Fulham played Manchester United on 2 November, 2013. This photo was taken on 23 April, 2017. The Norman Arms closed in early 2014. There are some less than favourable comments to be found online about the state the place was in then, contrasting with some nicer words a few years before. It’s still boarded up now and history records that Fulham lost 3-1 and were, at the end of the season, relegated.
Welcome to rugby union in Sussex Division Four (East). We’re so far down what passes for a pyramid here that it’s hard to work out what level we’re talking about. At a rough guess it would take something like eleven direct promotions and a thousand pages of red tape for a team down here to make it all the way to the top. Today, all anyone was really bothered about was whether the visitors would make it all the way to fifteen. They didn’t have even enough men and relied on a fair few (estimates varied) from the Hastings areas to get up to strength – and even then needed the Cinque Ports touch judge to step up to the plate when fatigue meant more numbers were required. It is to everyone’s credit that whilst it was expectedly ragged at times, there was a pretty decent game of rugby to watch at all.
St Leonards Cinque Ports won 31-10. I know this because the twitter feed told me. I lost count when I didn’t see the indications following a couple of conversions. The man who runs the twitter feed also runs the line, leads the training, takes match notes and, today, gets to play some rugby for his club’s opponents. There are hundreds like him in all sports up and down the country every weekend. That doesn’t diminish the individual effort – rather, to me, it shows what an under appreciated army we have sustaining sport in this country.
The match was a bit odd. Lewes probably had the majority of possession, almost certainly had the majority of territory, and yet were never really that close on the scoreboard. Ports had a well organised defence (although a team who’d met each other before would have stretched them more) and some excellent quick breakers. That was the difference.
It was a lovely day to watch some rugby. Obviously my solution to the numbers problem would have been to get them to drop to 13 a side and cap the phases allowed before losing possession at six but even allowing for the obvious deficiencies of insisting on too many flankers there was some good football on display at times. The sun shone brightly and it was pleasantly warm. The match was hosted by Hastings & Bexhill and it’s the first time I’ve been up there and not immediately been afraid that I was about to blown from Kansas into Oz.
All in all, a very nice afternoon. I took some photos (here). I may be back. After all, someone has to be there to see St Leonards Cinque Ports make all those promotions until they can face Wasps on equal terms. Just so long as they never ask me to make up the numbers …
On the way to St Leonards to see this exhibition I was listening, as is my want, to Radio 3. They were playing a piece by Charles Ives that seemed to be a mass of confusion but out of which came a pure sound around a single vision. And then I thought: I bet I could shoehorn my thinking about that into my thinking about Kevin Cummins.
Cummins is the first photographer whose name I deliberately looked up in the pre-internet days when such things were far from straightforward. I was a tedious introvert teenager in the early 90s reading the NME and it seemed that whenever I came across a photograph that actually did more than just show a pic of a band next to some words written about them it would be by Kevin Cummins. His work always managed to bring together the charisma of the performers but also their vulnerability and interest – and to do so in poses and/or settings that seemed so straightforward but which it was obvious from the rest of the magazine few others were able to do. And he did so, at that time, in a signature style of beautiful, crisp, black and white. Out of the confusion and mayhem that is (was) teenage music he drew out the important bits and put them in front of us.
Joy Division, and then New Order, were where he made his name and this two-room exhibition has a nice overview of those. Time has not wearied them nor has the fact that every two-bit landfill-indie group to emerge from England’s public schools in the intervening decades has tried to copy them. We also get the Manics in their rough glamour early days and turning from that you get to see Michael Stipe staring back at you. It’s as if someone has gone, “Jon, which of your heroes would you like to see on a wall in your hometown?”
The Stipe shot (there are two but this is the one where he is holding a bottle) is interesting because as an REM devotee of many years standing I have seen and over-studied a lot of photos of Michael Stipe. In all of them before today I would have said that even as subject Stipe was in control – his arts school grounding and passion for the visual making sure that even if he didn’t know when the shutter would be fired he knew how the frame would look. This one? Not so much. This is a Kevin Cummins shot and Stipe is most definitely the viewed not the controller. But, maybe I’m overthinking again. It can also just be a cracking shot of an intriguing and thoughtful man taken by one of our great photographers.
Despite this exhibition being somewhat frozen in time Cummins has continued to work and if you’re on Twitter he’s worth following for two reasons: firstly, he has a habit of showing off images from his back catalogue in numbers dependent on how many goals Manchester City score and, secondly, he is quite wonderfully grumpy a lot of the time. I like my artists grumpy.
So, in summary, if you like this sort of thing, find a way of going. Your reward will be two rooms of mostly monochrome splendour. The confusion and magnificence of music has rarely been so well visually distilled into a pure sound around a single vision.
As someone who is invariably early for their train I’ve spent an awful lot of time in cafes by or in train stations. Whether that is the polite Puccinos at Gerrard’s Cross where you can also discretely read the morning papers whilst pretending not to see the sign telling you not to read the morning papers or the vast array of places that Manchester Piccadilly offers – all of which seem dedicated to destroying your soul and your wallet whilst not quite giving you a nice cup of coffee.
This particular specimen is across the way from the magnificently named St Leonards Warrior Square and will serve you either an instant coffee or a filter coffee plus a gut-busting range of breakfast treats – all for the price of a regular seasonally spiced latte from the little Costa booth we have to suffer at Hastings’ main station. The latter has lovely people by the way but they too must put up with corporate nonsense. I once had to wait an age whilst trying to pay for an Eccles cake. It could not be scanned and nor could it be found on the till. It transpired that it was not under ‘E’ for eccles or ‘C’ for cake … it was under ‘L’ for luxurious, or some equivalent bollocks. The staff looked sheepish and cursed a little in foreign. Whether at me, the till or the vast indifference of heaven, I couldn’t say.
The photo is from a chilly December morning when winter had definitely arrived. After a walk across to the station the lights of the Alpha Cafe never looked more appealing. I was far from alone in using the little time before the London train arrived to get in out of the cold and select a beverage to keep one warm and sane. And, thankfully, nobody had to guess which extra letters had been added to ‘coffee’ before it could be rung up on the till.
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.
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.
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.
It’s nice to stumble into an exhibition and find that the artistic statement says, “I might get the hang of this painting thing one day” rather than going on for 274 lines about meaning. Sometimes a still life is just a still life – even if it is fun, playful and well-executed. Sometimes the meaning, and the pleasure, is all in what’s on the wall and there’s not too much need to consult a catalogue to tell you what you’ve just seen. And so it is with Russell Dorey at the Lucy Bell Gallery.
The images are small in scale, feature a scarce handful of everyday objects and use a bold but narrow range of colours. Lines and perspective are simple. Nothing about any of these screams technical mastery. But far from being mundane or dull there is a joy in seeing things put together, in seeing a bottle of Duval or Pelforth next to a couple of empty bottles and a key, in seeing a Vermeer postcard next to a pencil and a beaker. It’s a pleasure that’s hard to explain beyond just saying: roll with it. Dorey obviously enjoyed painting this so you can enjoy looking at it.
Too often art likes to only aim for the highbrow or the obscure. Here are works that concentrate on what was in front of the artist’s nose – like a poet writing a sonnet to his half empty coffee cup on the desk rather than the field outside the window. It reminded me a bit of seeing Hammershoi at the Royal Academy a few years ago – almost shocking for just being normal.
But there’s not enough ‘normal’ in art galleries and when it’s there we should celebrate it.
There’s more about the exhibition here.