October 2005, Issue 1, £1.50
HASTINGS TRAWLER ISSN 1745-3321
WELCOME to the launch issue of our new and independent magazine The Hastings Trawler. Although based in Hastings and St. Leonards-on-Sea, we hope that the magazine, by the quality of its writing, will extend its reach beyond the town limits and become a beacon of imaginative research and comment. We hope to enliven and expand on the local reading material currently available and make our magazine attractive to residents and passers-through alike. Both history and humour will find a place with us. The Hastings Trawler will certainly trawl hitherto unexplored areas of our history. But on deck there will also also be room for argument and discussion on issues that affect our lives here and now, the evolution and modernisation of Hastings.
IN THIS ISSUE The Talk of The Old Town A public arena for news, views, gossip and tittle-tattle about goings on in Hastings, St Leonards-on-sea, and beyond.
Features Mugsborough revisited:
Over the coming months and years we hope to engage in every aspect of interest with interviews, in-depth features, commentary, politics both large and small and even a little fiction. We will have debate that is open, honest and fair. And so we welcome articles and letters and suggestions from you so that we can have a vibrant new voice in the South-East. It should be an exciting journey. Get on board.
Steve Peak considers the life and legacy of Robert Tressell and his Ragged Trousered Philanthroposts. In search of Times past: With the launch of a new Hastings magazine, Steve Peak looks at the history of newspapers and magazines in Hastings and St Leonards.
Profile Interview The Man In The High Street:
Graham Frost Publisher
Basil Rose, the man on whom Nicholas Monsarrat modelled his helmsman in The Cruel Sea, speaks to Jane Wainwright about his Arctic wartime adventures.
Info Panel Publisher Graham Frost Editor-in-Chief Frances Ferrer Art Director Vitali Golev ✆ +44 (0)20 7490 5968 Production Editor Nestor Makhno Illustrators Lester Magoogan, Lesley Prince Richard Warren, Jonathan Williams Contributors Pauline Melville Ted Newcomen Steve Peak Jane Wainwright Advertising ✆ +44 (0)1424 436521
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Whitbread prize-winning novelist Pauline Melville tells the story of McGarrity, the gifted Glaswegian cook who came to live in Hastings.
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(please note prices do not include VAT) January ‘05 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER
THE HASTINGS TRAWLER Richard Warren
THE TALK OF THE OLD TOWN Plus ça change
‘OLD HASTINGS’ TO READ THE LOCAL PRESS COVERAGE OF THE PLANS TO RE-INVIGORATE HASTINGS AND TO READ THE PUERILE COMMENTS OF THE ANTI-EVERYTHING BRIGADE WOULD SEEM A VERY MODERN REACTION TO CHANGE, BUT READ ON.
‘A lover of antiquity and natural beauty need not be a very susceptible or sentimental person to shed tears over the havoc and desecration worked everywhere by that enemy of the human race, the speculator.’ So wrote M.Betham-Edwards in Good Words, around the 1850s. Of the twin of Hastings, St. Leonards-on-sea we can paraphrase a heady mixture of bile and vitriol thus. ‘So persistent and vast have been the encroachments of the new twin — more monotonous than most places under the moon — everywhere you see lines and congeries of new tenements (dwelling houses they are not worthy to be called) which have been built at the lowest possible cost to be let at the highest possible rent — there is nothing to within or without to recommend them, for the most part they are so ill-constructed that the very object of privacy is not secured, and you can hear your next 2
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door neighbour’s tittle-tattle, family prayers, or curtain lectures, not to speak of what Thackeray euphemistically calls ‘the music of the nose,’ in other words snoring, as well as babies crying in the nursery, the young ladies strumming the piano, and all the thousand and one noises that, were houses properly built, people would keep to themselves. In fact you might just as well live in a child’s card house as far as privacy and tranquillity are concerned, while nothing could be worse than the construction considered from other points of view. While Hastings is an attractive place, nothing has been done to attract people to it, and St. Leonards-on-sea is hardly better. A little conscience, a little taste, and only a modest outlay would have sufficed to make the new parts not only ornamental, but habitable in the true sense of the word.’ What one finds in the careful reading of the development of English towns, is the eternal compromise between the forces of progress and regression. What is different now-a-days is the curious need for authenticity, buildings not only have to be ‘secured’ but this has to be done using authentic materials as used in the time the building was built. Curious? Had modern materials and methods been available do you think
builders in the past would not have used them. Did not the Romans use reinforced concrete and lightweight blocks for spanning their larger buildings? This art was lost until the re-invention of concrete and cement in the mid 1850s. So how is it that horsehair plaster and lime mortar, both of which are inferior building materials compared to those available to the Romans, are seen as the ‘right stuff ’? Could it be that certain groups have been so bemused by the need to hold on to the past that they can see no future in growth and change? What does M. Betham-Edwards say on this subject? ‘The only bit of good solid masonry on which the eye can rest with satisfaction is the block of working menís dwellings at the back of All Saints’ Street, named Scriven’s Buildings. Unfortunately the ancient churches — All Saints and St. Clements — have undergone restoration, and one by one the most characteristic private dwellings have disappeared. It is inexplicable how inherent in human nature is the detestation of antiquity.’ So the history of towns is that all change is resisted until it has matured at which it becomes that rare and noble thing a heritage.
