At the match: Hastings & Bexhill II v St Leonards Cinque Ports

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reserved

I haven’t been to a rugby match of either code for the longest time.  But on the day when in league New Zealand and Australia produced one of the all-time classic test matches I ventured the short distance from my front door to Hastings & Bexhill RFC.  Of course it’s union on the south coast and the game I went to witness was a derby, albeit one between the reserves of the home side and the first team of the visitors St Leonards Cinque Ports.

The temptation at Hastings & Bexhill (or ‘hays’ as the vocal few cheering them on had it) is to turn away from the field and admire the view.  From the pitchside you can see across the Old Town and out to sea.  On a day like today with its mix of sun, cloud and rain it was intermittently dramatic.  Thankfully what was taking place on the pitch itself meant that only an occasional glance seaward was required.

The scoreline at the end read 28-5 to the visitors.  Four tries all converted to one unconverted.  The unconverted was due, in part, to the absence of a kicking tee at the crucial moment.  The result was more reflective of Cinque Ports’ ability to take their chances compared to their hosts’ ability to fluff their lines.  Going by territory, possession and flashes of skill it could all have been so much closer.

I took along the camera, such is my want.  The light was crap and this bad workman is also going to blame the resulting output on just how long it’s been since he clicked a shutter at an oval ball in anger.  Should you so desire you can see some photies here.  Not a single one of the sea.

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On the radio: The Missing Hancocks

Of the 100 or so episodes of Hancock that BBC radio broadcast in the 1950s, 20 are missing.  It used to be more but a few recordings showed up and there have been discoveries in distant lands that the BBC sent re-broadcast material to.  And, via a modern rebirth, 20 has become 15 (in a way) as Kevin McNally stands in for the late Lad Himself in these five reperformed versions.

The episodes have been chosen by writers Galton and Simpson themselves.  They’re now in their 80s and have given their blessing to this 60th anniversary venture.  None of the original cast remain following the death of Bill Kerr earlier this year.  Their voices are filled by people who aren’t quite impersonating but who are recreating the rhythms and tones of those bygone jokes.  And the jokes really are old: the scripts being used today are unchanged from those used in the 50s.

The effect is interesting.  At first thing don’t sound right at all: Kevin Eldon is too loud as Kerr, Robin Sebastian not arch enough for Kenneth Williams, Simon Greenall barks as Sid James.  And McNally too close and not natural enough as Hancock.  But then the humour starts and these imperfections vanish.  They actually cease to be a problem to the point where you realise it was probably just you (me) being a bit too precious.  This isn’t a recreation in wax, it’s a living performance.

We’re three episodes in and the humour still feels surprisingly modern.  (Compare it to, say, ITMA which was broadcast only six years earlier but which comes straight out of the music hall.)  This really is the first modern sit-com, or the first one to stick anyway.  Hancock with his dreams, with his odd relatives, with his attempts at culture.  The mundane reality of life always threatening to squash him.

The flights into absurdity that seem jarring at times work well – this being radio you can forgive most things.  It’s notable that when it transferred to TV the surrealism was dulled and the focus was far more on character and observation.  Here, the boys really can suddenly find themselves running a dusty newspaper with 14 readers.

Overall, then, it is a pleasure.  The risk that things might come crashing down has been avoided and everyone involved deserves credit.  It is a fitting tribute to those voices who are no longer around to make us laugh in person but who can, through these beautifully done recreations, join us as we go back to that strange, engaging world of post-war suburbia.

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Harold and Edith

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reserved

A woman lifts up a dying man’s head.  This is drama in stone.  It’s also a telling of the conclusion of the most significant battle in English history because the dead man is King Harold and the woman is his wife Edith Swan-neck (honestly, yes).  And what ended poorly for them in life is also not going well for them now.  This sculpture, listed as being by Charles Augustus William Wilke in some places, and by Charles Augustus Henry Wilke in others, was described in a 2007 survey of Sussex’s public art, as being in ‘poor’ condition and at ‘immediate risk’.

