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.

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.

Miffy at Versailles

Miffy at Versailles, February 2008

This is a very well-travelled rabbit. So far, she has been to Wales, Ireland, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

Here she is at the Palace of Versailles, admiring the topiary.

San Pellegrino in Alpe

view from San Pellegrino in Alpe

CFB (549 KB)

During our recent holiday in Tuscany, having spied San Pellegrino in Alpe on the map as a potentially interesting place to visit and with a sleeping child in the back of the hire car, we decided to amble our way up the steep and winding mountain roads to take a look. It’s a stunning place – a hamlet consisting of a couple of bars and restaurants for the tourists, a museum of rural life and a very old church and monastery. But, above all, it has some of the most stunning views in the high Apennines. We stopped, walked around, had lunch and ice cream, and relaxed. For me, it was one of the highlights of the holiday.

When we got back to the car, I noticed that Miffy was missing. I’m not sure if I have mentioned before that Tom has a toy Miffy to whom he is almost surgically attached. We did try to discourage this at first, but eventually it got to the stage that it was easier to let him hold Miff than to put up with the plaintive "Miffy! Miffy! Miiiiffeeeee!" when he couldn’t find her. (And you should see what it’s like when Miff has a "bath" – Tom’s face is pressed against the door as she spins at 1400rpm). This had potential disaster qualities, for whilst we now have a spare Miff (Miffy Two), we know that she’s a poor substitute for the slightly grey and battered real thing.

I thought back quickly to recall where I’d last seen Miff during our three hour sojourn in this other-worldly village. I remembered seeing her by a seat we had sat on that is just out of view in the photo above. As the tears started to roll down Tom’s cheeks, I set off at a jog to find her. Now, I’m not the fittest person in the world, but I’m not terrifically unfit either. I jogged down to the seat and found two wizened and ancient local men pondering this off-white rabbit sitting on the floor. I picked her up, turned and started back up the hill, just as my lungs were about to burst – jogging at 1525 metres (5000 feet) is not for the faint-hearted.

Raging torrent (small scale)

When we moved into our home, we noticed a small ditch at the end of the garden (which is actually above the level of our house). Our neighbours have partly infilled it to extend their garden, putting in a good-sized culvert as they did so.

A couple of weeks ago, for the first time since we have lived here, I noticed a trickle of water running through it. Even in mid-winter, I hadn’t seen water in it before.

Last night and this morning we had continuous and very heavy rain. We don’t have a gauge, so I’ve no idea how much has fallen, but I’d guess an inch-and-a-half at least, maybe two inches. In a lull in the rain, I went outside to assess the damage (smashed plants, mud down the drive) and could plainly hear rushing water. A glimpse into the hedge revealed a raging torrent (albeit on a small scale) rushing down the ditch, enough to draw our neighbours out to investigate. In true BBC-stylee “here’s-a-picture-of-my-dog’s-bottom-in-a-puddle-to-illustrate-the-dramatic-weather” citizen journalism, here is a dramatic grainy cameraphone photo of said torrent:

dramatic grainy image

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