HAIL TO THEE BLITHE TAXI! The news that the local hackney licensing authority is to increase the number of ply-for-hire licences (Hackney Carriage or taxi) is most welcome. The taxi-cab is the most efficient form of public transport for small towns with lots of hills. Most English towns fall into this category. Hastings, for example, is notorious for its hills, and narrow roads. Bus routes are fixed to avoid these problems and so circuitous. A simple trip from home to the town centre can involve huge distances for the bus compared to the taxi. The taxi is more efficient, as it is only used when needed. It can be directed from the end of one trip to the start of a new trip with the utmost efficiency and least distance travelled. The reason being that the despatchers, the taxi driver/owner and the firm are profit-driven. Their fare structure is not subsidised as is the bus company’s, they cannot afford to waste fuel or travel unnecessary distances as can bus companies. The passenger’s comfort and convenience is paramount with the taxi, due to the huge number of competitors. Buses are, to say the least, indifferent to the needs of passengers. When you order a taxi you can specify time of arrival and it’s carrying capacity. You can even order a wheel-chair enabled cab. If there are traffic problems, the taxi can drive round them, the bus is tied to its route and so the journey time is also problematic. Of course the bus has a role in the movement of passengers along busy
corridors, like the seafront and circular routes round town, but to try and cover all the bases with such an inflexible device as the bus, when the cab does such a good job is simply playing at social engineering. So the council’s decision is most welcome and in addition will reduce the black market in forged white plates, which, we are led to believe, change hands for thousands of pounds. Crime
A MATTER OF STATISTICS! Latest statistics from the Home Office reveal both good and bad news for Hastings crime figures while reports by two respected think-tanks support residents who claim that the British Crime Survey is unreliable and does not reflect their local experience. The good news from the Home Office website (www.homeoffice. gov.uk/rds/pdfs04/cdrptabs.xls) which records the performance of the 376 Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships across the country confirms that Hastings is following the national trend with a slight decline in overall crime levels. However, the bad news is that Hastings continues to be by far the worst crime blackspot among the 36 CDRPs which make up South East England (Sussex, Kent, snd Surrey). Figures which record six major types of offences (violence against the person, sexual offences, robbery, burglary of a dwelling, theft of a motor vehicle, and theft from motor vehicle) reveal that Hastings crime rates in all these categories are worse than all the other 12 CDRPs in the county of Sussex. Hastings also has worse crime rates
for five out of six categories of crime than all the other 24 CDRP’s in Kent and Surrey and is actually in the top 13 per cent for crime figures in the entire nation. Hastings comes 35th (out of 376 CDRP’s) for violence against the person, 32nd for sexual offences, 50th for robbery, 44th for burglary, 91st for theft of a motor vehicle, and just 25th for theft from a motor vehicle. These shocking figures have important implications for local crime strategies and the allocation of resources with local residents claiming that Sussex Police Authority quotes from the British Crime Survey are totally inaccurate and misleading. Reports by two think–tanks, Civitas and Crime and Society (London University), have revealed that the British Crime Survey may only report up to a quarter of the actual crimes committed. The government’s figures are not comprehensive as they don’t include murder, sexual offences, crime by and against persons under 16, and crimes against commercial premises (incl. thefts of trucks, vans, and shoplifting). Hastings residents may recall a Channel 4 programme, hosted by Jon Snow, which revealed that Hastings Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership was at that time the worst performer bar one in the entire country — ranked 375 out of 376. Recent Home Office figures show that crime may be going down across the nation and Hastings may indeed be following this trend. But the seaside town continues to be the crime blackspot in the South East and policing must continue to take priority if regeneration plans are to have any hope of success. January ‘05 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER
WE SAY, YOU PAY! Shocking evidence has come to light that reveals how one local authority, East Sussex County Council, charges local business nearly 2000 per cent more for some services than they should actually cost. East Sussex also happens to be the same council that in year 2003 increased its Council tax by one of the biggest hikes in the entire country — in excess of a staggering 20 per cent! Yet this same council is just one of two in the entire country which leapt two places and went from ‘weak’ to ‘good’ in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment Tables issued by the Audit Commission. How can such a rip-off go unquestioned by both business and central government? With business it’s easy, as they reel punch-drunk from one excessive bill to another — confused by the spin, smoke and mirrors which passes for an explanation for above-inflation rate rises and simultaneous cuts in services. As for central government — well, perhaps they just don’t actually know what’s going on at the local level. Across the nation, town & county halls are paying too much for goods and services because contractors & suppliers are taking advantage of incompetence, maladministration, and possibly outright corruption by local government staff. Our particular rip-off story involves Mr. Paul Mercer who runs Sussex Marine, a boat-chandlers business, on the seafront at St. Leonards-on-sea, in East Sussex. As part-owner of the listed Regency building, Mr. Mercer, 4
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was served a notice under Section 54 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1980 when Hastings Borough Council informed him that the façade of his property was believed to be in danger of falling into the street. This happened in November 2002, when a 26 week programme of repairs was scheduled, but 24 months on and the so-called ‘emergency works’ still haven’t been completed by the council — but that, as they say, is another story for another article. However, Mr. Mercer and his fellow free-holders were to receive bills from the Council for the provision of temporary scaffolding, fencing, and traffic lights. This last item simply being an account passed on by Hastings Borough Council which acts as a Highway Management Contractor to East Sussex County Council’s Department of Transport and Environment. That account for temporary traffic lights amounting to almost £6,200 for a period of only a few weeks! Mr. Mercer wrote to Hastings Borough Council questioning the excessively high fee for the temporary traffic lights. This letter was ignored but he did receive a reminder for final payment. Mr. Mercer then wrote again, and this time got a response from the Council which stated it was simply passing on the costs incurred from ESCC. Their reply also claimed the amounts were fair and related to ‘emergency callout, and the provision, erection, and maintenance and removal of signs barriers and traffic lights for 27 days’ and that the amounts were ‘fixed and not negotiable’. The council claimed that setting up a set of temporary traffic lights incurred a fee of £500. A similar amount was required to dismantle them at the end of the emergency
works, and that hire rates for the equipment were an additional £800 per week. Investigations with various local hire companies to obtain similar estimates for temporary traffic lights to be compared with the excessive amounts claimed by the council revealed some interesting results. The amount charged by the Council was almost 2000 per cent (yes! — you read it correctly — two thousand per cent!) higher than the normal going rate charged by the private equipment hire companies. For instance, one hire company quoted the cost to set up the temporary traffic lights would be £50 and there would be no charge for dismantling & removing them — considerably less than the £1,000 quoted by the council. Similarly, the hire charge per week for the actual equipment would only be approximately £75 — not £800 as claimed by the Council! In its defence the Council claims it goes out to tender to get the best rates available in the market place for the provision of temporary traffic lights. Something is clearly very wrong here. If you multiply this particular situation by the number of temporary traffic lights we all sit waiting at for road-works across the nation then this scam must be costing business and residents hundred of thousands, if not millions every year. Forget Casinos!
CHILD FOSTERING AS JOB CREATION Don’t get me wrong, I take my hat off to anyone willing to bear the awesome responsibility of becoming a foster parent. But I seriously question the wisdom of placing a full-
page advert in the Ad-News, our free community newspaper, and the Borough Council’s About magazine that presents child fostering as a serious career option for local residents. Both publications are distributed throughout the area, including Central St. Leonards, which is as everyone knows is a desperately impoverished community with high levels of unemployment, and a chronic drug problem. ‘Stay at home or go to work? There is another option. Generous fostering allowances ……… clear tax and pension rules ……… a weekly allowance of up to £270 per child ……… caring for a child or family of two or more children.’ These were some of the tempting by-lines that the advertisements extolled to pull in prospective foster parents and persuade them to ask for further information. During the very same week as the fostering advertisements, subscribers to the local newspaper, the Hastings & St.Leonards Observer, could also read that Central St. Leonards is amongst the most deprived and impoverished areas in the country. A place where one in nine children is born under weight, which means they are more likely to have health problems throughout their life. Where children are less likely to have a good diet and do enough exercise, while being more likely to take up smoking and drink heavily than in other parts of the country. A place where unemployment runs at 13 per cent, where those in work generally earn less, where large numbers of those unemployed do not have the skills to perform the few jobs that are available. A place where 20 per cent of the working population is on incapacity benefit, where 18 per cent are on
income support, which is in the bottom 10 per cent of wards for low incomes nationally, and in the bottom 5 per cent for childhood poverty. A place where more than 25 per cent of homes are unfit to live in, where crime and drugs are rampant and a violent incident is committed nearly every day. Is this really a suitable community for providing child foster care? God knows they must have enough difficulties bringing up their own children, never mind bringing in desperate kids from broken and damaged homes elsewhere. I failed to get an answer when I asked the local authority foster service if they had placed similar full-page advertisements in highly affluent commuter towns in other parts of the county. Perhaps they did — if so, I hope they got a good response from prospective child carers. However, if they only targeted Hastings and St. Leonards then they are no better than those cynical opportunists who propose putting casinos in impoverished areas as a way of creating jobs and regenerating communities Fostering is a vocation, whether it’s a career option is open to question, but it certainly isn’t a way to make pinmoney for those in deprived communities with few employment opportunities. This government needs to look very closely at where local authorities are encouraging foster services. In their rush to meet targets for homing children they may just be creating more problems for the future. Today’s impoverished communities can’t be allowed to become tomorrow’s child puppy-farms — it’s no alternative to real well-paid jobs and loving homes for all our children.