It should have remained indoors of course.  Commissioned initially for the Brassey Institute (now Hastings Library) it has been exposed to the elements since 1953, residing at the corner of what some people call West Marina Gardens and other people (me) call ‘that space next to the bowling green, just before you get to Bensons for Beds’.  On the windswept day I was there the only other sign of life was a woman clinging on to a dog lead in fear that the hound might blow away.

There are plans to save it.  A 1066 centre has been proposed.  An idea of moving it to the Town Centre, perhaps indoors.  But the sad reality is that so much of this piece is now lost.  It almost needs to be outside in horrible conditions now so that you aren’t in opulent air-conditioned interiors wondering where Harold’s face has got to.  Maybe the nice lady from the, erm, Lady should have it for her garden.


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On the radio: The Searchers

“You might be lucky.  We’ve got some bodies in the back.”  Such is what passes for good fortune in The Searchers.  This Radio 4 adaptation goes back to the original source novel by Alan Le May, turning John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards back into Amos Edwards, but, like the famous film that character bestrides, creating a bleak, unforgiving world where there aren’t so much heroes as people who just survive.

The best of radio drama creates tight personal moments against a broad canvas.  The Searchers, with its central pairing young, naive, determined Mart Pauley and bitter, angry, violent, wise Amos Edwards, scouring the wide, wide west in search of the missing Debbie, is perfect material and, thankfully, this two-part adaptation by Adrian Bean did the story and its possibilities justice.

William Hope was perfectly gnarled as Amos.  His voice practically broadcast pictures of weathered leather.  Simon Lee Phillips was equally good as Mart, a nice mixture of youthful desire but inability to be as strong as he’d like to be.  Other voices come and go into the mix – but none stronger than those two, nor that of the wind howling across the prairie.

The years go by as they ride.  Their quest beyond futile even if it is successful.  Find Debbie who has been taken by the Comanche, or not.  Does it matter?  The world-changing incidents take place at the fringes: villages wiped out by cavalry looking for a reason, homesteads razed to the ground by Comanche seeking some kind of justice.   General Sherman clears the plains just as the search nears its end.  Two desperate civilisations that can never be reconciled but one that is clearly about to destroy the other.  There is no morality here beyond the personal need to do what’s right by family, by kin, however twisted that becomes.

Obviously it doesn’t end with an iconic image of John Wayne walking away forever searching in the soundscape.  In fact, it had a rather different perspective on the ending, maybe more true to the book (I don’t know). One that more directly reflects the terror and lack of easy answers of life in the Texas of the time.  Overall, the soundscape, the narrative, and the overwhelming uneasiness drew you in and left you deeply unsettled.  This is a difficult story and it was brilliantly told.

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At the match: Hook Norton v Newport IW FC

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reserved

“Are you from the visiting team?” the woman behind the bar asked.  If I’d said yes I’d have got my pint of Old Hooky for free.  As it was, it was just cheap enough for my London-priced mind to wonder if she’d actually added up all the drinks in the order properly.  As the beer, brewed within sight of the ground, settled, a cheer went up in the room: Newcastle had taken the lead against Liverpool.

In the Premier League players earn six figures a week.  The gate receipts from today’s FA Vase first round tie didn’t even reach six figures even with the decimal point included.  The man who took the money later found me to tell me they’d got 250 on the gate.  He meant pounds not people.  The official crowd of 93 (a 300% increase on their last home match) was enough to mean that one of the subs had to be cajoled into helping out at the half-time bacon roll stand.

By that time Hook Norton were 2-0 down to their Wessex Premier opponents.  Better drilled, better organised, and better able to take their chances Newport had soaked up a lot of pressure before applying the full rope-a-dope.  They didn’t add any more in the second half but, again, let the home team run around a lot without ever really looking like testing the keeper.  That was a shame, if for no other reason than, as the photo shows, he wasn’t the lithest of goalies and it would have been fun to see him dive about.

