fountain by William Pye at Clinton lodge

We visited a couple of gardens open under the National Gardens Scheme today. I’d thoroughly recommend it – a chance to wander around gardens that are normally not open to the public and to give a few pounds to thoroughly good causes in the process. And to drink tea and eat fine cake.

This is the fountain at Clinton Lodge, designed by William Pye. We now have serious fountain envy.

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?

Time flying

It only took until around 7.15pm today, 2nd January, for me to say to Hels: "bloody hell, the year is flying past already!"

2009 is certainly going to be interesting, potentially dramatic and quite possibly bloody terrifying. As Gordon put it, we will all get there by the end of 2009, but it might be useful to know where "there" is.

Meanwhile, we have "reduced lighting" in our conservatory as the electricians have been (i.e. my father and brother) in preparation for the replacement of our conservatory this week. You’d think that replacing a conservatory would not be something to tackle in times of financial uncertainty, but this qualifies as a distress purchase due to the fact that water has been pouring in and it is about to collapse. It’s only costing us <cough> thousand pounds, but it does mean that we are the conservatory company’s new best friends. It will, at least, let in more light and reduce drafts – so we should be more energy efficient, at least by a small bit.


Other thrift measures in place include:

  • taking a permit to saw down trees in a well-known National Forest and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in order to get cheap fuel for our home (and to wind up passing dog-walkers/conservationists);
  • thinking about laying more insulation in the loft;
  • starting work on the allotment – potatoes are currently chitting on my office floor and a big box of seeds lies ready. But we need to do more digging yet and also source some poo;
  • encouraging Tom to use the loo instead of nappies – he is late at making this transition, but shows no enthusiasm for it;
  • installing a new, energy-efficient washing machine (another distress purchase – water flooded across the floor and the engineer scratched his chin and sucked on his teeth, just as the warranty had expired);
  • enjoying days out that consist of walking with occasional added pint/coffee, or heavy use of the National Trust card;
  • DartTag – £1 instead of £1.50. It’s the way ahead, and it makes a groovy BEEEEEP noise and makes the barrier go up all by itself.

Are you saving cash?

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.


Last night saw a high powered meeting of the village elders here in Ruralville. The Ruralville village hall was converted at short notice and with remarkable speed into a centre for politicking and debate to rival anything that goes on in that other village, Westminster. Speakers passionately debated the matters of the day with argument meeting counter argument on the contentious issue of parking and yellow lines. Amusingly, there were attempts to press-gang attendees into becoming parish councillors, a dangerous path if ever I saw one. Thankfully, I seemed to escape by promising only to give the matter some consideration (a fine cop out, if ever I saw one).

Thereafter, everyone retired to the pub, where we were joined by Monty and our near-neighbour’s cat, Oscar. Oscar is only six months old and is similarly coloured to Monty. Monty seems to regard him as a mini-me. I suspect that he might receive some training and end up as Monty’s henchcat, sent out to deal with the marauding, food-stealing tabby and white that thinks he rules the neighbourhood. In any case, both seemed happy to wander into the pub to see where the hands that feed them had gone, but thought better of it once confronted with two dozing dogs under the table.

Graybo’s moules marinières

Ok, so actually this is Anthony Bourdain‘s moules marinières with a dollop of cream and some garlic added – but since I modified the recipe successfully, I claim it as my own and you can all send your money now.

Serves 2 as a main course, just. Would probably be enough for three as a starter.

  • 1 kilogram lovely fresh mussels. We got ours from here. A bargain at three quid a kilo. For those that worry about this sort of thing, 1 kilo gave us 58 mussels. In hindsight, we could have used a little more, but that depends on what you serve it with. If you made some home-made frîtes, then this would be plenty. With just bread, then perhaps 1.2kg would be better.
  • 300 ml dry white wine. We had a cheeky Sicilian in the fridge, so I used that. Incidentally, how can wines be cheeky? This is more wine than Bourdain suggests and I think is justified when adding cream.
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced.
  • 25g butter.
  • 1 tbsp cream. I used extra thick single because we happened to have some, but normal single would do just as well.
  • 3 small cloves of garlic, finely chopped.
  • some parsley, finely chopped.
  • salt and pepper.

This doesn’t take long. The time-consuming bit is the cleaning of the mussels – say 20 minutes. The cooking takes just 15 minutes.

  • Firstly, clean those mussels. Bourdain gives a long examination of this subject in his Les Halles Cookbook (one of my bibles), but you can boil it down to this:
  • buy fresh. Don’t buy pre-frozen or rubbish.
  • use quickly and prepare just before you use them. Don’t store them if you can help it.
  • wash them in a colander.
  • pull the beards off – that fluffy bit that sticks out.
  • as you go, check to see if any are open. If they are, tap them and see if they close. This is fun! They actually do close quite quickly if they are open. Unless they’re dead, in which case they don’t shut and you can bung them in the bin. Out of our 58, we chucked one.
  • wash them again. And again. You can’t wash them too much, really. Leave them in the colander for the water to drain off.

Ok? Good. Have a glass of wine.

  • Next, in a big pan with a good lid (not a loose one – we used an Ikea casserole which was perfect for bringing to the table and eating straight from), melt the butter.
  • Add the shallots and scoot them around for a minute or two until soft and just beginning to brown.
  • Add the wine, garlic and cream. Bring to the boil (turn your heat up all the way) and season.
  • Throw in the mussels and put on the lid. Sit down and have another glass of wine for ten minutes (what did you think you do with the rest of the bottle?).
  • Check in the pan. The mussels should now be nicely open. Take the pan off the heat and, holding the lid on, give it a bit of a shake. Then add the parsley and shake it again.
  • Bring it to the table and serve with some good chunky bread to mop up the juices. Or frîtes.