THE BLIND LEADING THE BLIND? Investigations have revealed that Sussex Constabulary is having serious difficulties with its CCTV camera operations throughout the county. Up to 77 machines at one time have had technical faults that render them either partially or totally inoperable and between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of all police CCTV cameras in the county may not be fully functioning. This is serious news for a police force that has put much faith in the effectiveness of technology in the fight against crime. This is despite repeated local resident’s calls for ‘Bobbies on the Beat’ rather than ‘Spies in the Sky’. The most common problem appears to be caused by a simple twisting of the electronic cables inside the metal covers housing the equipment as the cameras traverse back and forth through 360 degrees. According to financial reports, last year alone (2003-04) Sussex Police spent £622,000 on technical equipment including CCTV cameras. How much of this amount was spent on repairing & servicing existing CCTV equipment cannot be clearly identified. Either way its good news for those employed to maintain the equipment but local tax payers on the other hand might not be so pleased to know that scarce public funds are being spent on repairing faulty machinery which is also not functioning properly much of the time. Past criticism of Sussex Constabulary’s CCTV system has revolved around the poor quality of January ‘05 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER
recorded images (especially after dark) and the large number of cameras that are monitored at any one time. Visits to the control centre at Eastbourne have revealed occasions when only one officer is on duty (due to sickness or holidays) and is only able to view each CCTV camera for a few seconds in every hour. CCTV cameras have proved to be useful in reacting to events i.e. following stolen vehicles and persons acting suspiciously, but they have been noticeably poor in providing evidence for convictions in court and actually preventing crime which often moves just round the corner and out of sight. Euston and Kings Cross in London — being one of the best known cases with more CCTV cameras than any other place in Europe — is still a centre for crime, drugs and prostitution. As yet it is not known what steps Sussex Constabulary intends to take to solve the problems with its CCTV operations.
HANG-EM, FLOG-EM, & LET THEM EAT CAKE! Hastings is soon to be part of the government’s latest experiment in social engineering. I’m talking about the clampdown on anti-social behaviour such as vandalism, graffiti, and fly-tipping — by introducing fixed penalty fines to offenders caught in the act. Lest you believe this new policy is just pandering to the ‘hang-em and flogem’ brigade, be assured the government is fairly balancing this with the opening up of the licensing laws. Soon, we will all be able to drink ourselves to death and gamble away our life-savings for up to 24 hours in 6
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every day of every month of the year. These new ideas are all part of a creeping change in the powers granted to local government that began with Westminster City Council’s silly solution for getting rid of the homeless and rough sleepers who make life so inconvenient for theatre goers and late night diners in the capital. I could never understand why they choose to introduce only a piffling £500 fine. Why didn’t they make it a real deterrent and charge them £5,000 a pop — that’ll teach the bastards and force them to sell their cardboard boxes! Then we have the P.M.’s own little brainchild that will see drunken yobs frog-marched to cash-dispensers and have them cough up £50 with on-thespot fines. Nobody has adequately explained to me how the police will overcome the slight problem that most will be too drunk to remember their PIN numbers —never mind handing over fifty readies to a complete stranger in a dark corner of Hastings! That ruse might work well with Nigel double-barrelled chinless-wonder of Islington after a night out with his chums in the West End. But how much money do they really think that Kevin from Broomgrove will have left in his account after an evening’s binge-drinking with his mates in the town centre?
out as he tries to serve me a ticket. Of course, for those of us who don’t want to fall out with our neighbours, there is always the option of putting those surplus bags of rubbish in the car and dumping them in a quiet country road — somewhere like Beany’s Lane if you really want to know. That’s if you can find a space between the burnt-out cars, stinking fridge-freezers and discarded washingmachines. Maybe it will all work, but isn’t making poor and ignorant people pay fines for what many regard as antisocial behaviour actually only treating the symptom and not the cause? A bit like hitting a puppy for fouling the bedroom. Not only doesn’t it work, it creates a neurotic reaction which in the long-term causes more problems than it solves. Then there’s the obsession with CCTV and the myth that it actually prevents crime. St. Leonards High Street got a swag of Neighbourhood Renewal money to tackle problems in the area. It was all spent on cameras, locks on doors and bars on windows etc — turning the place into a seaside Fort Knox. For the same amount of money they could have employed a full-time local Beat-Bobby for the next seven years —which is what the local traders actually wanted.
Then there is the proposal to charge householders for extra bags of rubbish. I can just see my neighbours sneaking out in the middle of the night to drop a few black bin-liners outside my front door. ‘Hey! Where did that junk come from? I never eat tins of Lebanese olives, hand-picked by twelve year-old village virgins’.
You really have to wonder who are the crackerjacks in the Town Hall and Downing Street that dream up all these wheezes? Surely it can’t be the cabinet members themselves? If it is, then we are in even worst shape than we can ever imagine. Or as Private Frazer used to say in endless repeats of Dad’s Army — ‘We’re doomed, we’re all doomed!’
I can just see myself in court after refusing to pay the bin-man the extra £6 and then punching the poor guy
It all makes a compelling argument for ending the gravy-train of career politicians and their unelected
‘advisors’. Nobody should be allowed to spend more than two consecutive terms in Parliament before they are forced back into the real world. And they certainly should never be allowed to get jobs in the industries that they have until recently been regulating and vice versa — it’s just an open invitation for incompetence and corruption.
