Battleaxe never likes trying on clothes in winter, when she is muffled up like a Babushka in thick jumpers, wooly tights, big boots, quilted coat, hat and scarf, but sometimes it Has To be Done.
Tunbridge Wells is our nearest high-end shopping destination. It is easy to go from Hastings by train, but lazily, we take the car and park in the Great Hall just behind the BBC. They used to have talking parking ticket machines which told you to safeguard your valuables in cod celebrity voices but sadly, those have been replaced by those complicated ones where you have to key in your car registration number. Useless for Battleaxe, who never remembers it.
Our usual route takes us up the hill for coffee at Ismail, which is on the ground floor of the Cotswold Outdoor shop. There is a good smell of freshly roasting coffee inside, excellent outside people-watching in summer, and they have a huge variety of interesting coffees and teas on offer, as well as hot chocolate. I noticed something called Pu’erh tea on the menu board, which I photographed, and asked the girl behind the counter what it was, only to be approached and abruptly questioned by a rather officious manager-type woman, which I found a bit off-putting. Turns out that the tea comes from ancient trees, and is then fermented and further aged. It sounds horrible.
|Ismail – very grand building|
Then along Monson Road to continue our shop circuit. Did I ever say that when we first came to Hastings I applied to be a board member of a housing association with offices along that road? I nearly got chosen but they didn’t feel I ‘demonstrated sufficient commitment’. Right first time there then, I was only after the expenses paid days out and the spare money to spend on the inevitable shopping. I could normally have feigned far more convincing commitment, but in fact I was developing shingles on the day of the interview. It was all for the best. I’m only too happy to be finished with social housing.
My favourite shop is Fenwicks – they have virtually a whole floor of clothing brands I can relate to: Masai, Sandwich, Great Plains, SeaSalt, Ella Moda, Nice Things, Adini, L K Bennett, Ted Baker etc.
Lunchtime, and we are spoilt for choice. TW is crawling with eateries. Have I mentioned the Wetherspoons? It is the former Opera House, and they have kept the ornate interior intact, even to the machinery for changing the scenery. They stage occasional opera productions. Whatever you think of Wetherspoons, they do a fantastic job preserving interesting old buildings. I’m thinking Harrogate, converted baths, Folkestone, beautiful old chapel.
|Wetherspoons Opera House|
However, our current lunch-time choice is the two-course £9.95 fixed price menu at Cote, just along from Ismail. Excellent value, good service, good food.
After lunch we normally stroll down the hill to inspect the lower town. TW has another large department store, Hoopers, opposite the station. This is one of those cavernous, perfumed and strangely silent retail temples one remembers from childhood. It stocks very high-end brands, and also specialises in what I class as ‘Ladies’ clothes. I have sadly concluded that Battleaxe is never going to grow up and be a Lady. Anyway, think Basler, Berkertex, Gerard Darel, Gina Bacconi, Jaeger, Joseph Ribkoff, Max Mara. Shopping done, genteel Ladies congregate in the vast tea room. My mother would have loved it.
|Ideal for an impulse buy…..|
Down the bottom, past many independent shops, galleries etc, you get to the Pantiles. The very first time we came to TW, you could still sample the iron-laden water from the Chalybeate Spring, served by a wench in traditional costume, but in 2014, the water mysteriously dried up. Nobody knows why. Anyway, we have our own, apparently more potent, Chalybeate Spring here in Hastings, in Alexandra Park. Here is an interesting web page about Hastings’ wells and springs.
Apart from a fantastic kitchen shop, there is not a lot in the Pantiles except for a few nice art galleries.
This time, we investigated the nearby church of King Charles the Martyr. Dating from 1678, it is the oldest building in Tunbridge Wells, and has a fine plasterwork ceiling. Until today, I never knew that Charles was the only person to be canonised by the Church of England. All references to him were removed from C of E liturgy in the 1850s, although a campaign to reinstate him is still fought by the Anglo-Catholic Society of King Charles the Martyr. Contrary to what I was taught at school, Charles’ followers seem to believe he was executed because of his faith.
One thing about writing this blog, Battleaxe learns so much.
There is lots in TW we have not as yet seen – rocks, steam trains…. so much to do.
|Church of King Charles the Martyr, Tunbridge Wells|
Talking of doing things, and changing the subject totally, on Saturday morning we went to a piano recital at Fairlight Hall. Quite unusual to have a Saturday morning concert. It was a beautiful sunny day. The pianist was Marcin Koziak, the Polish third prize winner from last year’s Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition. He looks like a little lad, but a lady in the loo queue told us he was married. I think he had a tough call in the competition – in the final against two very polished South Koreans who both chose to play the same concerto. Koziak has a very different style. On Saturday he played a nicely varied programme – a mixture of nineteenth century romantic and twentieth century, including Bartok’s Piano Sonata, which involves much explosive crashing about on the keys. This was followed by a very delicate Chopin encore, making an agreeable contrast.
The concert was in the Fairlight Hall Recital Room, accompanied by mulled wine and nibbles. Plenty of people we knew there, as usual for such Hastings events.
This year’s event starts at the end of February, and we will be away hunting for the elusive Northern Lights for much of the competition, but have got tickets for the final on March 7. Phew, tomorrow we are off to Madeira for a week.