Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Call Me Ishmael....

The south coast of England is not generally blessed with sandy beaches. Pebbles and shingle of varying size are more our forte here, with the added benefit that walking on them (especially when barefoot) equals a free reflexology treatment.

But the beach at West Wittering is gob-smackingly gorgeous - a great long stretch of practically powdery sand with shallow safe swimming and a whole load of sand dunes at one end. I've not been there for, ooh, possibly ever, come to think of it and last week, at the start of the current heatwave, I whined like a small child about wanting to go to the beach and decided it had to be West Wittering.

South-westish of Chichester, West Wittering is part of a privately owned estate (the infamous 1960s Rolling Stones drug bust took place at Keith Richards' house here - you know, the one with Marianne Faithfull and the Mars Bar, that one...). The houses are fabulously expensive, the roads quiet(ish) and tree-lined. You have to pay to park here (but that seems to be quite common these days) and be gone by sundown which seems a little draconian but it does mean that there are no fish 'n' chip shops, burger vans, amusement arcades or loud pubs. Dogs are not allowed on the beach which, on the one hand is a sadness because I love seeing happy dogs in the surf but, on the other, no dog shit! It's all very clean and tidy, there are plentiful public toilets which are a pleasure to use, old fashioned beach huts lie in a row just off the sand and lifeguards patrol frequently.

We had to get some supplies first, so lunch was bought and a couple of collapsible chairs obtained. Swimming cossies, hats and suncream were all packed into bags and off we went.

The drive down from Godalming to Chichester is really rather picturesque - it takes you through the rolling downs of southern England through Haslemere:

and through Midhurst:

Through Cocking (*snigger*):

To Singleton (where the fabulous Weald and Downland Open Air Museum is located):

By West Dean College (which has the most amazing arts and crafts courses - I'm going to save my pennies and do some....):

On through Chichester:

In between driving through lots of countryside that looks like this:

or this (humming Vaughan Williams as you go):

Until, about 90 minutes after setting out, we reached the beach, paid the parking, and headed off down to the sea.

Somewhat unfortunately, everyone else in the south of England had also seemingly had the same idea that day:

But the beach is big enough to accommodate everyone. We were, to be honest, surprised at how many older teenagers there were there that day, and then it dawned on us that A Level exams must have just finished - possibly even the day before - and now they were all out with their mates at the seaside, relaxing and letting off steam.

Of course, being surrounded by stick-thin lovelies with perfect thighs and no visible body hair does absolutely nothing for the ego but I can comfort myself with the fact that I used to look like that too and now, well, let's just hope no-one is going whalewatching:

Whoah, careful with that harpoon there, Ahab....

Still, it's always tricky to know where to put your packet of fags when you ain't got no pockets, innit:

I did actually submerge myself fully and, after the first hypothermic shock, found the sea to be quite warm so stayed in, swimming and bobbing around, for about half an hour. The last time I swam in the sea off the coast of England was in about 1984 - I won't be rushed into things! Checking online after we got home, it seems the sea temperature was about 17-19 degrees centigrade, which is somewhere in the mid to upper 60s Fahrenheit. My cousins in Canada (Hi Steve and Trudy!) declared me to be insane as they wouldn't even deign to stick a toe into water 'that cold'. However, a personal internal duvet layer of body fat always helps, I find.

The Husband can be a bit of a stranger to the great outdoors, especially if it's really hot and sunny, so after watching him slowly do a striptease in reverse until he resembled a mummy as he covered each bit of exposed skin with whatever we had to hand, we decided at about 3.30pm to head off home. It was a fabulous day and one I'm actually quite keen to repeat, especially as this summer's supposed to be a good one (and it's 28.5 degrees centigrade indoors as I'm typing this) - I just wished we lived a bit nearer.

So, I'll leave you with a few pictures I took:

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Fickle Finger of Fête(s)

It's Village Fête time here in merrie olde Englande.

We (The Husband and I) were doing a VenerableBead jewellery stall at Churt Village Fair on Saturday 13 June and then again at Chiddingfold Festival today.