But we had fun in other ways.  ‘Reevo’, the home number 7, lost a tooth in a seemingly innocuous challenge, which caused the home coach to hold said item aloft and demand of the perplexed ref what he was going to do about it.  There was also some decent banter (for once, an expression used here to mean, people in the crowd having fun exchanging comments rather than its uber-laddish unpleasant cousin) and, in amongst it all, a fair amount of skill and effort.

So, a win for the well-travelled visitors was the right result.  They’re in the hat for the next round of the magical mystery tour that is the FA Vase.  I doubt whether the beer will be as good at their next destination.

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So, I wrote a review of the Tesco cafe

I’ll start with a story.  It has the virtue of being amusing and true although it didn’t happen to me.  A friend, let’s call her Mrs A, lives in Hastings/St Leonard’s.  The massive Tesco Extra for the area until recently got by with a small cafe space that had latterly been an unimpressive Costa (more on these things later) and it underwent a refurbishment over the summer.  The day came when the gleaming new cafe was ready and Mrs A, having done her shopping, thought she’d have a restorative coffee and maybe a cake.  The kind of thing that people have in supermarket cafes.  Over she went to the this new place called “Decks” where before even noticing the sign that told her to wait before being seated she was asked, “Have you booked?”

Maybe you had to be there.  But that little episode, weird and wrong though it is, does not even begin to scratch the surface of all the things that do not work about this thing called Decks that is how some bright spark at Tesco imagines its proles want to eat.

So, let’s go through what we like about cafe supermarkets.  These are things that work to greater or lesser degrees if you go to Morrisons, Sainsburys or Asda.  You want a straightforward cheapish cup of tea, coffee or carbonated beverage.  If you want food a small selection of standard cakes or a few standard meals or jackets.  Breakfast baps rather than wide selection of cooked breakfasts.  And you don’t want it to be a burden greater than your weekly shop.  I’ll declare here that I am a habituee of several of these places.  I like the functionality, the reasonable quality, and I like the price.

Now, Decks.

Tesco has dicked around with its cafes.  You don’t often come across one of its nice ‘bogstandard’ places.  If you’re lucky they’ll just have converted into a Costa, if you’re unlucky it’ll be a Harris & Hoole.  In both cases the faux hipster coffee environment is somewhat wrecked by being able to see the home pregnancy kits whilst you’re sipping your slightly too hot americano.  I used to like the straightforward places offering 8 item breakfasts and 70p coffee.  I can just about cope with artisan infiltration although I’d rather be at Asda.  But, Decks.

Let me explain how it ‘works’.

You are shown to a table having waited to be seated.  Honestly.  You can’t just sit down.  You then have to wait to be served.  The server does not bring you food.  Or drink.  The server scribbles down that you want go to the deck (this means you want food) and what drink you’d like.  You then go to the deck.  There is no option here, not really.  It’s either a breakfast deck or, bizarrely, a roast deck.  Like a full-on, proper, Toby Carvery selection. We were there at lunch so it was roast deck.  We could either have a roast in a baguette or roast on a plate and choose our own vegetables and gravy.  What we couldn’t have was a tray.  Decks don’t do trays.  They also, once you’re at the Deck, take away the menu so you can’t even see what few alternatives they are and nor can you see how much it costs.  Bizarrely eight left-over breakfast sausages were being warmed at the end of the ‘deck’ but no one knew what to do with them.

So, we filled up with our Sunday roast when we’d thought we were having a midweek snack.  Our drinks never showed.  Instead, we were brought, several minutes later, two glasses and told to fill our own.  The machine was practically back inside the supermarket.  By now the whole experience was so poor we were wondering how many words it would take to describe how bad it was.  (609 so far and counting).

If you want to know what the food tastes like I’ll explain.  It’s like Toby Carvery have given up.  Go to a Toby and – naffness aside – you get a decent portion and all the food tastes fresh even if it has been flown in frozen from Gdansk.  You also get to be in a pub where this sort of thing makes sense.  This food does not taste fresh, the Yorkshire puddings crunch and the veg and gravy are less than so-so.  This is all so meh.