MY ‘NOT SO BEAUTIFUL’ LAUNDERETTE A trip to my local Hastings launderette is normally associated with nothing much on the telly in the evening, a rather large bag of dirty washing which still looks small enough not to require a pick-up truck, and a distinct lack of clean socks for the coming weekend. All quite innocuous you might think? What’s the worst you can expect when you arrive there? Not having enough small change, finding nearly all the machines are out-of-order, or having to wait with some nutter who insists on telling you their life story as you watch their ragged underpants whiz round in the drier? Not so! In my Queens Road establishment you can sit at your leisure and help yourself to a range of little booklets to read — all neatly displayed on a wall-rack and freely provided by Chick Publications of Ontario, California. There’s an entire series of about twenty-five, mostly about twenty pages in length & each features a different cartoon strip story. Here’s a sample of what’s on offer for the poor (who can’t afford their own washing machine), the lonely (who think launderettes are a good pick-up venue), and the vulnerable (who go there just because it’s warm and dry):
‘In the Beginning’ — this story tells us about how the world was created in just six days and that ‘evolution is the religion of scientists who laugh at God’. Prehistoric man never existed, ‘the word was created to brainwash us’, and dinosaurs and man were both created on the same day. Apparently, there are photos of men’s footprints walking next to those of the dinosaurs. These were found in Glen Rose, Texas — where else you might ask, but the home of George W.Bush — maybe they’re even his footprints? ‘Hey Condi? Where did I leave my trainers?’ OK, that one’s funny — but then there’s ‘Doom Town’, which is quite frankly a homophobic rant which sees AIDS as God’s revenge on ‘faggots, dykes, queers, & sissies.’ Their words, not mine. But if that’s not to your taste, then try reading ‘Who murdered Clarice?’ The name in the title actually refers to an aborted foetus. Yes, you guessed it, this volume is for any abortionist who happens to be washing their operating gowns and bloody sheets at the launderette. Apparently history is full of them — including the Pharaoh in Egypt and King Herod in Bethlehem — and I thought that was infanticide, but what do I know, I’m just a simple washer-person. And don’t forget during World War II the Nazis murdered six million Jews ‘and that included unborn Jewish babies’. Murdering adults is one thing but killing the unborn is clearly beyond the pale. It’s always nice to be able to differentiate between the various levels of evil — I only wish deciding on choosing between the 40p
or 60p drying cycle were as simple. Are you exhausted yet by all this hatred and vitriol? If not, then try reading ‘Sin Busters’, where people are being beaten up and arrested by the state for putting the Ten Commandments on a school bulletin board. This is followed by a resume of how we were given this set of moral rules in the first place, including the part about ‘Poor Moses, stuck with three million complaining Jews for 40 years. They almost drove him nuts!’ I don’t remember that lesson, I must have missed the class at Sunday School, perhaps I was off helping my Mum hang out the laundry? For those washers who are still a little unsure of the First Commandment, ‘Thou shalt have NO other Gods before me’, there is also a useful cribsheet to remind you who is not allowed. This list includes Buddha, Allah, Confucius, Holy men, Gurus, Shiva and millions of other Gods in India — which appears to put the majority of the world’s population offside. The only one I could agree with was the rather incongruous sin of ‘worshipping famous people’ — Nigella Lawson aside of course! But this brings me to the whole point of this essay. What’s happening to Hastings, that this sort of Christian fundamentalist hate-filled toxic rubbish is being peddled to ordinary residents like me who just want a clean pair of underpants to wear?
January ‘05 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER
THE RAGGED TROUSERED PHILANTHROPISTS
Robert Tressell and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
by Steve Peak
A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, HASTINGS BECAME A DIFFERENT PLACE. A PAINTER AND DECORATOR IN THE LOCAL BUILDING TRADE FOUND LIFE IN THE TOWN SO DREADFUL THAT HE STARTED PUTTING TOGETHER A VIVID DESCRIPTION OF IT IN A NOVEL THAT WAS TO CHANGE
BRITISH SOCIETY –
HASTINGS INTO MUGSBOROUGH. AND TURN
obert Tressell’s picture of the horrors and miseries of Edwardian Mugsborough in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists inspired the 1926 General Strike, the election of the 1945 Labour Government that created today’s welfare state, and the rise of militant trade unionism in the 1960s and 70s which seemed to almost threaten capitalism itself. Labour’s veteran leader Michael Foot called it ‘the bible of trade union organisers a n d
working class agitators’. Tony Benn has come to Hastings many times to pay tribute to Tressell, attracting large crowds to hear his speeches. 8
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The Original Ragged TRousered Philanthropists
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was first published in 1914 in edited form, and had an immediate impact, despite costing six shillings, a day’s pay in the building trade.
today’s New Labourites find it uncomfortable. The sentiments are too blunt, its story-line unsophisticated, the emotions too crude and the whole thing out-of-date.
Since then, the book has appeared in 110 different formats, reprints and languages — including Japanese!
But in Hastings the book is just as alive and powerful now as when it first appeared. And on the streets of the town it is clear The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was as much a factual documentary as a novel. Many of the buildings and settings described by Tressell can still be seen, along with descendents of the philanthropists.
The first full version of the 250,000 word manuscript was published in 1955, by the left-leaning Lawrence and Wishart. Penguin began publishing it in shortened form in 1940, first bringing it out as an unedited Classic in September 2004. Oxford University Press has scheduled its own first edition for the summer of 2005. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a working class novel: a story with a message, written for ordinary people, by an ordinary person. But many of
What was it that Tressell saw in this rundown seaside town that turned him into a revolutionary socialist? And what can we see of those things today? Tressell himself was not what he seemed. He was not a local working man — and his real name was not Tressell. He was born in Dublin in
THE RAGGED TROUSERED PHILANTHROPISTS
April 1870 as Robert Croker, the son of a well-off retired Irish military man. After his father died, Robert adopted his mother’s maiden surname, Noonan, by which he was known while in Hastings. But Robert fell out with his mother, and emigrated to South Africa in the late 1880s, starting life afresh as a decorator and signwriter in Cape Town. He married Elizabeth Hartel in 1891 and his only child, Kathleen, was born a year later. The marriage was not a happy one, however, and the pair divorced in 1897. Elizabeth died soon after, leaving Robert to look after Kathleen for the rest of his life.
thin house which today has a plaque on it, as do Robert’s two other longterm homes in the town. Late in 1902 they moved to the top flat at 115 Milward Road, just below Plynlimmon Road. The flat was built into the roof and looks almost too big for the building to hold up.
Number 241 was to be Robert’s last home with Kathleen. He finished the book in the spring of 1910 but no publisher would accept it, so in August that year he went to Liverpool, planning to emigrate to Canada. His chest pains worsened, however, and he was admitted to Liverpool Royal Infirmary, where he died of bronchial pneumonia in February 1911, aged 40.
At that time the rival British and Dutch Boer imperialists were preparing to fight for control of South Africa and its resources, especially diamonds. Robert, with his Irish anti-British sentiments, was one of the Irish settlers who supported the Boers. It is not known what Robert did during the Boer War after it began in late 1899, but by September 1901 it seemed the British were winning, and he and Kathleen left South Africa. One of Robert’s sisters, Mary, ran a school for the blind at 48 Kenilworth Road, part of the 1870s development in central St Leonards. She had written to him, inviting him to come to ‘dear, sunny Hastings’. As Robert was suffering from bad chest pains, Hastings was a healthy place to go. Thirty one year old Robert and Kathleen, then aged nine, arrived in Hastings around the end of 1901. They first stayed briefly in a flat at 38 Western Road, now the site of the water pumping station. Then they moved to 1 Plynlimmon Road on the West Hill, a strange-shaped
This is commemorated by a plaque next to the front door. From the back room of the flat he could see a pub in nearby Bohemia Road, which in the 1990s was bequeathed to the Hastings Labour Party and is now the party’s local headquarters.
Robert’s novel depicts the lives of the people he worked alongside in the Hastings building trade. His first job was with Bruce & Co (called Rushton in the book), ‘Electrical and Sanitary Engineers and Builders’. They had an ironmongers shop at 2 York Buildings, now part of Right Price, opposite Woolworths, and offices at 40 Havelock Road. Robert carried out signwriting and looked after their shop in York Buildings, but he had a hard time at Bruce, and quit late in 1902. He then tried unsuccessfully to find reasonable work in London.
