Coastal Currents- Open Studios and sensational Barefoot Opera

Our old friends Sue and Alex came down to stay for a few days, and we did all sorts of dynamic things….
     The first day we went for a long walk round Hastings – West Hill, Alexandra Park, Bohemia, Summerfields Woods and back to town. Stopped in the West Hill Cafe to admire the views of the Old Town and the sea, then for a pint in the North Star in Clarence Road, and lunch in the General Havelock pub a must-see for any lover of Victorian tiles. This is an excellent walk – I have described it in a previous blog post. That was back in 2012, I see, and again it was Coastal Currents time, and that was when we originally saw the Claire Fletcher picture… see later. What a coincidence….
      Next day we all went down to the Old Town, and first thing, stopped for a coffee at the relatively new coffee shop at the front of the Laindons Bed and Breakfast, in the High Street. It’s a risky business, letting Battleaxe loose in a new coffee place…..  On the positive side, the quality of the coffee, when it appeared, was very good.

Coffee at the Laindons

      The cafe-space is very small, just two long tables with metal stools or bench seats, but we got a good people-watching perch right by the window.  Downside is that the coffee took ages to arrive and the service was a tad erratic – it would have been OK if it had only been us there. The two blokes behind the counter worked hard, but as Alex commented: ‘capital investment had not been aligned with customer take-up’. To put it more simply, their coffee machine was too small, and they could only produce one cup at a time. On our way out, the blokes showed us their roasters (Oooh Mrs), in which they clearly took great pride, and as I said, the coffee itself was excellent.
       Our friends went off to Bexhill, and Philosopher and I tackled some nearby Open Studios. We started with Oak Passage above George Street, and encountered a parade of really spooky, frightening little men with crabshells on their back and heads, by Jo Redpath. We like the studios as spaces to look around as well as the
contents on view, and Oak Passage is an excellent example of both space and content.  We saw excellent sea paintings by, I think, Anna Pontonutti.

Interesting… but horrible. Jo Redpath

       Then our annual visit to Incurva to visit our family fly-press. This year it was looking suitably oiled and ready for use in the jewellery workshop.  Leigh Dyer was friendly as always. What a talented man he is. Someone was demonstrating hammering a leaf out of red-hot metal – reminded me of childhood ponies and blacksmiths.

Annual hello to the Fly Press

       Next, Roebuck Street and some really beautiful, but far too expensive, furniture at  Dutch Designs.
       Along Rock-a-Nore, and first to the Black Winkle Studio, where Claire Fletcher and Peter Quennell are based.  I love the way Claire paints gentle, touching, child-like fantasy without getting sentimental. Some of her stuff almost makes me feel tearful. I already have one of her paintings, I got it when I was ill in 2010, and we still lived in Birmingham. It shows a child perched on the top of a South Downs hill – Devil’s Dyke?  Child’s arm is round a huge dog, looking at the scenery.
      I saw another painting I really liked back in 2012 at her beach hut, and seriously thought of getting it, but somehow didn’t. Then a few months ago, it, or another version as Claire thought, appeared at Rye Art Gallery. I looked at it longingly on several visits, but it was expensive… But we walked into the studio today, and there it was, leaning against the wall, so we bought it – much cheaper than Rye. It is a peaceful, rather poignant scene of two children playing in the far distance, on the beach in Hastings, with a dog walking out towards them. The light on the sand is lovely. Here it is, hanging in our bedroom beside the earlier purchase. Not a good photo, I’m afraid…..

Claire Fletcher paintings – new on the left, and old

      Peter Quennell’s work is totally different – rather weird scenes made with found objects and little plastic toys. I quite liked this Medusa – I think I’ll add it to the Battleaxe of the Month picture collection to go on top of this blog.

      In the evening we all went down to St Mary-in-the-Castle to see Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore, put on by Barefoot Opera. Neither Philosopher or I had seen the opera all through before, and we knew nothing about Barefoot Opera, but we thought it would be an interesting night out for the Brummies as St Mary’s is such a fine old building.

      For non-Hastingas, it is an incredible building, one of the most impressive buildings we have, dating from 1825, partly built into the cliff. Here are inside and outside views.

St Mary-in-the-Castle

      The opera turned out to be fantastic!  Set was minimal, and the production was informal. The ‘orchestra’ consisted of piano, accordion, double base and a part-time clarinet – part-time because the bloke also sang the part of the quack Doctor in the opera. Very good he was too, as were all the the others without exception. All the performers are young, at the start of their careers, and incredibly energetic and enthusiastic. We particularly liked the Goan baritone, Oscar Dom Victor Castellino, who as well as having an excellent voice has the most brilliantly expressive face.
     We laughed and clapped throughout most of the performance, as did the rest of the audience – I have not seen anything as enjoyable for ages, and Battleaxe would totally recommend future Barefoot Opera productions.
      So, no more Coastal Currents, I’m afraid, we are off to Turkey tomorrow for two weeks.
      However, talking of clarinets, Battleaxe has just won a bursary from the WI to start clarinet lessons. Have had one sitting idle since we came to Hastings, and will now have to play it….

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