Me behind the stall at Churt Village Fête

The stall at Chiddingfold Festival (sorry it's a bit dark)

English village f
êtes are timeless events that have not changed in centuries. They are invariably designed to raise funds for a ‘good cause’, which is nearly always the village, the church restoration fund (English village churches are always at least 600 years old, leak and are falling apart at the seams) the boy scouts or the village hall fund. They vary slightly from village to village and year to year and area to area, but there are some things which are essential to all good fêtes. They are invariably opened by a local Z-list celebrity if they can find one (and considering how many celebs live in our part of leafy Surrey, I'm surprised they're not queuing up for a go on the tannoy).

If you can't find a handy celeb willing to be either fawned over or (more likely) ignored by the local populace, then a worthy dignatory will have to suffice. A local councillor in the case of Churt and, for Chiddingfold, a Royal Navy Captain of a ship which is "very much like" HMS Chiddingfold, but not actually HMS Chiddingfold because that one's currently saving democracy in Iraq, although the one this chap is Captain of is the same size and shape, so that's okay then.

Anyone who thinks the English are just a bunch of alcoholics would be fully justified in their opinion if all they had to go on were the kinds of stalls available at your average village fête. At each one we attended this weekend there were several tombola and raffle stalls where the tables were groaning with bottles of all shapes and sizes (mostly alcoholic but with the occasional 'joke' bubble bath or vinegar thrown in), each with a cloakroom ticket stuck to it. Each ticket you buy for a £1 wins a bottle, so it's down to luck whether you get champagne or salad dressing.

The back of one of the raffle stalls at Churt - note the many, many bottles! There were at least two other stalls just like this...

In Chiddingfold they go one better - the Wheelbarrow of Booze! A chap walks around with a wheelbarrow literally stuffed with bottles - the lucky ticket-holder (only £1 each) gets to take home the entire contents of the wheelbarrow. It's a great sadness to us that we've never won, but we will persevere.

This is [one of] my Pimms at Chiddingfold stuffed full of fruit - yum!

There is also always a beer tent which does a roaring trade in Pimms, and a burger/sausage in a bun incineration station, manned either by local scouts or their mums, which usually smell a lot better than they taste (the burnt offerings, that is, not the mums...) but after two Pimms you w
on't care and will just eat it anyway.

Burgers & Sausages, Chiddingfold

There's always a central 'performance' area where, year after year, you get to see local schoolkids doing either country dancing or maypole dancing (sometimes both!) and it's always to the same tune, no matter where you go.

21st century Chiddingfold village life normally involves maypole dancing around the burnt out car

Chiddingfold children doing the traditional fertility dance

Both Churt and Chid had the dancing, but Churt also does the Dog Show with various classes such as 'Waggiest Tail' and 'Cutest Puppy', and a children's fancy dress parade which usually takes place after most people have gone home because it takes them forever to organise and sort out the dog show.

Churt Village Fete Dog Show

Chiddingfold, in contrast, has a performance from a local Morris Dancing troupe which consists of half a dozen grandads, usually hepped up on some kind of Olde Englishe Ale, jumping around in the heat with bells tied around their knees, waving hankies and trying not to concuss each other with sticks, to an accompaniment of accordian and fiddle.

Cup Hill Morris Men at Chiddingfold Festival

Chiddingfold also, this year, had a display by the local fire brigade involving the simulation of rescuing someone out of a wrecked car. This is what the bashed up car on the green was for - someone volunteered to be the 'victim', and she was then cut out of the car and carried away over the shoulder of a burly fireman! Unfortun
ately I didn't get any pictures of this.

For the kids who don't drink, there's plenty of other stuff to be going on with, like varying standards of face painting, or catapulting themselves into the stratosphere:

Tethered boing-ing at Churt

And, if you're lucky, there are some farm animals to go and poke (if you don't have any of your own at home, that is). Churt had goats, a very handsome/ugly Turkey, a couple of to-die-for Kune Kune pigs, chickens, a sheep, guinea pigs and rabbits:

And, rather fabulously, a fake cardboard cow to practise milking on. The udders consisted of the fingers of washing up gloves poked through holes in a bucket - genius!

Churt also had a coconut shy, the local brass band and some hugely entertaining races, including a parent-and-child 3-legged race:

As for Chiddingfold's animals they were, perhaps, more mundane - there was a shetland pony, a beautiful golden Jersey heifer, some sheep, a bunch of rabbits but - what's this? A llama!

Chiddingfold also had a coconut shy but they also had a wet sponge stall which, given the heat of the day, was hugely popular.

And a jazz band, complete with Sousaphone, no less.

