25 July 2010

Getaway! - Hastings.

What better way to bid farewell (for now, anyway) to Britain than with a day-trip to Hastings, a seaside town which Katie assured me held the best and worst of Britain. Boy was she right! I wanted to share the best bits with you. Hastings is everything I wanted Brighton to be, and more.
Two hours out of London and I felt immediately relaxed, forgetting all about my impending departure and my suitcases still waiting to be sealed. Summer had finally arrived and I pulled out my treasured tap shorts just for the occasion. We started out in the 'New Town' and walked into the once 'no-mans land' of The America Ground. It was a bit weird to see all the American flags around. Walking along the beach towards Bexhill we took in all the quirky shop fronts, a weather kiosk (!), visitors' centre inside an old-timey store and enough faded tiles and mosaics to keep you dreaming of days gone by. I adore old shops with tiled alcoves leading up to the door and large display windows along each side - if I ever have a shop it will be one of those. And Hastings is full of them. The pedestrian underpass along the beach is covered with bits of old bottles in all colours and variations. You could stay under there forever, with endless shade and a picture-perfect view of the sea.
The Old Town is brimming with the rich history Hastings is known for. The tall, narrow 'net shops', said to be unique to Hastings, have been used as net storage by fishermen for many decades, and 45 remain today. Nestled among them is the Fishermen's Museum in an old church dark and cosy and chock full of memorabilia from photos to Winkle suits. There's even a funicular railway, the East Hill Lift, which takes you up to the top of the cliff to Hastings Country Park.
Afterwards we went for a wander in the Old Town and happened upon many antique shops, old timber-framed houses and window critters. It was fun just to look and not buy - and besides, there was simply no more room in my suitcases.
And what would a visit to the seaside be without fish and chips and traditional British sweets, a dip in the sea and a cuddle at sunset!

17 July 2010

Perfect, indeed.

The week before I left, South London was tuggin' on my heartstrings like never before. I had fallen. . . hard. When I'd had enough of packing, I went on 'holiday' again. I spent one of many perfect afternoons exploring the Horniman Museum and its 16 acres of gardens, which opened in Forest Hill in 1901.
The darkened Natural History Gallery was my favourite bit, with hundreds of stuffed animals, many now extinct, enveloped in the most beautiful nomenclature graphics and raised lettering. If only more museums would keep their traditional, elegant methods of display. The invigilator told us that many of the cases are very fragile and when opened emit toxic fumes! The Museum plans to revise the display cases as much of the information is now out of date, but we've been reassured the graphics will not change.
After taking in such inspiring views what could be better than a picnic lunch in the ornamental gardens, a nature walk and pause at the 1912 bandstand, and to top it all off lemonade by the Victorian conservatory? A perfect afternoon, indeed.

14 July 2010

Falling for London: Library of my dreams!

One of the silver linings of being out of work is going on 'holiday' in your very own city - you have time to go places with random or short opening hours. Phoebe told me about The Rotherhithe Picture Research Library when I first came to London and said I would just love it, and I let out more than a few sighs of delight upon entering the former Grice's Granary (1795). Nestled under old ship timbers is a slice of pure heaven: thousands of over-sized scrapbooks on every subject you can imagine, from mens' 17th-century underwear to Rotherhithe to architecture, graphics and shoes (!), to name but a few.
Since the 1970s the Library has been clipping pictures from newspapers, magazines, cereal boxes, postcards, you name it. You can snuggle up with the book of your choosing and a cup of tea (I know, pretty crazy for a library!) at one of the weathered work tables for as long as you like. The staff are super-friendly and have the kind of job I've been dreaming about - surrounded by history, nostalgia and ephemera. I tried my best to capture the magical space but to see the true twinkle make a visit if you can!
The Picture Research Library sits within Sands Films, most well-known for their production of Little Dorritt. They have an extensive costume collection on site with costume hire and costume workshops, and since the 1970s have provided or made costumes for films like Marie Antoinette, Bright Star, North & South, The Duchess and many more you can read about on their website. When I'm next in London I hope to catch their Tuesday nite 'Cinema Club', with rarely seen and silent films screened in one of London's smallest cinemas. Oh, and a tour of the costumes and shoes! And afterwards a drink at the Mayflower just opposite.
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