A hot and busy few days with Hastings Battleaxe

Hot? I’ll say. Busy – very. This post includes a WI Book Club outing to Batemans, a fabulous concert at the De la Warr in Bexhill including the sad story of me and my cello, a very hot Race for Life in Alexandra Park yesterday morning, and garden bomb-site.

First, Batemans. Have been there several times, so won’t spend much time writing about the place, which of course was the home of Rudyard Kipling – hence the literary associations for the Book Club. Here is a post from 2015, which says lots about the house and Kipling. Last Thursday it was a beautifully sunny day – flawless blue sky, but still the remnants of the east wind which has plagued us for weeks and made sitting outside quite tricky. The photo above is not very good but shows just how blue the sky was…

The place hasn’t changed much over the years, but it is lovely to visit. We wandered round the garden and visited the flour mill. That was a pity – they have not milled any flour since before the pandemic. They have no volunteers to train as millers, and current health and safety requirements means that any flour they do produce is only fit for animal feed. Anyone fancy being a miller?

Then of course, multiple and inevitable visits to the caff for coffee, lunch and tea before we went home.  I had to drive myself to Burwash because had to call into the dentist first thing to have progress on my mouth checked. He was very pleased, but I stood there arms akimbo moaning on – ‘Have you ever tried to eat with one of these things?’ It was soup for lunch at Batemans….

So, to the De La Warr. A gorgeous sunny evening, just right for white wine out on the terrace. Loads of people we knew were at the concert – the event must have sucked everyone out of Hastings, and the De La Warr was absolutely packed.

It was the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Guy Johnston playing the Elgar Cello Concerto. I’d never heard of him, but what a complete surprise. I’d say it was the best performance of that piece of music I have ever heard live – and I’ve heard a good few. Sensitivity, drama, passion, intimacy – what can you say. He also had the most marvellous cell0, with a beautiful rich tone. If it is the one mentioned in the programme, it is a 1692 Antonio Stradavari.  Turns out Johnston has done all sorts of good things – he won BBC Young Musician of the Year back in the early 2000s. Anyway, I spent most of the performance in tears.  Mostly at the beauty of the music, but also, as so often when I hear cello music, tears at hopes dashed and opportunities foregone. Anyway, Johnston is a fantastic cellist – well worth seeking out.

Guy Johnston

Did I ever tell you that Battleaxe once played the cello? Well, after many years of wanting to play, I took it up as an adult (I won’t go into details here) and discovered that I had left it too late. My ear was just not keen enough to keep it in tune – especially the lowest C string. Every lesson, I relied on my teacher to tune it up for me but at home… These days, there are digital tuners to help you, and special ear training exercises for adult beginners, but in those days – nada except tuning forks. Then, that long scary finger board with no frets to help you… could I land on the right notes? Only sometimes…

The first Mr Battleaxe and I moved about a lot – seeking happiness I suppose, but it eluded us. I started cello with  a teacher in London, who lived in Blackheath – hard to get to from our place in Peckham. In Gloucestershire, I was fortunate, and went to the Cheltenham Music School, founded and led by notable cellist Alexander (Bobby) Kok. I played in Bobby’s beginners’ orchestra which was absolutely terrifying. Most times there were a few cellos, and I could coast along silently if I missed notes or lost count. One time, though, horror, there was only me. We were playing Mozart 40, and there are long passages where the cello has to keep the dum did dee dum beat going… oh ground swallow me up as Bobby whacked his baton impatiently on his music stand and shouted ‘Keep up! Play that bloody cello!’ My teacher – a young woman – was obviously madly in love with Bobby – I don’t know what relationship they had. Close, I think. She passed on his old bow to me – it had spent its working life with Bobby as leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. That bow was better than my cello, which, would you believe, was bought in London through the NAAFI musical instruments purchasing scheme – for military bands, I guess. Bobby had been taught by Casals and Fournier, and had very clear ideas on what was OK cello playing, and what was not. He was kind to me, but clearly I was firmly in the ‘not’ category.

Anyway, moving to Birmingham finished things. I didn’t get on with my new teacher. He was impatient, dismissive and sapped my confidence. I could have found another but my marriage was breaking up and I had no stomach for it. So the cello sat, forlorn and unplayed, in a corner of the sitting room. Its eventual fate was even sadder. After I married Philosopher I had a very good friend called Tony, who worked with me. He had a partner who all of us found very difficult. She was a mature philosophy student with Philosopher… Reader, Tony married her. She said she wanted to play the cello, and mad though it sounds, as a gesture of misplaced love I gave him/her my cello, plus Bobby’s bow, on long-term loan. Then, pdq, they split up and she disappeared from sight – with my cello. Tony went to work in the north of England, where, shortly after, he died of a sudden heart attack…. sad, sad, all sad.

Phew, less of that. So, Race for Life. What is there to say. I have done it every year (pandemic permitting) since 2016. I think this year was the hottest ever. It was scorching. Just enervating… but we got round, more of a stroll than anything approaching a run. Thing I hate is the warm-up. Lots of loud music and some woman screeching ‘Allo ‘Astins!’ Oh just shut up and lets get on with it, Battleaxe says…

Finally – oh blimey, our garden. Ages ago I wrote about the dusty, messy house repointing? Well, that’s done, and the next job was to take up a big area of rotten old decking in the side garden. We assumed there would be concrete underneath, but no– it’s like a bomb site, complete with base of a previous building. Next step – site clearance. It’ll be a long job, this.



  1. Val Poore
    June 18, 2023 / 9:53 pm

    A great post, Stephanie. You are a busy bee! Playing the cello, like any instrument, takes so much practice. But to lose yours that way is indeed sad. I started learning the violin a few years ago, but it gave me up when I was stuck with a frozen shoulder for 18 months. I just picked it up again last Christmas and then fell and broke my wrist in February, so I think that’s my dreams of playing done for. Good luck with your garden and well done for the race for life. I must say your costume is very fetching.

    • June 29, 2023 / 2:31 pm

      Thanks Val – the cello was just so difficult. I coould have persisted, but it would have done no good…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.