Monthly Archives: November 2015

Brighton Pier

As a child Weston-super-Mare was the nearest seaside town, and childhood visits with Grandparents stay in my mind – my parents were always too busy working for holidays!, And my next brother down was still a baby.  What do I remember? – The endless mud on the ‘beach” with just a glimpse of the far-off flat, grey sea, that one thought it might be possible to reach, though never was.  The smell of the seaside.  Was it ozone, was it rotting seaweed or maybe untreated sewage.  Having now travelled extensively round our shoreline I think most likely, the middle of the three.  And another of those faint lingering memories was of the pier, with its terrifying glimpses of the swirling sea beneath (when it was actually in of course) through the worrying gaps in the slats of the decking; and penny in the slots machines of ‘What the Butler Saw’  particularly mystifying to me as I wondered what on earth might be interesting about it, and why the butler even bothered to look.

Since then I really can’t remember having been on another pier, and I suppose I imagined that most piers are similar, so I have to say Brighton Pier exceeded my expectations. And if childhood memories lend magnitude to remembered places, on the principal that you were much smaller in stature at the time, and everything is remembered in proportion, then Weston-super-Mare pier may be even more of a disappointment should I choose to revisit.  Brighton Pier was enormous and seemed to go on forever.  If not as big as a small town it would certainly rival a village, and I have to say I enjoyed it more than I expected.IMG_0197 IMG_0198

As it was so very windy most of the rides were shut, though I doubt I would have used them had they been open, but I went to The Palm Court Restaurant to have fish and chips.  The fish was very fresh, in a beautiful light, crunchy batter,  and a good sized portion, which it needed to be for the price, but one is in a touristy place so that is to be expected – and though the mushy peas were nothing special the chips were excellent.

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It was great to get inside, out of the wind and many of the tables had seats near the windows with views out to sea, including the burnt out remains of the West Pier

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Unfortunately that evening I was incredibly sick, but I would like to think the two happenings were not connected, and that I just picked up some horrid bug from somewhere. But horrid it certainly was and I can only remember being so hideously sick once before.

As I result of not sleeping throughout the night I slept in late next day, missing my check-out time, but when I popped down to the Caravan Club Site Office later to explain they were fine about it, and I paid for an extra night.  What is it with me and caravan sites? I seem to be ill so often when I stay.

Still I haven’t finished telling you about the pier, and seeing a Murmuration of Starlings.

Now I have to say this is not a spectacle I have never witnessed.  Each year in the pre-Christmas season as children, we were taken Christmas shopping to see the lights and window displays in central Birmingham. The spectacle of the incoming birds was most impressive, as was the noise they made, which almost drowned out the roar of the traffic.

In the fifties and sixties they had not worked out how to exterminate the millions upon millions of starlings which flocked to the city to roost each evening, though of course they did so later.  How we as a nation can be so forceful in demanding developing countries protect their environment after the things we have done, and are still doing, is beyond me.

But back to the murmuration. I had thought of visiting an RSPB site on the Somerset Levels, but phoning the reserve they were a bit coy about the likelihood of seeing the flocks, which seemed an ill-omen, and as I was travelling to Poole anyway, Brighton was almost on the way.

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It was still sunny when I left the restaurant after my Fish Supper, but already the flocks were swirling and diving into the spaces under the pier to roost on the girders, making patterns over the sea and against the horizon.  It was mesmerising to watch, and I feel that a Mesmerisation of Starlings would be a better term: particularly as any ‘murmuring’ they did that evening was drowned by the crashing and sucking back of the waves on the shingle shore.  And the Birmingham starlings of my childhood should have been called a Screeching of Starlings, or maybe even a Splattering of Starlings, as the ‘Good Luck’ which rained down was sometimes hard to avoid.

That evening I stood and watched the Brighton Pier flocks coming in for nearly half an hour, by which time the sun had gone and the pier lights were twinkling.  As I turned to go – by now throughly chilled and with a two mile ride in ahead of me – I saw the warm glow of the inside of the Fortune Teller’s gaily painted Gypsy Vardo.  ‘Why not’….. went through my mind…… then I saw the sign reading £20…… and thought again!

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I half considered asking for a discount with the reasoning that I probably didn’t have as much life left to ‘tell’ as the rest of her customers.  But having had negotiations with gypsies in the past I knew things had a tendency for turning acrimonious, and in any case Little Miss Phoebe was waiting for me back in Thebus.

So we will just take have to the future as it comes!

Brighton and The Pavilion

So on down towards the south coast and Brighton.  Even though I wasn’t early starting I had an easy journey down: it was Sunday afternoon and all the traffic was travelling in the opposite direction to me and heading back towards London.  Including what looked like several thousand motorbikers  – I nearly called them motor-cyclists, but somehow that does not have the correct ring.  Sometimes I wonder if I am out of’ kilter with my times: its only quite recently I have got my head round calling it ‘the radio’ and not ‘the wireless’.

