Stamford, Lincolnshire. Historic market town. Beautiful stone architecture. Lots of old buildings. Peaceful atmosphere (but then it is Monday night). So why then can’t I find a half decent looking pub that might serve a decent pie and a pint after a hard day’s work? And what idiot converted that church into a Boots and Vision Express?

Crouchers Bottom

Lewes District Council is making a big fuss about street names. They want to sanitise them by using a pre-approval process for new names to rule out anything that might have a double entendre (even if unintended) or that might be "aesthetically displeasing".

What a load of nonsense. Lewes DC is LibDem controlled and this is a poor advert for them. It smacks of pettiness and small-mindedness.

There are many names which have heritage value that could certainly be considered rude now. I used to havea girlfriend who lived at Crouchers. Just down the road was a country hotel that used the name Crouchers Bottom, which had been the name of the property for hundreds of years. In Sussex, there are plenty of Bottoms (valleys and dips). There is also a Gay Street (homophobic?), Black Down (racist?), the river Uck (yes, the signs get defaced all the time – boring, kids, not funny any more). Lewes itself sits on the River Ouse – it doesn’t really ooze anything and it isn’t a particularly attractive word (it’s just an old word for river), but nobody would want to change it.

It’s a dangerous policy. There is an area of Southsea which features the unbelievably tedious names of Harold Road and Trevor Road – so called because, before it was developed, the land was owned by a family with these names. The area adjoins Fawcett Road which has a pub at one end – you guessed: The Fawcett Inn. More entendres than you could shake a stick at. But I suspect that these aesthetically displeasing names were just fine when they were new – language and attitudes change with time.

And do we really want to have a bunch of wholly anodyne names for roads? Downs View is incredibly over-used in this area. Around Chichester, anything to do with the local heritage (Roman history, the Cathedral, motor racing at Goodwood and local flying aces/aircraft of World War Two) gets used time and time again. Or you end up with a situation like that at Kings Hill (what used to be West Malling airfield) where all the roads are named for varieties of apples – braeburn, russet, worcester and bramley – or old aircraft – typhoon, tempest, anson and stirling. They soon merge one into the next in the warren of identikit houses.

Perhaps there should be pressure on developers to be original. Maybe they should be made not to repeat a road name that has already been used in the same district. That would certainly get rid of the Downs View/Street/Road/Close problem. But it might lead to things like the road near my parents’ house called Syke Cluan Close (apparently, it is named for a place in Scotland, although Google draws a blank) – not relevant to the local area, hard to spell for the locals, but certainly original.

Any funny names up your way?

View from the DLWP

As you look out over the English Channel from the De La Warr Pavilion, you’ll probably see some ships, yachts, dinghies, windsurfers and the odd fishing craft making their way up and down and across the water.

Then, on the horizon, you might spot something that looks a little odd.

something odd on the horizon - if you look really closely and squint a bit

Watch it for a while and you’ll notice that, unlike the other craft that you can see, it isn’t moving. Take a closer look.

looks a bit like a number 4, backwards

What the heck is that?

Well, the clue is just to your right at the Sovereign Light Café. You’re looking at the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse, which, remarkably, guides ships around some particularly unpleasant shoals with nothing more than a 35 watt halogen lamp, presumably not much different from those security lamps that you can get from B&Q. So, if you’re planning to build your own lighthouse at home, all you need is a suitable concave mirror to focus the beam and a security lamp, and Robert is your Mum’s brother.

As for the lighthouse, it’s been rented out (click for nice piccies). Apparently, Trinity House considered switching it off as modern craft have satnav and GPS or whatever and don’t really need the lighthouse to find their way around the shoals. Except that they realised that, if they switched it off, there would be this huge concrete thing in the middle of the Channel that might be a bit of a hazard to shipping. So, there it stays, flashing away every 20 seconds, night and day, 365 days a year.

De La Warr Pavilion

Yesterday, expecting a not particularly warm or sunny day, we headed down to the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, partly because we walked past it when it was still under restoration and vowed to come back, partly because we were headed that direction anyway, partly because we wanted to catch the Grayson Perry exhibition before it closed (it’s on its way to the Harris Museum in that there oop-north and we highly recommend it – as you might expect, it does feature both ceramics and cross-dressing, but only incidentally to the main focus of the event, which is art from the 50s, 60s and 70s, including some excellent social history) and partly because DG said we should go.

What we got was a warm and sunny day, a fabulous building, an excellent exhibition and a really good slice of flourless chocolate and hazlenut cake.