I always look forward to the plant stall at Chiddingfold because it's huge and completely fabulous. I've bought Japanese maples from here in the past and this year I got a highly scented Philadelphus.

People watching is a major part of the attraction of running a stall at a village fete, and as soon as I saw this old couple perusing the plants I knew I had to race after them to photograph them. I just thought "Miss Marple" - they could only be English:

Finally, I just had to show you these. Chiddingfold has an especially large bric-a-brac stall (basically people selling their old tat for 50p an item); last year I got a green cut glass vase which started me on my whole collecting of coloured cut glass thing, so, of course I had to check out what they'd got in the hope of finding more coloured cut glass. Sadly, there was none but, arguably, I found something better. Well, a couple of things actually. First of all, I got this animal skull which just appealed to my latent inner Goth:

I didn't know what animal it was - it has a large fin running along the top of it which mean it wasn't a cat or dog skull. After researching it on the intertubes, turns out it used to belong to a European badger, although I prefer a friend's suggestion that it was a baby dragon.

But this is my absolutely pride and joy of this year's Chiddingfold Festival. I mean, how often do you find a perfectly preserved Venezuelan Piranha on a village green in deepest Surrey? How could I possibly resist its bitey charms? A bargain at 50p, I think you'll agree!

So there we have it, the first two fetes of the year are done and dusted and were, as ever, massively enjoyable, if completely shattering. Believe me, it's hard work sitting in the sunshine, eating burgers, drinking Pimms and buying piranhas but as activities go, I certainly commend it to the House.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Allotment Blog update

If any cares about such things, I have just updated my allotment blog.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Norman on my walls

Ooh, doesn't spending quite a large amount of money give you an adrenalin rush? Especially when you know you probably really shouldn't....

I made my decision about buying the art. Over the weekend I decided that I would ring the Royal Academy first thing this morning and see if the print run of Tracey Emin's Space Monkey had sold out. If it hadn't, then I would order one - I both liked it and appreciated that it would be an investment. And I would also order the Norman Ackroyd etching that I really, really liked and I'd worry about the expense later.

So 10am has just rolled around and I snuck off with the catalogue and my credit card to find a phone in a quiet part of the house. I didn't tell The Husband what I was going to do just in case he tried to persuade me that there were better things we should be spending our hard-earned money on at the moment (he's the sensible one in our relationship and, in this case, he'd be completely right). I rang the desk and got straight through and the girl who answered confirmed that the Tracey Emin had completely sold out. I wasn't at all surprised as the investment potential was obvious to everyone so there'd been a stampede. Oh well, problem solved.

I took a deep breath and asked about the Norman Ackroyd print I liked - she confirmed there were some editions available, so I ordered one! I now own one of these- it's called From Malin Head - Tory Island and is an island off the West Irish coast:

I'm totally thrilled. His pictures just do something to me - I get that visceral connection with them that makes me catch my breath. What happens when you buy from the Summer Exhibition (if it's a print and not the original, that is), is that they take a deposit from you and then, several weeks later, the artist contacts you by post and you pay the balance directly to them. You then get the unframed print sent to you to make your own framing arrangements. What I do is to place the invoice and the letter(s) from the artist into the back of the frame so that the provenance is all kept together.

After the phone call, I came back upstairs and told The Husband what I'd done. I said it was quite expensive and I felt a bit guilty for spending such money and I shouldn't make a habit of it, and he replied, "the pleasure you'll get from the picture will far outweigh the money it cost" - isn't he adorable?

Saturday, 6 June 2009

What I did on my holidays..... Part Two

Following on from Part One, which I was too knackered to finish - we left Bodean's, stuffed to the brim with pulled pork butt (I was rather taken with the black t-shirts that the waiting staff wore that had emblazoned on the back "we have the best butts in Soho" - but then I do have a very juvenile sense of humour), and sauntered off at a leisurely pace towards one of my most favouritest places on the planet, the British Museum.

Unfortunately, as we were on foot, we were forced to interact with Oxford Street. Oxford Street - you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy - it's best to be cautious. And pass through it as quickly as possible. Why tourists flock to this filthy, crowded, tacky part of London when there are so many other more beautiful parts to visit astounds me.

