy.  I had bought a selection of  Pear Ciders - Perry's - and we did a taste test. May liked the Stella Artois, the COG liked the Irish Magners and I liked the Bulmers, so that worked out. After the long walk,  a beer at The Tiger in East Dean and then a large bottle of perry (same alcohol content as beer) we had quiet evening.  Today we are visiting the Royal Pavilion. At the moment Sister May is rereading the part of Regency Buck, where Judith Taverner visits the Pavilion. Here May is yesterday in front of the Seven Sisters - near Birling Gap.  The COG is in the background, too. Can you spot him?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Waiting for Sister May

We've spent the week painting the back room, finishing the work we had done on the room last June. It's a small room. We painted it white. About half the room was already white, and the other half - the dampproofed and replastered half - had been primed white.

Reader, it took us five days to paint the little room. We are lazy.  We can only do one thing at a time. the first day we prepped the room - a grueling 45 minutes with painters tape. The second day we bought paint. The third day we painted.  The fourth day, we bought more paint. The fifth day we finished painting.

But it's done now and the room is just waiting for Sister May to arrive, sometime this afternoon. She's en route now - probably somewhere the other side of Ireland, though she could be closer. When we looked earlier today it said the flight was going to be an hour early.  Then she takes the bus and we meet her at the station and bring her home.

The room looks so pretty in the morning light. But we need art.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Walk to Rottingdean

We took a stroll from Brighton to Rottingdean this afternoon.  It was sunny and warm (for November) with little wind.  The COG took pictures of things. I took pictures of the COG taking pictures of things

(and someone doing yoga in the background).

And when the sun went down, we went home again.

Somewhere over the Irish Sea

A landscape of clouds....

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Off To Brighton

Here is where my brain is, today.  Not Brighton, but nearby.

I got up early and finally finished processing all the apples my generous neighbor brought me from Maine.  I've now frozen 2 apple pies, 3 large and 2 small apple crisps, and two packages of apples, peeled, sliced and seasoned with sugar and cinnamon that I can use for more pies and crisps this winter.

I'm mostly packed and need to go get dressed and ready to go.

I always love the moment when we are sitting in the plane and they close the doors.  At that moment anything left undone, stays undone, and I can sit and read and not think about anything else. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

My day started with a meeting at 6:15 am.  Then ,I was a poll watcher until 10am. This was crazy - I sat behind 3 women who were checking people off their lists as they voted. I  had a list of known Democratic supporters and had to overhear the names and addresses (they were listed by road number) and check them off so that.....

At 10am, the COG could enter all the data 4 of us (in 4 precincts) had gathered so that.....

New canvass lists (called turfs) could be generated, excluding those who had already voted, so that.....

We could walk 16 'turfs' talking to people and leaving door hangers that reminded people to vote. This is all part of the Get Out The Vote initiative the Democrats are using.

The COG drove me around 2 whole turfs and I ran up to houses, knocked, rang bells, chatted, and left Remember to Vote signs.  I stopped at 4pm, about an hour past the point where I had given up the will to live and was basically a zombie.

The COG is now out holding signs by the polling place in the freezing cold (coldest day since last February).  What a guy.

I, on the other hand, am home.

The Guardian tweeted that a man died at a polling place today. EMTs came and revived him. The first thing he said upon regaining conciousness was, 'have I voted?'

That could have been me - only I would have said - 'have you voted?'

At 4pm 5,800 voters out of 9,500 in our town had voted. That's around 61%, and it's before the after-work rush.  I can hardly believe those numbers - though they came from an official source.

Post Script:  In the final count, 80% of the registered voters in our town actually voted.  Pretty incredible.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Flu Shots & Bumper Stickers

One the way back from getting our flu shots, the COG and I drove behind a horse trailer that had excellent bumper stickers.  We couldn't read them all, but we saw three we had never seen before:

1) Want to save a trillion dollars?  End the Wars.

2) I'm Straight, Not Narrow

3) What If We Destroy the Earth Before Jesus Comes Back.?