Robert Tressel and his daughter Kathleen, South Africa, 1896
Robert and Kathleen moved from there around 1906, staying temporarily in at least two places in St Leonards, before taking the top flat above a cycle shop at 241 London Road, just below Tower Road, in late 1907. Today the shop is called Air Tan and Nails. It was in the front room of this flat that Robert wrote most, if not all, of the book.
The Tressell biographer Fred Ball believed Robert’s new working life in Britain had an ‘obviously profound effect’ on him, ‘making him put work and conditions of its performance at the centre of his book. It is from the shock of his experiences with Bruce & Co that I date the real origin of the passionate sense of outrage which was to inspire and light up The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, and, perhaps, the January ‘05 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER
THE RAGGED TROUSERED PHILANTHROPISTS
beginning of the deep sense of loss which was to feel over the rest of his short life.’ Robert’s fellow workers remembered him as being quite small, an atheist, very cultured, a reader of a wide variety of books, an alcohol consumer, kind to his friends and fond of cricket. He had a slight Irish accent and could speak at least seven languages. On weekdays he dressed like his mates, except that he always wore his trilby hat to work, never the cap common to workmen. But in most ways, a young electrician said, Robert ‘never gave any inkling that he was other than an ordinary member of the working class’. In 1903 Robert was employed by another Hastings building firm, Burton & Co, of 88 Stonefield Road. This shop, now a plumbing business, stands on the corner of Stonefield Place, opposite the bottom of a flight of steps, at the top of which was Robert’s home in Milward Road. After three or four years, Robert left Burtons and went to work for Adams and Jarrett (Makehaste and Sloggem in the novel), based in a shop in Norman Road backing onto Saxon Street. That building is still occupied by a firm of the same name, but today they are the wide-ranging electrical retailers. Robert painted an advert for Adams and Jarrett on the side of their workshop at the top of the steps from London Road into Alfred Street, and those three words are still visible, the only known surviving example of Robert’s out-of-doors work. Robert was employed on many buildings all over the town, although these were not recorded. But it is known that they included the former St Andrew’s Church that stood in Queen’s Road where Safeway’s petrol station is today, and part of Robert’s wall-painting there is preserved in 10
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Hastings Museum. He is also believed to have worked on Christ Church in Ore, 10 Stockleigh Road in St Leonards, the former Kite’s Nest Hotel at the junction of St Helen’s Park Road and Downside Road, the Buchanan Hospital on the corner of London Road and Springfield Road (now mostly demolished) and the former Imperial pub on the corner of Queens Road and Stonefield Road (today an empty shop). Much of the building work described in the book took place in upper St Leonards, especially around The Green and Hollington Park Road, the wealthiest area. The main setting in the novel is called The Cave, believed in real life to have been the large detached house Val Mascal in Gillsmans Hill. At that time it was the residence of Mr Upson, ‘a prominent figure in the town, a fiery Tory gentleman disliked by all workmen who had the misfortune to work at the house — they said he had an eye like a ‘stinking eel’’, said Fred Ball. Robert is believed to have decorated parts of the inside, as he did at another large house, West Dene, nearby in Hollington Park Road. These were the homes of the rich. The well-off could also be found living in the surrounding parts of St Leonards, around the southern end of Alexandra Park and up through the Blacklands area to the St Helens part of the Ridge. The workers who were looking after all these delightful homes lived in their own slum-like districts: Hollington, Silverhill, Bohemia, Halton, the Old Town, Clive Vale and, worst of all, Ore.
children whose ‘hungry looks and tattered clothes bore witness to the poverty of their circumstances’, said the Hastings Weekly Mail. The starving and impoverished residents of Ore overlooked an even worse scene: the Hastings district workhouse. Set down in a valley in front of the slums of Ore, the workhouse on a typical day in the winter of 1905/6 had 396 ‘inmates’ (semi-prisoners), plus 217 ‘vagrants’ who had to labour for their overnight shelter. It was the appalling conditions in the homes and working lives of ordinary people, plus the result of the general election of January 1906, which sparked off a ‘revolutionary’ socialist movement in Hastings. Nationally, the election saw the Tory government swept aside by a massive swing to the Liberals — but Hastings was one of a handful of seats where the Liberal MP lost to a Tory. And this millionaire businessman was only elected because he was backed in the ballot boxes by many of the working class people he was exploiting: the ragged trousered philanthropists. To the new Hastings socialists this election showed parliamentary democracy was a dead-end, and something more radical was needed. Robert’s comrades took the struggle onto the streets of the town, and eventually lost. He turned to the bookshelves — and almost won. He lives on. A group of Tressell enthusiasts, the Robert Tressell Centre, preserves the memory of Robert and his book by
The former rural village of Ore was so poverty-stricken and deprived that a doctor said in 1905 that it was worse than any part of London where he had worked. In winter, the Ore Penny Dinner Fund gave free food every schoolday to over 200
holding an annual weekend festival of talks, music, theatre, displays and guided tours. Details of the 11/12 June 2005 festival are on www.1066.net/tressell. Hastings Museum has a permanent exhibition; www.hmag.org.uk. Reg Johnson, widower of Kathleen’s daughter Joan, has a collection of family material; firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE PRESS IN HASTINGS
In Search Of Times Past by Steve Peak
his is a new magazine — but you would not be reading it if it were not a bureaucratic botch-up in Whitehall which gave birth to the best print media in the world. In 1695 the government mistakenly failed to renew its Licensing Act which until then had strictly limited publishing and printing. The sudden death of this law opened the gate to the first newspapers, creating a flood of knowledge, information and advertising through the 18th century, that stimulated the growth of the industrial revolution in Britain. But the flood-level would have been even higher, were it not for the taxes the Whitehallers imposed on newspapers. They decided that, as they could no longer close the pre1695 gateway, they would charge people for going through it. Within a few years, publishers were having to pay stamp duty (a tax like today’s VAT) on every newspaper sold, a duty on all advertisements carried in the papers and another duty on the raw material paper used in printing.
