Friday, 30 March 2012

Jerwood Gallery opens in Hastings.

I visited the new Jerwood Gallery in Hastings a couple of weeks ago. I’d seen it during various stages of construction and was very curious. For those of you that know Hastings the gallery is located right on the beach on the Stade next to the Staithes, the towns famous old fishing huts.  In front of the museum  is Hastings Old Town (which most people are familiar with from the TV series Foyle's War) and behind it a boat yard used by local fishermen.

View from the gallery over the boat yard.
Hastings needs regeneration. It has suffered the two prong attack of a downward spiral due to declining visitor numbers and the unfortunate policy of governments past of dumping the long term unemployed often junkies and mentalists into cheaper B&B’s on the coast.  Even on my bus journey from the train station on a Friday morning I was accompanied by a couple of stinky smelly alkies. On the other hand the Old Town is charming and quaint, the town has a considerable history and other parts of the city are bohemian and attractive. It’s a schizoid place.

View out of ground floor window
An accepted route towards regenerating a seaside town has become the opening of a gallery, the Tate in St Ives blazed the trail. The South Coast has the Turner in Margate and the re-vamped De La Warr pavilion just down the road in Bexhill on Sea.  The fact that Hastings desperately needs regeneration but has an artistic community  would seem to make it a perfect candidate for a new gallery. The building, erected on the site of an old coach park is sensitively designed in a style that quotes the nearby fishermen’s huts and its environment. As a result,whilst it is a statement building the statement is sympathetic to its surroundings.

From my window at Ditchling. Frank Brangwyn.
Yet there was opposition, foolishly in my view. I can understand the argument that the coach park brought in customers.  However I cannot believe that people really felt an unsightly coach park in the picturesque part of town was really going to be allowed to survive in any place with ambition or a view to the future? 
I suspect an element of the objection is more related to a feared culture clash. Hasting’s down at heel recent history has at least preserved an element of bohemian down to earthness and the place is affordable, a rarity on the South Coast.  The chattering middle classes of Southern England do not realise that they can be insensitive, braying and annoying with their Kidston bags, badly behaved children and sense of entitlement. The locals understandably don’t want Notting Hill day trippers pushing their rents up or pricing them out of the market. Look what happened to Cornwall. On the other hand who wants a town that is dead in the Winter with businesses that have problems staying open? The fishermen selling their catch should make money from this year round, having the Petersham Nurseries crowd yomping around your boatyard is a small price to pay. 

Ed Burra Churchyard in Rye.
The Jerwood has therefore had a difficult time of it. But they have tried hard, it has introduced a much reduced entry fee of £2.00 for locals and will open for free once a month.  It is a good piece of architecture and well located.  The building essays local traditions and has a collection of largely but not exclusively 20th century art.  Entering the ground floor I was not as impressed with the interior as the exterior with its beautiful faintly iridescent dark tiling. God save me from the convention of big cold unfriendly white rooms. The art hung here was not particularly to my taste to be fair, but was again an entirely conventional selection. I do like Terry Frost but the example of his work was chilly and lacked the emotive power of most of his paintings. It was all a bit chilly for a warm lively place like Hastings. 

View of the Staithes from the Gallery.
Things improved dramatically once you tripped up the stairs to the first floor. The architects stated that  here they had been purposefully more ‘domestic’, still more white walls but with softer wooden floors. This idea of ‘domestic’ is interesting, a large amount of art is domestic, a lot of my favourite stuff is anyway. Once you have huge canvasses in white rooms you get art as statement, as corporate gew gaw, as institution. The Stuckist hiding inside me bridles at this and I felt a real relief to be in smaller more intimate spaces with their squeaky wooden floors.

Exterior of Gallery.
Here there were several really very good paintings including a fine brawny Maggie Hambling portrait and an excellent Edward Burra painting of Rye churchyard.  The selection in the second floor was I felt well-chosen and suited both the gallery and Hastings. Although these paintings, more figurative as they are might seem more accessible and conventional in reality they were far more radical and left-field than anything downstairs. A faintly hallucinogenic painting of flowers by Cedric Morris looked fresh in its oddness and lack of trendiness. Interspersed throughout the gallery were full height picture windows which acted to convert the splendid views of town, sea and fishing boats into live landscapes and further make the connection between the art within, British, and the world without. The views through these were unsurprisingly more impressive on the first floor.

Big White Square (like the skylights though).
Another pleasure was the small café, basically in a small glass box with a terrace overlooking the sea. They are concentrating on fresh fish, much bought from the fishermen around them and it would be worth paying the two quid just to secure a table on the terrace on one of this country's rare sunny days.

Cafe (yes, it sells wine!)
Generally I am optimistic that theJerwood Gallery will ultimately be good for Hastings and good for the South Coast in general as there is certainly now scope for a small art tour along the coast. It joins the other small pleasures Hastings has to offer which combined make it well worth a visit and might tip the balance in persuading those who might otherwise pass it by to visit.

Vintage Hastings post here:
Jerwood website here:

Friday, 9 March 2012

Vintage weddings.

Waaaaaahhh! He said 'yes'.