I arrived at the Brighton Caravan Club site in the dark and wind, plus it was raining a little, so not the best of starts.  The rain and wind kept going for most of my stay, but I did manage to get down to the town a couple of times in the shortish interludes of reasonable weather.  Absolutely necessary as the campsite was about a couple of miles from the town and the drive there was along the exposed road on the seafront.

As I hadn’t seen Brighton Pavilion since the 1980’s I thought a revisit would be good: plus if I had previously visited the pier at Brighton I certainly didn’t remember it.  There was another reason for visiting Brighton Pier:  I had heard that many starlings flocked there to perch on the girders beneath the pier as an over-night roost.

The rain stayed with us for day or two, though in between downpours I did get a chance to practice with Little Miss Phoebe walking, trotting and running beside the scooter, which as well as giving a chance for some training gave her some exercise – on Caravan Club sites dogs must be kept on shortish leads at all times, and this particular site did not even have a dog walk.

The first day of dryish weather I was off.  Phoebe had to be left on guard as she was still not reliable beside the scooter, plus she would not be allowed into the Pavilion, and I had no intention  of leaving her tied up anywhere.  It was around two miles into Brighton and I have to say the scooter performed magnificently.  I think it is about time it had a name, and in view of its recent behaviour I am thinking of calling it Super Scooter maybe The Supter for short.  We whizzed along the promenade and down to the town, following the signs for The Pavilion.  The building itself is so well known, but I had forgotten that it was surrounded by the modern day town of Brighton: somehow it is designed to be set in a landscape, which it obviously was when ‘Prinny’ lived there.

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I rather liked the large allegorical painting by Rex Whistler of the Prince Regent awakening the sleeping Brighthelmstone (Brighton’s original name before it was shortened for convenience)  It was painted just before D-Day on his lodgings wall shortly before he was killed in action

(Read more about this painting at the bottom of the page if it interests you*)

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The town we now call Brighton grew up round Prinny’s seaside Pavilion – so much so that some years later when it became the young Queen Victoria’s seaside residence she felt she was too much of a goldfish in a bowl, and it was stripped of its fantastic ornamentation – some of which was sold, and some put into store, and the whole estate put on the open market.  Queen Victoria having built herself her own, more secluded seaside retreat on the Isle of Wight.

Not surprisingly Brighton Pavilion lingered around on the market for quite some time, gently moldering away until a developer expressed an interest. Fortunately for posterity a subscription was raised and it was purchased by the town of Brighton itself.  By then of course it needed a lot of restoration, and the real joy of the place – its interior fittings –  had all been removed.  Some were in storage in the basements of Buckingham Palace, and once Brighton had started restoring The Pavilion Queen Victoria returned some of its original fittings on loan, and successive monarchs have donated even more, so now one can begin to feel what it might have been like in its heyday.

The interiors of the Pavilion were simply stunning – I hadn’t fully remembered how totally over the top they are.  Unfortunately The Pavilion regulations state that ‘No photography is Allowed’, and being me I had to stick to the rules, but going online it is obvious that others do not have such a compulsion to follow instructions – so I have borrowed some of their ‘poached’ pictures – feeling it cannot be that unfair when ‘the biter is bitten’.

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Apparently ‘Prinny’ when quite young had visited Brighthelmstone and rented a farmhouse there, spending quite considerable sums on improvements, so much so that he was immensely in debt, which is hardly surprising when you turn a farmhouse into Brighton Pavilion.

Parliament settled his accounts when he married Charlotte, a disastrous match, especially as he had already secretly and illicitly married his first mistress, the twice widowed and Roman Catholic Mrs. Fitzherbert, who had been one of his main reasons for his being in Brighton.

Years later once he became King he had other fish to fry – plus his purchase of Buckingham House which he was enlarging and enriching to be Buckingham Palace, and he seldom visited Brighton.

So having seen round The Pavilion it was still dry and there was time for lunch before heading for The Theatre Royal for a matinee performance of The Nutcracker Suite which was being toured by The Moscow Ballet.  (I had wanted to book for a tour of the Theatre Royal itself, but that was only possible on Saturday).

I decided to explore Brighton’s famous Lanes, and took The Supter, looking for Riddle and Finn’s which I had heard was excellent for seafood.  I knew you couldn’t book ahead but sadly when I arrived the seating was all on extremely high stools.  Even if someone had lifted me up there I feel I wouldn’t have been comfortable.  They suggested their seafront restaurant, which was quite a little way further on through the warren of shops, but I got there and enjoyed a nice lunch though a bit rushed as it had taken longer to get there than I had planned, plus I managed to get lost on the way back, arriving in the nick of time to enjoy the performance – though I have made a mental note that ballet is not really for me.  Having never tried the intricacies of it for myself I somehow don’t appreciate the extraordinary skill which is obviously on display.