The effect of all this was to make newspapers too expensive for many people. But this did not stop the new media from becoming very popular and influential throughout British society in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Groups of people were formed to buy single papers to share and read out to each other. The first of today’s national newspaper was The Times, launched in 1785. But long before then, regional and local papers were appearing — and disappearing — as
people experimented with exciting new ventures. The first regional newspaper covering Hastings was the Sussex Weekly Advertiser, launched in 1745. It was a county-wide paper, published in Lewes, and costing two pence. Stamp duty was then only a halfpenny, but it was the gradual increase of this to four pence by 1815 which deterred the starting of other papers. From the 1830s, however, the British establishment began to see that newspapers should be encouraged, rather than discouraged, because they were a means of communication that could reach all corners of society to boost the economy (and profits). Over the next three decades the crippling duties were largely scrapped, a key event being the abolition of the stamp duty in 1855. The first genuinely local newspaper in Hastings, being both published and printed in the town, was the Hastings and Cinque Ports Iris, launched on 23 October 1830. Its four pages carried mainly national news, but about a fifth was given over to local coverage of the Hastings, Bexhill, Battle and Rye area. The Iris was published and printed by John Townsend, who ran a print business from 58 High Street, now a restaurant near the junction with George Street. In February 1831 Townsend moved his business — then called the Iris General Printing Office — to the Pelham Arcade, in front of Pelham Crescent. The Iris appeared on Saturdays and was expensive, at 7d (more than an hour’s
wages), and had to cater for the middle class market that could afford it. The Iris is striking for its extensive and not-unsympathetic coverage of the serious disturbances that took place in the countryside around Hastings in the winter of 1830/1. These were part of the historic ‘Captain Swing’ rural riots against new agricultural machinery that swept Kent and eastern Sussex. It was this job-defending action by local Hastings farm workers, organised on the same principles as smuggling, that inspired the creation of today’s trade union movement across Britain. The Iris survived for less than a year, although it is not known for exactly how long. Only issues numbered 237, ending 2 July 1831, exist in any known archives. The second Hastings newspaper, the Cinque Ports Chronicle, was launched on 8 September 1838. This selfconfessed Tory paper was published by William Arundale, who ran a book publishing and stationery business at 2 Castle Street. It was printed by Henry Osborne at 55 George Street. The Chronicle, also a Saturday paper, initially cost 5d and had eight pages, mostly with national news, but with usually at least one covering the east end of Sussex and neighbouring parts of Kent. It then passed into the hands of Alexander Bayne, whose office was in the Pelham Arcade. In April 1839 the Chronicle’s price was cut to 3d — and the number of pages to four. Around the middle of January ‘05 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER
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year old William Ransom, being initially printed and published at the 42 George Street printing shop of his father of the same name. William junior tried to produce the News single-handed, but he suffered poor health, and he had to close it for two months at the end of 1848. He then re-started in January 1849, with his father being printer and proprietor until his death in late 1855, when William senior’s brother John replaced him. William junior was the editor of the News from 1848 until retiring in 1884, setting the pattern for other Hastings papers. He continued writing regular campaigning columns, stories and letters for the News and later the Liberal H&SL Weekly Mail right up until his death in April 1906, aged 83. The Mail then described him as ‘the father of the local press’.
1840 the Chronicle seemed to run into problems and stopped appearing for a while. It then began changing its identity, and by the end of 1841 had become the Southern Advertiser, published in London for the whole south coast, with nothing of substance about Hastings. Meanwhile, the Sussex Weekly Advertiser was having to face up to a big rival in Lewes. The Sussex Agricultural Express, with limited Hastings coverage, was launched in 1837 and today, as the Sussex Express, is the only weekly paper trying to cater for a large part of 12
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East Sussex (the Advertiser survived until about 1904/5). The main landmark in the early history of the Hastings papers was the launch of the Hastings and St Leonards [ H&SL] News on 5 May 1848. This was not only the first real local paper to have a long life, lasting until 1905, but it set high journalistic standards that its future rivals had to match. It was also strongly Liberal, challenging the inbuilt Toryism of the Hastings establishment. The News was published on Fridays and cost 3d. It was founded by 25-
The Ransoms sold the publishing and printing of the News in 1870 to Joseph Tendall. He was a local working man who had started out as a reporter with the town’s other Liberal newspaper, the H&SL Chronicle. This was the Sussex Weekly Advertiser under a different name and with some Hastings material. Tendall was a lowprofile owner of the News until he died in 1901. Then Trevor Gardiner, who ran his own printing business at 6 Bank Buildings, took over the paper and redirected it at the county market. But this failed, and the News shrivelled up and died in 1905. After the scrapping of the stamp duty in 1855 many newspapers came on the scene in Hastings, but the News and the Chronicle were the leaders until the late 1860s. Their most notable rival was the H&SL Gazette. This was as much a weekly archive of history as a newspaper. It was the creation of local personality Thomas Brandon Brett, who produced it
THE PRESS IN HASTINGS
single-handed. He ran it for many years, mainly because of his fascination with local history, and today the Gazette and Brett’s other notes and manuscripts form a unique record of 19th century Hastings. He was still writing when he died, aged 89, in 1906, although the Gazette had closed some years before. There is no reliable record of the many newspapers which came and went in Hastings in the second half of the 19th century. The names of the papers changed frequently and confusingly, as did the ownership. Titles included the H&SL Guardian, Independent, Journal, Standard and World. But by the early 1870s the Hastings Observer was emerging as the most powerful force in the market that it was to monopolise from 1912. Perhaps the best-known of its other papers was the midweek H&SL Advertiser, which ran from 1859 to 1918. The Observer was mainly the creation of Frederick James Parsons, whose company, FJ Parsons Ltd, was synonymous with the Hastings media until the early 1970s. Fred Parsons was born in Rye in October 1844, the eldest son of Isaac Parsons, a newspaper proprietor and printer. Initially Fred worked in Rye for his father, until moving in 1864 to Hastings, where Isaac had started publishing the weekly Hastings Herald in 1861. Fred Parsons took over the
Herald and his father’s print works in Havelock Road. In 1867 he bought the eight-year old Hastings Observer from its founder, Mr JH Knight, and merged it with the Herald. Over the following years Fred Parsons created a big business, centred in Hastings, but with operations extending around the south-east coast. When he died in January 1900, Fred Parsons was one of the most powerful figures in the local establishment, and he was what the Observer then called ‘an orthodox Conservative’. He was not only the owner of one of the largest newspaper, printing and stationery businesses in the county, but he was also director of many other Hastings companies, including the Albany Hotel, the transport firm Skinners, the Hastings Bus Company, the Electric Light Company and the Steamboat Company, as well as being a shareholder in other local enterprises. FJ Parsons Ltd had its first big headquarters in Claremont, next to the Library (on the right as you look at it). By the mid-1920s it had bought the buildings on top of the adjoining rockface, on the corner of Prospect Place and Cambridge Road, and replaced these with new printing works and offices, linked by bridges to the property in Claremont. This was an extraordinary architectural feat and folly, a huge investment in a complex, tall, thin building latched onto the edge of a former cliff which itself is a steep slope, and has caves underneath! Most of the old Observer building
fronting onto Cambridge Road has stood empty following the move of the papers to Woods House in Telford Road in 1984, as it is of no use or value to any other commercial operation. It should be compulsory viewing for trainee architects. After the closure of the News in 1905, the last rival to the Observer group was the Hastings and St Leonards Weekly Mail and Times, launched in 1877. It was always antiTory, and even when taken over by the local print firm Burfield and Pennells in 1905 because of financial problems, the new owners said it would ‘remain the mouthpiece of the Liberal Party’. But the mouth closed at the end of 1911. At that moment, however, the socialist movement was having a very brief say. In October 1911, the local branch of the Social Democratic Party launched the eight-page news magazine the H&SL Citizen, ‘A Monthly Journal for the Working People’. It said: ‘The local Press have always supported the interests of the few in the town. One [the Observer] has not only always neglected the interests of the many, but has heaped insults upon the members of the working class, hence our reason for entering the fray.’ Unfortunately, they had to quit the fight after the second issue, probably because of lack of financial support. From 1912 until 1973, the FJ Parsons’ Observer group had a monopoly of the weekly local newspapers in and around Hastings.
