We decided to go and hunt for 3 pressies, including one for me as I am worth it, in Hastings Old Town. Grrhh, half of the favourite shops were closed and it was 11.00am. We thought about going for food and drink and then try again, but got waylaid by the few shops that were open. Firstly, we noticed the tattoo parlour had moved to smaller premises. Don’t suppose you need much floor space for ink, needles and a chair. The new shop that replaced it was setting up and looked as if it was doing retro stuff. That should interest G as he still has clothes in his wardrobe which he covets and occasionally brings out, looks at, and says things like “this must be worth a fortune”. Some of them are really trendy, as the moth holes are getting bigger by the minute.
There used to be an independent opticians. He had an old bike in the window covered in glasses which were really unusual. He is now in St Leonards I think. Never dared go in his shop, as it was so small, and being weak willed would have signed up for something not at all suitable, after parting with a few hundred pounds, and then hiding them forever.
Found our favourite coffee shop Hanushka. Full of books and lovely furniture and bits and pieces. The settees are so comfy, and they do all the newspapers. On a Sunday, we could be in there for 2 hours. Can’t bear it if someone beats us to the papers and are hogging the settees. Oh, and the toilets have loads more books in and cloth flannels to wipe your hands.
The couple who run it are a delight and have two gorgeous children. The first time we went in the owner had just had a baby boy two weeks before and he was in a little pram. She had just opened and was busy cooking, cleaning and serving. It is a testimony to them, it is really popular and has a loyal following.
We set off looking for pressies again. They were for very special friends and my limit was £2 each. Couldn’t find anything that cheap, so had to bite the bullet and get the plastic out. None of our friends are worth more than £2 in our opinion. Saw lots of local characters, some great, some a bit whiffy. Walked our legs off.
Went to the organic, sourdough infested, whole grain, very expensive bakers. Several years ago we bought a small loaf and two very kind to pigs sausage rolls and it came to £7. I had already got a tenner to pay with in my hand, so couldn’t get out of it. Lesson learned. We only go in now for free tastings to try and recoup our money. So far we are well in by about £50.00. We were tempted by the organic spinach and asparagus quiche at ‘only’ £6 a slice, but were a bit full after the blueberry doughnut tastings, followed by organic chocolate brownies. Didn’t give you much, but can’t complain as suppose it was only supposed to be a tasting. G said you have a lot of chocolate on your face, and wiped it off with his hanky. What a waste of good chocolate, not to mention the state of his handkerchief. If he gets hay fever and starts sneezing, just imagine the looks he will get when he pulls out that brown smeared handkerchief.
We had a meander around a graveyard on the road to Rye, I like graveyards, and we chatted to an old and not very good artist and eventually found the grave of Spike Milligan. We must have been here about five times and we still have to wander around for ages before we find it. I am convinced they move all the gravestones around once a month. Apart from (probably) Prince Charles, G knows more about Spike Milligan than anyone else in the world so will let him tell you more.
Hastings Old Town has to be one of our favourite places. Not the ‘front’ which has sold its soul to the day trippers, of which there are many, but the warren of narrow passageways known locally as twittens and the boutique shops and cafes that line both the street set back from the sea front and the old High Street with its exotic blend of antique shops and junk shops.
The Stade at the far end of the seafront is notable for the distinctive clapboard net huts which were built to store fishing gear in the seventeenth century for Europe’s largest beach launched fishing fleet. There’s a notable art gallery, the Jerwood Gallery, and the very last sailing lugger The Enterprise crammed inside Hasting Fishermen’s Museum, plus a pair of funicular railways, one leading up to the top of East Hill Hastings Country Park and the other taking visitors from the heart of the old town to the West Hill. Hastings nestles between these two hillsides and there are glorious country walks to be had up there, but our destination of choice is the Old Town itself.
We meet a friend, by chance, outside ‘the only bookshop and Thai Cafe in Great Britain or Europe’ which is quite a claim and I have no way of refuting it. Despite living in the area for quite some time, we never ate here. The bookshop itself, second hand books of course, always seemed a little on the scruffy side to me whenever I went inside and this undoubtedly gave rise to a predisposition that the food would be equally fusty in nature. No doubt, a completely false impression, but there you go. It seems popular and has been trading as a restaurant for quite a while although it’s been a while since I saw it open for book selling business during the day. Our friend said ‘someone will come if you ring the bell,’ but we didn’t bother.
We went just up the street to Hanushka, a café where the walls are crammed with books, they provide newspapers to read and even comfortable sofas for the weary. We love it here and the owners are delightful. Sitting outside was someone we know slightly who used to work as a waiter at a different restaurant, but would now have to be called a waitress. In these transgender times, it’s a little confusing to meet someone who we last saw wearing waiter garb, black trousers, white shirt, black tie, and is now wearing a garish floral dress. I just about managed to avoid saying my usual, ‘hello, mate,’ and gave a cheery nod of the head instead.