Never mind – it was all beautifully done, and I have always loved the music so it was an excellent way to see inside the theatre.

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As I didn’t take the tour I can’t tell you whether Prinny bought Mrs. Fitzherbert along, and where they might have sat.  But I would like to think they did visit.

 

 

 

 

*Below is the article in The Independent by Graham Chainey

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http://brightonandhoveindependent.co.uk/painted-on-an-officers-mess-walls-while-waiting-for-d-day-and-death/

He wears only a blue ribbon of the Order of the Garter and a salacious smile, Cupid’s wings at his back. She wears only a girdle embroidered with the name “Brighthelmstone”. There is sea and a ship in the distance. He bends impishly over her sleeping form, awakening her to the glory that will be hers.

Below are the words: “Allegory: HRH. the Prince Regent awakening the Spirit of Brighton”. The painting is signed: “Rex Whistler, June 5-7, 1944”. June 6, 1944, was, of course, D-Day, and it was while waiting to go into action that Lieutenant Whistler, billeted with the Welsh Guards at 39 Preston Park Avenue, decorated the walls of the officers’ mess.

Shortly afterwards, Clifford Musgrave, director of the Royal Pavilion, received word about the murals. Getting into the vacated house through an open window, he was suitably impressed. “The impact of this picture, painted with great mastery in rich tones of crimson and cerulean blue, was intense.”

It filled one wall, and opposite was another mural, “a chinoiserie decoration of bamboo plants, peonies and other flowering shrubs and trees with a Chinese bird-cage hung in the branches and birds and butterflies flying around.” In the middle of this one, above the fireplace, was an oval medallion with a silhouette of George IV and an inscription neatly combining king and artist: “Georgius IV Rex”. On an end wall was a Welsh Guards crest, “painted with such realism that it seemed at the distance of only a few feet to be modelled in white plaster with the Welsh leek in gold relief”.

Permission was obtained to remove the paintings, and the firm of Drown and Son of Richmond, art-restorers, managed to cut the Allegory from the wall. “The plaster was removed and the painting fastened to canvas, mounted on a stretcher and framed.” The crest was also removed, but the chinoiserie design and medallion had to be left where it was. (They were apparently removed in 1950; by 1956, when the Benedictine nuns who still own the house moved in, nothing remained.) Musgrave relates that, arriving with a van to collect the paintings, he found a fresh unit in residence with no knowledge of the agreement, and he was put under military arrest and escorted to the guard room. Fortunately, “a few crackling words from the brigadier-general in command which seemed almost to detonate the telephone instrument” brought his speedy release.

Whistler’s celebrated Allegory now hangs outside the tearoom at the Pavilion. The crest was presented to the Welsh Guards in 1946 by Sir Osbert Sitwell, one of Whistler’s closest friends (Whistler had designed the wrapper for Sitwell’s 1935 book about Brighton).

One of the “Bright Young Things” of the 1920s and 1930s, Whistler was renowned for his murals at the Tate Gallery restaurant and in various country houses, for his ballet and theatre set designs, for his witty ads for Shell, Guinness, and the London Underground. Apparently depressed about money problems when war was declared, he decided to enlist, despite being over-age. “Longs to go to front and be killed,” noted a friend.

But he did not get to the front – yet. For four years he moved from billet to billet, many of which, his colonel-in-chief recalled, “had dirty and bare walls, all of which he changed in the most miraculously short time into the most pleasant rooms you could wish to have”.

His battalion finally reached Normandy on June 28, 1944, but did not see action until July 18. He was killed on that first day, aged 39, by mortar blast, as he tried to extricate his tank from wire.

Watt’s Chapel, Compton, Surrey

I was heading towards Brighton, then intending to follow the south coast along to Poole for the ferry, but in Thebus it was going to be quite a long drive, so I pulled in for the night in amongst the lorries.  Even though next morning was Sunday I had decided on an early start as some googling had reminded me of an Arts and Crafts Chapel which looked most interesting and was not far off the route I would be taking.  The reason for trying to arrive early was that the chapel was hidden away in a small country village, with equally small country lanes to approach it – and being near London I wasn’t sure how much traffic there might be, or what sort of speed it might be travelling.

In the event we didn’t find much traffic even on the M25 and most folk in the village seemed to be still abed as we crept in.

The chapel itself is delightfully situated, nestling into a wooded hillside.  It has an interesting history.

The Victorian artist George Frederic Watts moved to the village with his second wife, Mary Fraser-Tytler, where they built a home and art gallery.  Finding the local church had run out of room for further burials, and the parish council had purchased land for a cemetery Watts offered to design and build a chapel there, and  from 1896-1898 a group of local amateurs and enthusiasts directed by Mary Watts constructed and decorated the chapel – nearly every member of the village being involved. Many of the floral decorations around the mid rail were created by children under Mary’s guidance; her tree of life was fashioned from chicken wire and covered in plaster then painted in the same vibrant jewel colours that we can see today.

