Saturday, September 21, 2013

State of Independence

The centre of Bexhill-on-Sea is one of those rare places these days that has not become a clone town. Not being chock-full of hospitality chains and multiple retailers – they have been mostly confined to the Ravenside Leisure Park on the way out of town – it has retained an air of independence and an appearance of spontaneity. Perhaps because of this, it has gained an unfair reputation for being old-fashioned; the reality is, this is what towns are like if they don’t allow the demands of rapacious profiteering to prevail.

Firmly flying this flag of independence is record shop, Music’s Not Dead. Situated at the bottom of Devonshire Road, a short shuffle across from the De La Warr Pavilion, Music’s Not Dead stocks a wide range of music on CD, including new releases and an extensive amount of artists’ back-catalogues. Prices of most discs are surprisingly cheap and there is also a large section of bargain CDs at three for £12. I did spot a vinyl section, but I didn’t go too close being an ex-vinyl junkie in remission. There is also an area where you can sit down and read music magazines.

The shop was opened a couple of years ago by Del Querns and Richard Wortley and they have established a welcoming place for record rack flickers to browse and buy. And they are clearly very knowledgeable: when I visited, I picked up a copy of The Broken Family Band’s 2007 album Hello Love for a fiver (cheaper than Amazon) and was recommended to check out the lead singer’s most recent venture, Singing Adams.

As an experience – be it buying a new release, coming across a forgotten album you had always meant to get or talking to people about music – it has to beat downloading tracks bent over a computer or waiting for the postman to arrive with that cardboard packet. And the best thing of all, if I had not popped into Music’s Not Dead, I would never have found out about the live music they put on: Turin Brakes are playing in the shop next Sunday, 29th September, at 4pm - and it’s free.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Downland: part eleven

Ridler’s gallantry – essentially survival with dignity – had earned him decorations and promotion by the end of the war; but neither of these would augment the back pay and pension that he had been demobilised with to ensure him a reasonable standard of living. Before the war, he had lived well until his father’s inheritance had come to an end. The life of a young gentleman had been an expensive one: houses, horses, tailors and travel had all drained his money away. With no further expectations, he was forced to accept the security of a commission as a second lieutenant to avoid humiliation and the pack of pursuing creditors. The same mistakes again would be the end of him. He had been determined to find a way to live where he would be master of his own destiny. Never again would he put his trust in arrogant fools like Townshend. He could not work for those whose privilege, power and incompetence were bare for all to see. He would set out alone. After handing in his army greatcoat and form Z50 at East Grinstead railway station, he had received another pound to supplement his meagre resources. And then he had bought a poultry farm.

Sergeant Terence ‘Shorty’ Short, a fellow traveller who had come through the march to Anatolia with Ridler, had a pair of elderly parents who needed to sell Postern Poultry Farm. Failing to be alerted by Shorty’s unwillingness to take it on himself, Ridler bought it for a song. But he had known nothing of keeping chickens and his heady optimism eventually turned to bitter failure. His fundamental error had been to try to fatten up layers to sell as birds for the table. The quality of their lays deteriorated in the process ,and his bread and butter income from delivering eggs to pubs and restaurants in the River Wandle valley foundered. And this sacrifice did not pay the dividend he had hoped for: never able to afford quite enough feed for the purpose, the fattened birds were little more than adequate at best, scrawny at worst. The long decline was arrested by an outbreak of avian tuberculosis and, after two miserable years, Ridler slaughtered the remaining birds, levelled the chicken sheds and left the land for his creditors to fight over. And then he had done what any level-headed, ex-serviceman, chicken farmer would have done: Ridler ran away to join the circus.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Blue Sunday

The dog days are fading and summer’s lease has nearly run its course. Larkin’s toad is about to squat on my life again. Walking the Seven Sisters with the sea on my left and ovine-trimmed grassland to my right, the first day of September sunshine was playing dreamily on the English Channel.

The further west I walked along the undulating path, the more people I encountered picnicking on the cliff top. Gazing out at the blurred line between sky and sea, the horizon only made distinct by the slow stately progress of the occasional tanker, they seemed transfixed by being at the very edge of the land.

The ground along the cliff top was dotted here and there with chalk stone patterns. These were clearly arranged by human hands but what I first thought were examples of Andy Goldsworthy-style land art, on closer inspection revealed themselves to be something more mundane: names, phone numbers, boy bands, slogans – the lingua franca of tourist graffiti.

By the time I reached the final sister, the eastward view back along the coast to Birling Gap was magnificently crowned by the silhouette of the Belle Tout lighthouse. But it was to the west, as Seaford Head and Cuckmere Haven hove into view, that the unlikely azure of the sea dispelled the Sunday blues and caused the spirits to soar.