Marigold made her usual pilgrimage to browse some favourite shops and eventually we reached Judges Bakery. When we first came to live in this area we were delighted to find an artisan bakery in the High Street. We later discovered the owner was Craig Sams, a name we knew very well. Way back in the late 1960s we lived in Holland Park, Notting Hill and Bayswater in a succession of grim and dingy rented bedsits. We didn’t care, this was the Swinging London era and we’d lived in a tent in Cornwall for six months before moving to London so anywhere was luxury by comparison and in our youth we weren’t remotely concerned with creature comforts.
We loved the vibrancy of Portobello Road, within easy walking distance, and there we discovered Seed, the UK's first macrobiotic restaurant and shop, and later Ceres where the bread was baked on the premises and ‘something from Ceres’ became our Saturday morning treat. The owners were Craig Sams and his brother Gregory.
Nebraska-born, Craig Sams imported Afghan coats that he had spotted on his travels in Asia to sell on Chelsea's King's Road. Among his first customers were the Beatles and a fashion trend was born. Craig Sams was a pioneer of the ‘organic’ movement and without his influence the supermarkets and high street shops of today would be very different.
He later founded Green and Blacks organic chocolate and after he sold the chocolate company came to Hastings to run a bakery shop. He no longer owns Judges, but is still very active in the area.
Leaving Hastings, heading for Rye, we stopped and browsed the churchyard at Winchelsea. This is a lovely spot, very peaceful, and we had the place to ourselves apart from an old lady painting a watercolour of the church. She told us she had been ‘trying to get it right’ for many years and this was about her fiftieth attempt. It was in its early stages, too soon to make a judgement. She showed us a painting of the John Wesley house on the main road which she seemed pleased with. We weren’t all that impressed, but of course didn’t say so.
The old lady, Edith, said she had lived abroad for many years but had returned to England ‘for the sheer majesty of the scenery.’ This we could wholeheartedly endorse. We’ve lived in several countries, visited a great many more, but nothing compares to the variety of scenery we find in England.
I was reminded of something that great Anglophile, Bill Bryson, said and looked it up later.
‘Nothing, and I mean, absolutely nothing – is more extraordinary in Britain than the beauty of the countryside… the makers of Britain created the most superlatively park-like landscapes, the most orderly cities, the handsomest provincial towns, the quaintest seaside resorts, the stateliest homes, the most dreamily-spired, cathedral-rich, castle-strewn, abbey-bedecked, folly-scattered, green-wooded, winding-laned, sheep-dotted, plumply hedge-rowed, well-tended, sublimely decorated 50,318 square miles the world has ever known – almost none of it is undertaken with aesthetics in mind, but all of it adding up to something that is quite often, perfect.’
Well said, Mister Bryson.
After an unfeasibly long search – no excuse offered, it’s in the same position it was last time we were here, despite Marigold protesting otherwise – we found the last resting place of Spike Milligan.
I’ve been a Milligan fan for many years. Genius and madness are closely intertwined and the man who wrote his own obituary, in which he stated that he ‘wrote the Goon Show and died’ was undoubtedly a genius yet suffered from severe depression for most of his later years.
Milligan’s gravestone was intended to bear his own epitaph: ‘I told you I was ill’.
Regrettably, in my view, the Church refused to allow this inscription, but Milligan’s coffin was draped in the Irish flag and the gravestone bears his exact words, but written in Gaelic as ‘Duirt me leat go ruich me breoite.’ The headstone also bears the words, ‘Gra mór ort Shelagh,’ which translates as ‘Great love for you, Shelagh’.
(If any Gaelic speakers read this, I hope I copied it correctly- the words are somewhat faded).
That has to be the best ever epitaph, closely followed by one from another man with a great number of words at his disposal that I remember well: Winston Churchill’s tombstone bears his own words: ‘I'm ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.’
A contemporary of Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, offered this wisdom: ‘The graveyards are full of indispensable men’. On the same subject, Milligan famously said, ‘I don’t mind dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens’.
Better start working on my own epitaph; the bar is set pretty high.
Spike Milligan bought a house called Carpenter’s Meadow, on the intriguingly named Dumbwoman’s Lane in the 1980s when he decided to escape the pace of life in London and lived there, with his (third) wife Shelagh from 1988 until his death. When appearing on the tv programme Room 101, Milligan offered up his own house, claiming it was a monstrosity. Further evidence of his dislike for the house was his removal of the house nameplate, Carpenter’s Meadow, replacing it with one of his own, The Blind Architect.
Rod Hull also lived in Winchelsea. He was most famous for Emu, his puppet bird attacking Michael Parkinson. Comedy gold, even more so when Parkinson didn’t find it even remotely amusing. Even so, he doesn’t rate much of a mention here; genius being the entry level for inclusion in this blog!