But in the direction we were heading, we had to pass along it to get to Bloomsbury, an area I would dearly love to live in if only I had won the Euromillions last night. It has streets of flat-fronted Georgian houses (mostly offices now, sadly) that look like this:

And squares that look like this (this is Russell Square):

I sat here having pictures taken on my Master's Degree Graduation Day back in September 2004 in full gown and mortarboard (and, yes, I was going through a bleached hair phase at the time!):

But I digress. We were heading here, to the British Museum, which I am a 'Friend of' which consequently means I (plus one guest) get in to visit any exhibition they're running absolutely free, as many times as I like!

As always - and because it's term time - the forecourt was scattered with school parties but it didn't feel particularly crowded. We went up the steps and I popped into the little room immediately to the right (Room 3) which often has small displays sponsored by Asahi Shimbun that are, consequently, of an Asian theme. The current one is about Indonesian Gamelan music and instruments, and there's a particularly ornate red and gold one in a glass case:

I then asked where the Elsa Peretti exhibition was, and we went through the shop into Room 2. This is an interesting space that's currently being used to show a sampler of items from around the museum. Elsa Peretti is a jewellery designer for Tiffany who has donated 30 pieces from her own collection, including such iconic designs as the bean, the heart and items influenced by bones. I have a silver heart necklace and also one of her lovely silver bone cuff bracelets that was bought for me by The Husband from Tiffany's in New York (it's the same as the one on the right - click on the picture to make it bigger):

There were also other highly desirable items in Room 2, such as this beautiful Mammoth ivory carving of two swimming reindeers. This is the oldest piece of carved ivory found in Europe and is approximately 12,500 years old. It was found in a rock shelter in France and is from the Stone Age, specifically, the Upper Palaeolithic. The detail is absolutely exquisite:

We decided that, as we were already at the BM, and since I get into all the exhibitions for free, that we'd be silly not to take the opportunity to visit the two paying exhibitions that are running there at the moment.

Until 14 June 2009, the round Reading Room is hosting the third in a series of exhibitions about world leaders (the first examined Qin Shihuangdi, the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, which featured some of his terracotta warriors and the second was about the Roman Emperor Hadrian - the fourth, coming in September 2009, is about the Aztec king Moctezuma and you can believe I'll be first in the queue for that one!). The current one is called "Shah 'Abbas - The Remaking of Iran" who ruled Persia from 1587 till 1629, stabilising the country after civil war, establishing the Silk Route and building the beautiful city of Isfahan. I have to admit that this wouldn't normally be the sort of exhibition I would have gone to but there were lots of highly covetable ceramics and silk carpets woven with gold thread. The illustrated books were gorgeous (apologies for the pictures being dark but the lighting was subdued and you don't use flash photography in places like this so I had to use the light available - I've tried to lighten them up using Photoshop afterwards though and this is the best I could get) -

This is a page from a 15th century Armenian bible:

This shows Sufi religious dancing:

This is a couple having a bit of a rest while travelling in the mountains, surrounded by lots of animals:

And I loved this - this shows entertainers in a market square, one of which has somehow enticed his goat (probably with the whippy stick he's waving), to climb up a teetering pile of drums!:

The other paying exhibition running until 23 August 2009 in Room 35 is called "Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur" and, as the blurb on the website says, "The exhibition will feature a loan of 56 paintings from India, none of which have been displayed before in Europe. It is a fantastic opportunity to experience the unique art tradition that flourished in the royal courts between the 17th and 19th centuries". These were extraordinarily detailed and colourful paintings - I wasn't allowed to take photos in there but I've gleaned a couple from the interweb for you:

Aren't they just breathtaking? You had to go right up close to be able to see the incredibly fine detail.

By now it was mid-afternoon and we were getting tired, and although I desperately wanted to just keep taking photographs of everything in the BM, we were aware that if we left it much longer we'd get caught up in the horror that is London commuting rush hour, so we decided to start making the longish walk back to Waterloo, but not before I took this candid shot of a young schoolgirl wearing an Egyptian mummy mask - I really hope the girl's name was Cleopatra!

In total, we walked about 4.5 miles around London on Thursday and, boy, did it feel like it yesterday - although my feet didn't hurt (thanks to Baby Jeebus for the invention of Birkenstocks), I was totally drained and didn't do anything much at all. But it was so worth all the effort.

Oh, and I think I'm going to go the Norman Ackroyd route - now I just have to choose which one!