The season for weddings approaches, men continue to propose and it has been a leap year to boot. I recently helped at a wedding fair and it occurred to me that the whole business of this matrimonial event, and I mean business, has not grown any easier over the decades. I have been to dozens of weddings and over the years a few things have become clear, to me at least and I thought I would throw them on to paper. This comes with the caveat that these are MY thoughts and if I offend any burgeoning bridezillas out there by being less than flattering about one of their cherished matrimonial elements it is just my personal opinion; we all, happily, have the right to them! So here goes:
Day goes by in a blur: enjoy

Don’t be a bridezilla, the day goes in a trice, three weeks later it will just be another party albeit hopefully one with good memories. Anthropologically speaking it is a rite of passage, and culturally speaking it is there as a public announcement of commitment. Once you have signed the papers and made your public legal vow you could mark this event by standing and screaming “we are married!” in your local high street outside Poundland.  It would basically be no less meaningful than having 500 friends in a marquee and releasing doves. You will probably not even really register all the elements you may have spent hours stressing over on the day itself. Unless the arrangements go wrong, or you don’t get exactly what you want. Perversely this will stick with you FOREVER and every time you look at your wedding photographs the fact that the roses in the bouquet were baby pink instead of dusty pink will be recalled. So the best idea is to make your choices but realise that ultimately the small things don’t matter much.

On the other hand there are certain things which, unless you are a specialist or totally in love with the idea of DIY that should be avoided. Brides should not do their own hair and nails or arrange all the table decorations or sort things out on the day because a) everyone wants a piece of you b) you don’t have enough time to talk to everyone as it is c) chaos reigns d) something or someone will play up and e) wedding day minutes and hours are accelerated to warp drive. This is why the bride should choose her bridesmaids as they need to be either calming, entertaining or capable. There is no space for dead wood, flower girls excepted. But they do have to be little so that if they demand to go to the loo loudly during the actual thing it is actually cute. Delegate, delegate, delegate.

Get a bridesmaid who can pull her weight!

The reception or party is a modern version of a traditional feast. Not a performance; that happens in the church/temple/mosque/venue. You have to feed your guests and if applicable, provide plenty of alcohol. This is more important than the bride’s dress, the venue and the honeymoon. It doesn’t matter if it a silver-served meal, a buffet or indeed sausages and mash as long as there is lots of it. And drinks should be free with the food but no need to spend a fortune. Personally I’d rather have lots of decent cheap cava than one measly glass of a pricey champagne. There is nothing wrong with cash bars in the evening. But to be frank if you can’t afford to feed guests, hire a church hall and get your family to cater. It really pisses me off if I end up with a few canapés, some scones and a 3 glasses of wine whilst the bride swans around in a Vera Wang dress.

Feed us!

I hate the phrase ‘cookie-cutter’ wedding. This is because it infers that there is something wrong with the straightforward traditional approach. This is there to help people and provide a base on which to hang the kind of planning that most people have no experience of. Instead there is this stress on making it unique, memorable and different. The sodding fact is that every wedding is different because the couple getting married, their families and friends are different. If you want your guests to dress up as Klingons fine, but if you just want a straight forward wedding, also fine. I can honestly say that I have been to both quirky and classic weddings and neither is more memorable than the other in the long run. People should do what they flipping want to, as long as they are feeding their guests (you can see I feel strongly about this..). 

This leads me on to so called Vintage-inspired weddings, or rather what it means to the media. It is a peculiar idea really as most wedding traditions were formed during the Victorian era you could say that all weddings are antique.  I do love the idea of fifties fans having weddings in bingo halls, or the idea of slap up meals in deco dining rooms, or elegant evening weddings in black tie with a band, or Glenn Miller swing dancing soirees in village halls. The permutations are endless. But what does seem tiresome is the habit of rather rich entitled young people enjoying the modern equivalent of Marie Antoinette dressing up as a shepherdess. Distressed everything, everything from ‘artisan’ (code for bloomin’ overpriced) providers and artful little posies of wild flowers; all expensive in that Petersham Nurseries way. The vintage wedding ensemble is some floaty seventies number, they drive off in an old Morris Traveller and the bridesmaids all have hair in sloppy round big vintage rolls. They get a ‘vintage’ dj in, who isn’t and the groom wears skinny jeans and a faux Edwardian style waistcoat. Fackin’ ell, there are even a couple of vintage mags that peddle this nonsense as the avatar of a ‘vintage’ wedding day. 

I’d rather go to Vegas…

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

'What a lot of old coddlers!' Vintage eggs anyone?

The full English breakfast is in my opinion the king of breakfasts. The Americans ruin theirs with maple syrup, pancakes and dodgy bacon, Chinese dim sum is really lunch, the continental breakfast is dull and the Japanese breakfast is vile. Having nailed my colours to the wall I must admit that an English breakfast, designed as it was to fuel an industrial revolution and an empire is a bit too heavy for lazy types like me. 

Eggs cooked in glass coddlers.

The non-negotiable element of the English breakfast is the egg, eggs are the perfect breakfast food, light, nutritious and yet they fill you up until midday. One of the nicest ways to cook an egg is to coddle it, this can be done in any container, just add egg, place in steaming water and cover. But a china egg coddler is so much nicer. One of my recent Crystal Palace charity shop bargains was one of these. Brand new it cost me £2.00. I subsequently amused myself by asking everyone I met what it was? The answers were mainly sugar dish, jam pot and face cream holder. All sensible. Only one lady knew, she looked at me as if I was a gibbering idiot and retorted that it was an egg coddler, of course! She was also the only older lady I asked. Egg coddlers stopped being widely used in the 1960’s.

The exact same coddler I bought recently for £2.00.

Here is a picture of the one I bought. You place your egg in it, pop the lid on, and cook in steamed water for as long as suits your preferences. You then eat from the delicate pot with a spoon as you do with a boiled egg. The difference is that you can add things to the egg: cheese, spinach, onions, ham, the options are endless. See the Vintage Patisserie Vintage Tea Party book or look on the interweb for recipes. And if you see one nestling amongst the cracked tea pots or chipped plates in a charity shop, pick it up. I think a china egg coddler filled with chocolates would be an excellent alternative to the traditional Easter egg. xx

The Downton abbey version!


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