What a week – Hastings Battleaxe is exhausted

It started with the Great Funeral Day this time last week, progressed via a visit to Pashley Manor to a day in London to meet my daughter Clara, then a poetry workshop day at Berwick Church, a weekend in Bristol staying with step-daughter Anna and her partner Gareth, which included crane-driving, on up to Birmingham for the funeral of my dear old friend John Rouse at Highbury Hall, and ended with a night at the Edge Hill Castle pub/hotel. Just got home… Phew

The Castle at Edghill – plus Philosopher


View from our tower window

So, this is where we finished up last night … the Round Tower at Edge Hill was built in 1740 to mark the spot where Charles I gathered his troops before the battle, 100 years before. It is now a pub/hotel, the Castle. I had booked us in there for the night as a surprise for Philosopher. We occupied the Rupert Room at the top of the round tower, with a four-poster bed and the most fantastic views…  Had dinner in the restaurant the night before. It was all great except the shower didn’t work and the breakfast was a bit eccentric… but there you go, it was something way, way different.

Monday was the Queen’s funeral day. Now, I think I’ve said before that Battleaxe loves a good funeral march (my favourite is the Beethoven/Walch – yes, this one) plus parades of muffled drums, massed bands, slow marching, gun salutes etc. By the end of the day I had thoroughly overdosed. It was a bit like spending too long on a boat – when I went to bed at night I had funeral marches playing in my head. But in terms of being moved, it all left me cold – lone pipers, the lot – until I saw the pony, standing by the Long Walk, and then the corgis…. oh dear.

Heaven knows what bonkers sentiment button gets pressed in the Battleaxe brain by sad animal things. When I was a child my sister used to tease me by reading extracts of a poem where a horse mourns the death of his rider – sadly, I can’t remember what poem it is – but inevitably it would make me blub. Also think Greyfriars Bobby, and a very weep-inducing book, ‘Mrs Chippy’s Last Expedition‘, by Caroline Alexander, about the sad end of the cat on Shackelton’s ship.

Next day, we went to Pashley Manor to admire their dahlias. Wonderful.

Thursday I was up in London meeting daughter Clara. She has a new job, working for a company that has offices in Dublin and Portugal. Ideal.  She was in good form. We are planning to go out to see them early next year – combine it with a trip to see Tom in Santiago de Compostela. Ah, what geographically scattered children we have.

Friday, something completely different. A poetry workshop for our Stanza Group at Berwick Church, focusing on the Bloomsbury group wall paintings. It was about writing ekphrastic poems. What on earth is that, you may well say. Well, an ekphrastic poem is about another work of work – most commonly, about a painting.  Such poems can either be descriptive, or about the feelings the work of art invokes, or written from the perspective  of a character in the painting etc, or a combination of all three. We had a good turn-out – 11 of us, and an excellent day, with lunch in the very nice Cricketers pub, near the church, except it absolutely pissed down with rain and we got soaked… Trouble is, sssh… look round to see who is listening… I don’t think those paintings are any good. They’re a bit wooden. I don’t much like the Bloomsbury lot at the best of times. Here is a post about an earlier visit, both to the church and nearby Charleston House.  I chose to write about Vanessa Bell’s nativity – according to the blurb she included two blokes with only one arm, so I wrote from the perspective of one of them. Here’s the painting… shall I add the poem? Yes? No? No. Maybe when I’ve polished it up a bit.

Saturday, off to Bristol to visit Anna and Gareth. On Sunday we had a great time down at Bristol Docks. They thought the steam crane might be operating, but turned out it wasn’t. Did you realise, readers, there is a massive coal crisis for heritage railways etc? The last Welsh coal mine has closed, and there are no viable alternative sources of supply.  Many railways, and other heritage steam attractions are in danger of going out of business. Anna recognised Bill, the Fairbairn Steam Crane minder man walking along the dock, and he very kindly opened up the crane specially for us four to have a look. We did say we had come all the way from Hastings.  But he told us that they can no longer get the coal to fire it up – they have tried Polish coal or something, but it is too ashy and smoky… Such a pity, because it is a marvellous machine.

The Bristol steam crane – a rare survivor

After lunch we had a great treat, a ride in one of the huge electric tower cranes. We went up the side in a wonky little lift, then had to climb a ladder to the cramped cabin. The bloke showed us how it worked and then let each of us have a turn driving it. Turns out it is far from easy – the heavy hook on the end of the line from the jib has to be controlled tightly and skilfully or else it swings around wildly, killing passing people, damaging ships etc.  We didn’t actually operate the hook, just spun the crane round on its axis. It felt very high in the air and a little precarious.

Next day, off to Birmingham, and Highbury Hall.  Battleaxe hasn’t been there since my wedding to Philosopher, 11 October 1986. Back then I worked for Birmingham City Council, and they had barely started opening up the house for private events – I think our wedding was one of the first. It is a wonderful old place, the former home of Joseph Chamberlain, but sadly I thought it had gone downhill a bit, and had become more institution-like.  I’ll have to look at our wedding photos to see the differences, but I remember more furniture, paintings, ornaments, vases etc., brighter decoration. I rarely look at the photos now, those 80s clothes were so awful. Perhaps the City Council have had to flog stuff off to make the books balance.  Also, our wedding day was bright and sunny, yesterday was chilly and overcast, and everyone was in sombre funeral weeds.

Here is a piece written about John by my old Brum friend and fellow-blogger, Richard Lutz.  I’d known John for years, before he was married, ever since I joined the Labour Party soon after I first arrived in Moseley in about 1980. I was very fond of him.  He had been very ill for a long time, but was always positive.  He, and Jan, his wife, have been down here to stay with us a good few times. John was brought up round here, near Tenterden.

Battleaxe, John and Jan at Smallhythe years ago…

Every speaker at the funeral yesterday said what a ‘people person’ John was, and that showed, the place was absolutely packed. Many of the multitude, of course, I knew, but many of them I hadn’t seen since we moved down to Hastings 11 years ago. Some, I scarcely recognised. It was actually a bit of a shock… I know we are all getting older… Some women seemed to have got smaller. Once again, I think Battleaxe may have had the luck of the devil.  Many years ago, after one of my cancer scares, I had a bone scan. The testers thought that I would be in danger of getting osteoporosis in about 10 years time, and asked if I wanted to take medicine to strengthen my bones. I took it for years and maybe, as a result, I am now taller than some of my contemporaries – and I also believe Battleaxe still blazes and burns with the fires of life… does that keep you young? I dunno.

After the funeral, we popped round to see another old friend, Dave Jones, who had a terrible accident about a year ago and broke his back – he is now confined to a wheelchair, and his movement is very restricted, but he was in great spirits. His wife, Carole, was at Highbury Hall.

Talking about burning and blazing, what the bloody hell is going on with the government?  It is becoming uncomfortably apparent that the Tories must be deliberately destroying everything, creaming off as much money for themselves and their mates as they can, in the full knowledge that they will lose the next election and the mess will be too much for Labour to sort out…





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