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The nearest thing to opposition in those six decades was a regional paper, based in Brighton: the daily Evening Argus. This had its own Hastings office and print works, in Castle Hill Road where the car park is today. The Argus gradually ran down its Hastings coverage from the 1960s onwards. Its last Hastings presence was one reporter in a near-empty shop in Havelock Road up to the early 1990s. But for six decades the local establishment effectively controlled local knowledge. Only what they considered good news would appear in the Observer. Freemason-type influence meant scandals about corruption, failures and inefficiency in the town hall and business world would be buried, allowing the town to slide steadily downhill for over half a century, without individuals being made accountable. Then a bomb exploded in the boardroom of FJ Parsons. In 1973 the Observer was such a tired, old paper that a small group of young local businessmen believed there was enough room in the market place for them to launch one of the new generation of free sheets. On 13 September 1973 they launched the Hastings News.
The new News was the second landmark in the story of the Hastings papers. It was a low budget tabloid, published on Thursdays, two days before the Observer. But it was free, and distributed to homes all around the town. And it carried lively controversial news stories that revealed just how much the Observer was really a voice of the establishment. FJ Parsons tried to save its press monopoly by launching a mid-week free rival, the Herald, but this did not survive. And neither did FJ Parsons. By the early 1970s the writing was on the wall for many local newspaper groups around Britain. Consolidation was taking place as entrepreneurs and speculators sensed there was much money to be made by creating a small number of big media empires. In Hastings, the outof-date Parsons family and company had reached the end of the road. Around the time of the News launch they sold out to Westminster Press. The News group faced a new form of no-news rival in 1983, when the free Friday Ad appeared. This was just adverts. The News tried to undermine it by launching The Shopper in August that year, but it
died an early death. Friday Ad now has a market to itself. In 1984 Westminster Press sold to Senews, which made the change-over from the centuries-old hot metal printing to photo composition in the 26 July 1984 edition of the Observer. Senews were short-stay visitors, soon selling to the big national group Emap, which by the end of the 1980s had bought out the independent News group, creating a local monopoly again. The newspaper originally called the Hastings News (then titled the Citizen) retained its old editorial independence and lively spirit up until August 1990, when it was finally submerged into the Observer group. Today’s owner of all the Hastingsarea newspapers is TR Beckett, a subsidiary of the Edinburgh-based Johnston Press, the 4th largest publisher of local and regional newspapers in the UK. Many people believe that an untried media market exists in Hastings for quality non-political magazines. There have been few serious attempts to launch such a thing – until now…
January ‘05 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER
The man in the High Street
by Jane Wainwright
n a bitter November Saturday morning, with the wind whipping at coats and stinging tears from the eyes, the best place to be is inside. So that’s where I was on Remembrance Day, snug in the Unwind Café in George Street, talking to a real gentleman. Basil Rose is the father or grandfather most people would choose if only we could pick family. Twinkly blue eyes and neat white hair, he has all the manners and charm of his generation, and apparently, none of the hang-ups of mine. Yet this man, like many of his ilk, has experienced the horror of war. Voices chattered and cups clattered in the steamy, busy café as we took our seats and ordered coffee. Mr Rose was solicitous that I was comfortable and settled as we began to talk about the reason we were there. For this extraordinary gentleman has seen Life. Nicholas Monsarrat used Basil Rose’s name for a naval character in The Cruel Sea. The fictitious Mr Rose was an unpleasant individual; a direct contrast to my companion that Saturday morning.
Hastings 2004 receded into a blur as he took me on his war journeys, steaming ahead in a Corvette of the British fleet or inching through the frozen Arctic ice in a naval frigate. His style of telling makes each account sound like a Boys Own adventure; escapades which were dangerous, but fun. Basil Rose’s war adventures start off from the romantically named Whale Island off Plymouth where he served on a Corvette protecting the convoys 16
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of the North Atlantic fleet. He saw plenty of action. Remembering a convoy attacked off Gibraltar, Basil Rose recalls ‘we were told to scatter. There were thirty vessels destroyed; attacked by U boats. ‘I remember a Corvette being torpedoed, right next to us. It went down immediately, and of course, you survived about fifteen seconds in those waters. You didn’t stand a chance.’ I heard the doomed men calling ‘Help me! Help me!’ Asked if he wasn’t afraid of dying back then, Basil Rose laughed easily. ‘When your time’s up…’ So what of the lads who were frightened, I asked. ‘Well, there’d be a fairly long queue outside the toilets!’ ‘If you sunk a U boat, that was their bad luck. It was either them or you.’ The U boats liked to hunt in packs; they used to have flying boats, just out of range of the guns
‘We had some very good commanders. One in particular, Captain Walker, decided he’d hunt the U boats and he was most successful.’ Visions of a chiselled face, piercing eyes staring at the horizon come to mind. A hero. ‘Poor man died aged only forty-two. The strain of it all killed him.’ But wasn’t it boring, monotonous work when the men weren’t actually engaged in action? It seems a philosophical, prosaic attitude was needed. Basil Rose found he had time to think and the ratings entertained him with their stories, particularly he remembers, the Scottish ones. I didn’t ask! ‘I always liked the middle watch, the twelve to four am watch.’ He told me, then added with a mischievous look ‘That always gave me time in bed in the morning!’ The British Navy ran Arctic convoys
which carried war materials to the Russians. In an average convoy, 76 per cent of the ships were sunk by German bombers and U-boats. In May 1942, Basil Rose was part of the crew that took the frigate HMS Seymour to Russia. Where he saw the sun go down ‘and then almost immediately, come up again!’ Murmansk was a dismal sight, buildings bombed and ruined, the people he met quayside, grimfaced and existing on meagre rations. He remembers that their cigarettes were made of wood shavings, However, to show hospitality to the British sailors, the Russians presented them with a large amount of fresh meat. Yak meat. ‘There was no recipe for Yak in Mrs Beeton’s cookbook!’ Basil Rose chuckled. The cook who had until then been renowned for his regular and lusty renditions of ‘I’ve got a
lovely bunch of coconuts’ took no chances. He roasted that Yak meat for fifteen hours. The officers waited, the entire crew tantalised by the aroma of roasting meat. The time came to serve it. With a certain amount of ceremony it was carved. And served. And chewed. And chewed. And still found to be rare, almost raw. The poor cook was practically court marshalled and gave up singing thereafter. So why has it taken the Russians so long to acknowledge the part the British Navy played in the war? Simple, according to Basil Rose. The KGB, or the FSU were guilty of blocking the release of information. ‘Some people have been given the Arctic medal. But not the Corvette crews.’ It wasn’t all grim. There were new experiences and sights to be savoured too. Basil Rose fondly remembers the
Recipes TRAWLER FISH PIE. Use fresh fish, bought on the stade (whatever is cheap and plentiful). Ingredients (topping): potatoes, 700gms; celeriac, 200gms; swede (or sweet potato), 200gms; butter, 150gms; cream. 2 tablespoons. Method: cook together until soft then mash with butter and cream, adding salt and pepper to taste. Ingredients (filling): white fish, 750gms; smoked haddock; 300gms; mackerel, herring or sea bream, 300gms; leeks, 250gms; fresh parsley (chopped), 100gms; 3 medium eggs; 500ml yoghurt; salt and pepper to taste; grated cheese, 100gms. Method: skin and cut the fish into bite-sized pieces. Mix the eggs and yoghurt and pour the mixture over the fish and chopped parsley. Put into a large dish and smooth the top. Add the topping then finish by adding the grated cheese. Bake for 60 minutes at 180 C. Serve with fresh vegetables or salad.