The building of the chapel was funded by portraits painted by Watts who also painted a version of The All-Pervading for the altar only three months before he died, aged nearly ninety.

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Mary Fraser-Tytler continued to live on in Compton after Watts died, and founded the Compton Potters’ Arts Guild which produced terracotta garden ornaments. Watts, Mary, and Watts adopted daughter are all buried in the cemetery as is Aldous Huxley.

Even putting the extraordinary story behind its construction and decoration to one side it is an amazing building.  The detail of the terracotta ornamentation, made from a seam of clay discovered in ground of the Watts property, is outstanding in its complexity. And the interior decorated by amateurs using basic

By happy fortune I visited on an autumn day, and the grounds near this terracotta marvel were thickly strewn with crisp  russet beech leaves, reflecting and enhancing the beauty of this hidden terracotta masterpiece, which is scarcely visible even from the tiny lane on which it is situated.

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There is a cloistered walkway curving along the brow of the little hillside behind the chapel which offers glimpses of the distant country side through its arches, and glimpses of the chapel through the interlaced branches of the beech trees.

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Even the gravestones in the cemetery are beautiful.

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Entering the chapel it is all dark and gloom

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And though there are some lights it is difficult to make out the richness of the decoration, which only seemed to really come to life in the reflected light of the camera flash.  And I remembered the scene in The English Patient where Hana is whisked up on a rope harness to see the frescos in a dark chapel.

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But the incredible intricacy and detailed decoration of this extraordinary place and the reflected light from the carpet of russet leaves even on such a grey autumn day made a mark on my memory.

 

There are more photos included in the slideshow below – Just click on the white arrow in the centre of the image

 

 

 

 

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Below is another clip of the Watt’s Chapel

Some little jobs on Thebus

So having given Thebus a bit of an internal spruce up we set off for Cannock for the MOT, which Thebus sailed through, then back to Dave’s to get some oddments done – such as (hopefully) brighter driving lights; better kerb mirrors; sorting the awning out (which has never been right); overhauling my electronic doorsteps which have a hard time of it with the mud and pot-holes we go through plus their endlessly having to go in and out, as it is so rare we stop for longer than a day; and repairing the fly scene on the door which was damaged on day one of my ownership.

And to my delight Dave made the driver’s seat swivel though 180 degrees – as it always should have done, and everyone assure me did – but could never actually achieve as it was fouled by the steering wheel. I promptly ordered a footstool and envisaged being able to sit and relax with my feet up…… ummmmmmmmm!!!!!

And I bought some spares to carry with me such as a fan belt – just look at the diagram for fixing it in!  And if its not complicated enough they even managed to show the diagram upside down

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Phoebe had a wonderful time at Dave’s as, once she was settled and I was relaxed enough to let her out of my sight for more than a minute, she had the run of the place plus a friend to run around with.  Dave’s Beagle, Charlie.  He is a rough, tough hunting dog, and happily stood up to Phoebe’s over-enthusiastic playfulness: and was not averse to telling her off when she hung onto his ears a bit too tightly, or disturbed him in his bed – which he had to take to quite often after an hour or so’s romping around.  When he went off to have a much needed sleep  Phoebe came back to me like a little lost soul – alternately covered with mud, if they had been playing outside, or covered with dust if they had been gamboling inside.  I don’t know why I had bothered to clean Thebus up before arriving, and he had to have another really thorough going over before we left.

Charlie, being a Beagle has a keen sense of smell, plus an insatiable appetite, so when I cooked some sausages, and he got scent of them, not only did he charge up my newly repaired steps and in through the door, but straight up onto the settee, and was just about to launch himself onto the worktop by the cooker before I could catch him.  Fortunately Little Miss Phoebe did not see him.  She already regards the settee as her’s without politely waiting to be asked as lovely old Phoebe did, and the idea of a Great Dane on any worktop, let alone such a small one as mine doesn’t bear thinking about.

There was the usual procession of interesting visitors who pass through,  I even saw one of the circus trucks from earlier in the year who had called in for work.

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And late one night a lovely couple of folk singers had to be brought in on a breakdown truck

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I was really pleased with all the jobs Dave managed to sort out for me, and now I shall have another six months or so to make a list of other things that need to be done.

Then back to bid farewell to Sally et at in Stourport, and a final lovely lunch at Brockencote Hall with my family.  I was a bit dubious about taking Thebus to their elegant grounds, and in fact the carpark, though huge, was completely full.  But I squeezed Thebus in down by the beautiful lake and after lunch stayed on watching the clouds and play of light over a quintessential English landscape.

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Then it was due south towards the coast.