After we’d partaken of this unexpected, not really wanted, and mediocre-at-best feast, our lovely, smiling waitress asked if we wanted pudding.  You don’t got to a deck for this, you either get a hot pudding brought to you or get given a glass bowl for your sundae to take to an ice cream machine.  It’s basically the kids offering from Pizza Hut.  Gee, thanks, Tesco.  We declined.  Our smiling waitress told us smilingly, as we paid, that many customers don’t seem to ‘get’ Decks.  They come in expecting a Costa, or a normal cafe.  Funny that.

There was absolutely no need to ‘book’ this time.  Lunchtime on a busy day for the supermarket and the place never got busy.  The majority in there had confused expressions like us.  Nobody seemed to be enjoying themselves.

And why would they?  Decks is basically insulting. Creating a restaurant without service and then where self-service comes without a tray, without decent food and without imagination or choice … well, it’s not exactly saying you respect your customers is it?  It’s like a management group has gone, “The core British cuisine is cooked breakfast and Sunday roast so let’s only offer those, and Brits don’t care about things like quality food or good service so let’s take those out.  Now, what’s the bottom line …”  I suspect the profit isn’t bad at all given that this unenjoyable farce cost us just shy of £20.  We could go to a real restaurant at lunchtime for that.

At no point do they seem to have asked why people would actually want to have a cafe in a supermarket.  If they need some answers they should probably visit one Hastings/St Leonard’s other supermarkets that have all stuck to their core idea and which are all busy all day long – and where nobody needs to be reassured by the staff that it’s not really as bad as it seems.


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Glyndebourne Tour: The Turn of the Screw

Glyndebourne is a remote country house and, on a day when Hurricane Gonzalo blew out its last, it made a suitable setting for this revival production of Britten’s ambiguous operatic adaptation of Henry James’s ambiguous novel about spooksome goings on in a remote country house.  Are the ghosts real?  What are these things of which we cannot speak?  Why is Peter Quint ginger?  All this and more are half-answered as the treble’s voice rises, Malo, Malo

The Turn of the Screw is a novel whose simple telling and comparative short length mask a whole heap of possible meanings and suggestions.  Britten’s opera follows this.  It’s over and done inside two hours, is set for a chamber ensemble and gets by on a half dozen characters in a couple of acts.  But it gets inside you.  It lingers.  Ignoring some of the wilder moral outrage of the characters in the book, Britten’s music (and Myfanway Piper’s libretto) draws only on key scenes.  The ghosts have voice but their motivations are unclear.  Nothing is ever truly explained.  The music that accompanies this never settles but never collapses into total dissonance.  There are tunes, there is beauty but it is surrounded by threat, by malevolence, by forces the characters, possibly not even the ghosts, cannot control.  Naturally, the opera stays true to the source material’s sad ending.  No one wants to walk out smiling.

This production is top drawer, building on that ambiguity.  The house and its environs represented by a giant, multi-framed window that sends lines across the stage, creates shapes.  The world moves in tight circles, the characters vanish into the furniture.  Harsh lights mellow and then glare again.  Shadows are cast everywhere.

The cast, too, do not put a foot wrong.  Of particular note are the children: Thomas Delgado-Little as Miles and Louise Moseley as Flora.  But this is strong throughout – and clearly sung too.  I did not need the surtitles on this occasion, something I wish would be true for more opera when it’s in English.  The sound from the orchestra pit was still strong but not overwhelming at the back of the hall.  (And a note of praise for Glyndebourne here too: this was my first visit and I was on the next to back row.  At other places that would mean a lousy seat, no proper view and dodgy sound.  Here in Sussex all was good – and for a price that would shame many other opera houses (I’m looking at you, ENO).)

All in all, a tremendous production and a very pleasing way to break my Glyndebourne duck.


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