One thing that strikes you as you wander around the De La Warr Pavilion is just how, well, joined-up (for want of a far better phrase) the whole thing is. It strikes you that someone has thought about the whole thing, right from conception to restoration and on to the day-to-day running of the place. The building itself is stunning:

De La Warr Pavilion - approached from the west on the Esplanade

As you walk further around it, you immediately become sucked in by the fact that the whole thing sits perfectly in the landscape and is so damned photogenic.

De Law Warr Pavilion viewed from the south-west

Of course, it is art deco grandeur on an impressive scale. Anyone familiar with buildings along the coast of Sussex will recognise the art deco trademark curves, flat roof and clean white (or, in this case, cream) exterior. This has to be the best-preserved art deco building I’ve seen. It reminded me of a few that are now lost (Bognor bus station, anyone?).

But the overwhelming impression is that everything is just right. The red flag with newly-painted white ballustrade and royal blue lamp post…


…the specially-commissioned red chairs in the café…

red chair on balcony

… and even the wonderfully aligned deckchairs with their matching royal blue canvases.

deck chairs

A visit to the café reaffirms the impression of perfection. The staff are perfectionists when it comes to serving coffee, even to the extent that they took one man’s coffee back and replaced it because the chocolate powder on top was not arranged just-so. And the cakes. Mmmm.

And then there is the roof deck.

the roof

The roof terrace is just perfect. A broad expanse that, mercifully, has been kept clear of tables, chairs, ice creams and other clutter. There’s nothing to do up here except drink it all in, particularly if you’re lucky enough to get a bit of sun for some artful shadows…

railings on the seaward side of the roof

… and a few clouds to give the sky towards Eastbourne some dramatic texture.

view towards Eastbourne

And, as you descend, there is that famous stairwell – which I think will become the most photographed stairwell in Sussex.

stairwell, looking down

The other thing that struck us was the variety of people using the Pavilion. There was a good number of arty-farty types visiting the exhibition, but they were matched in number by locals (particularly of the elderly variety using the café) and a good smattering of families joining a tour of the Pavilion on to a trip to the beach. The fact that entrance to the building and the exhibition space is all free has to be a factor in this.

The Pavilion itself is, no doubt, going to attract a good art-following crowd to the town. This has to be a good thing – Bexhill has been teetering on moving from being a rather genteel seaside town towards becoming more than a little bit shabby. It still has its less-salubrious areas (Sidley has to be in danger of falling into this category), but we got the distinct impression that the town is on its way up. And, in combination with the wonderfully-revived Pallant House in Chichester and all the usual wonderful things in Brighton and Hove, the Sussex coast is becoming more of an arts destination by the day.

Wine tasting classes

The French governing party, the UMP, has suggested that children should be taught to appreciate wines when in school – which doesn’t strike me as half as daft as it might first appear. I’m not sure about wine alone, but there could be something in encouraging kids to learn more about art, literature, architecture, food and drink – to be able to critically appraise it and understand its origins. Of course, some of this sort of stuff is taught already as part of a wider education, but I know from my own industry that plenty of kids seem to come out of school with no idea where food comes from, what art is “about” and why architecture is important. Even my own wife can’t tell the difference between sage, marjoram and tarragon growing in our herb trough outside the door.

I have no doubt that having a greater understanding of these things helps you to look beyond yourself, understand the world around you and further appreciate the inter-relationships between so many things in life. That has to be no bad thing, in my view.

Anyway, in other news we have today found out that we will not be liable for Capital Gains Tax when Hels finally sells her flat in the spring, which means that we are tonight celebrating with gin and tonics, noting the subtlety of the fine gin, the delicate tang of the quinine and the sharp twist of lime (or getting drunk, you decide).

Strength in the face of frailty

Did you see the documentary on Channel 4 last night about the Young at Heart Chorus? It isn’t often that Hels and I sit to watch television together, but this was an outstanding documentary about an amazing project with a splendid bunch of people that had us riveted, alternately laughing and crying. There is a planned DVD release. The part with Fred Knittle, given two years to live just over two years previously, carrying his oxygen supply on stage as he sang Coldplay’s Fix You as a solo performance after his duet partner, Joe Benoit, had died just a few days before will bring a lump to your throat.

The most impresive character is Bob Cilman, the director. Coaxing, encouraging and, at times, herding this group of wilful octagenarians into performing a stage set that has travelled the world is a great feat of determination – the fact that the performers derive more from it than the audience is not lost on the viewer.