time spent in the Azores. ‘To see the sun come up over the lovely white buildings was a sight.’ There he bought his wife a watch. And a pineapple. ‘I hung it in a net bag in my cabin and hoped it would survive the three week trip back.’ We can only imagine today how ration strapped British citizens would have reacted to being given a pineapple. And when the war ended? Basil Rose was in Liverpool. He let the authorities know he’d like to take The Seymour back to America, as it had been leased from the US Navy. So began a wonderful trip to Boston, after Christmas 1945. The British Seamen were made welcome in the homes of their American counterparts. ‘They were very generous people.’ Mr Rose remembers his trip to New York. ‘I was fascinated by all the lights and the fact that the shops were still open at midnight.’ A far cry from war affected England then. However, I get the impression that he wasn’t too impressed with the Americans’ attitude to their part in the war generally. It’s amazing to people like me, with no real experience of war, just what individuals like Basil Rose endured in their country’s service during the war. Scurrying along the seafront towards the shelter of home, I glanced out at the inhospitable sea. Steel grey rollers crashed ominously on the beach and the great, unforgiving expanse that has meant death for so many, glinted dispassionately in the weak wintery sun. I thought about being eighteen again and how I would have felt, setting out for God knows where, as he did in 1942. The thought left me even colder. That November day in particular, I wore my poppy with pride.
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The Fuming Chef by Pauline Melville
cGarrity was an excellent chef. He was a short man with a barrel chest and his face always burned with vigour from his efforts in the kitchen. His hair was dark and greased back close to his scalp. His eyes bulged aggressively from their sockets. He hailed from Glasgow and he would hail anybody high or low who also came from Glasgow. But nobody else. Anyone else was foreign and the enemy. ‘Where are you from, pal?’ was the question no-one wanted to answer when McGarrity asked it ever since somebody had answered ‘Greenock’ and been greeted with a punch on the nose. Even when he was a young man friends had revelled in the impromptu meals at his stinking flat. However unhygienic the state of his kitchen, he managed to whisk up all sorts of unlikely and mouth-watering delicacies. Sometimes after a particularly successful gourmet evening and fortified with whisky he could be seen standing in Sauchiehall Street, beaming with happiness, waiting to insult passers-by. There was no doubt that McGarrity was a gifted cook but his natural generosity to all-comers and his hatred of non-Glaswegians set up a difficult tension in his being. So it bewildered and caught people completely off guard when he decided to move south and open a restaurant in Hastings, in enemy territory, thereby fulfilling his long-standing dream of becoming a chef. Heads shook sadly. Fingers wagged. It can’t work, people said. It won’t last. 18
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But McGarrity had fallen in love with the premises while on a motoring holiday. He renovated the old fish and chip shop employing a sign-writer to paint ‘McGarrity’s’ in a tasteful green above the plate-glass window. The restaurant was on top of a steep hill opposite a long wall on the other side of which was the local cemetery. Business thrived as a result of McGarrity’s expert cuisine. He liked to drink good wine. When Scots friends came to visit he sat them down at the table making faint menacing noises as he recommended a certain wine — his favourite. He then went and fetched two bottles of the wine, pulled up a chair and joined them. He drank one bottle. They drank the other. He always charged them for both before disappearing back into the kitchen. One thing that McGarrity did not like was criticism of his cooking. Everyone knew not to criticise the food in McGarrity’s restaurant or they risked being thrown over the long wall into the long cemetery opposite. One rather gentle college lecturer who had just brought a property in the Old Town did not know that it was forbidden in McGarrity’s to demur let alone complain. He arrived with a party of six to celebrate his birthday and ordered the fillet of lamb and pureed garlic that was on the menu. When his meal arrived the deliciously cooked portion of lamb had upon it several cloves of garlic laid side by side: ‘Er…excuse me,’ the steam from the food faintly misted his spectacles and
so he wiped them with his napkin as he spoke: ‘..…excuse me but I thought it said that the garlic would be pureed’. He gazed up innocently unaware that he had stoked McGarrity’s fury. McGarrity looked at him, eyes blazing and then picked up the man’s dessert spoon from the table and brought it crashing down on the garlic so that gravy spattered all over the diner’s face: ‘Well it’s fucking pureed now, isn’t it?’ It was this sort of incident that made customers hesitate before mentioning that the soup was a little too hot or cold for their liking or that there was a speck of ratshit in the zabaglione. Another time, a female friend of McGarrity who was well aware of McGarrity’s response to criticism quietly whispered in the ear of the waitress: ‘Don’t say anything to McGarrity but I’m just telling you for your information that the duck was a little on the dry side. But, for heaven's sake, don’t mention that to McGarrity. It’s just for you to know about, O.K?’ She finished the meal with her friend and went home. At one o clock in the morning, there was a ring on her doorbell. She opened the door onto the dark night to find McGarrity, still wearing his navy blue and white striped chef ’s apron, blazing with rage on her front doorstep. Hanging from his raised hand was a dead duck:
Lesley Prince Any resemblance between McGarrity’s and any actual Glaswegian-run restaurant in Hastings is entirely coincidental. The name and the location have been changed to protect any innocent restauranteur
‘Fucking cook the fucking duck yourself ’ screamed McGarrity, in an unusually high voice, flinging the deceased creature past her into the back of the hallway before storming off. One regular customer always came in and dined alone. Unlike most longterm residents of Hastings, McGarrity was unaware that Lonny Mackie had served a life sentence for murder. Most people accepted Lonny but kept their distance. He had a handsome worn face but a strange emptiness within. Sometimes he appeared a little befuddled. Once he confided to a friend: ‘I often think of poor Wullie. If it all gets too much I just take some heroin. I know I shouldn’t but that’s what I do to blot everything out and keep calm for a while.’ McGarrity usually came into the
dining area at some point in the evening to make sure that his customers were enjoying their food. His gaze became increasingly hostile as he watched Lonny pushing a side salad of cucumber around the plate with his fork, an expression of vacant dislike on his face. McGarrity himself had take time to slice the cucumber and cut it into delicate shapes before dressing it with his speciality, a mint-thick dill-soused yoghurt sauce: ‘What’s up?’ McGarrity’s tone was threatening. The lone candle on the table flickered illuminating the long craggy scar down one side of Lonny’s face as he looked up. Lonny looked straight at McGarrity and gave a despairing sigh:
The restaurant went quiet. The only sound to be heard was the metallic chinking of cutlery and pans from the kitchen at the back. McGarrity was staring at him with an expression of extraordinarily ferocious intensity. ‘Where are you from, pal?’ ‘Springburn. Glasgow.’ Came the reply. ‘Well that’s all right then.’ McGarrity beamed and gestured for the waitress to crack open a bottle of his favourite wine. ©2005 Pauline Melville Pauline Melville is the author of ‘Shape-Shifter’ (1990), a collection of short stories which won the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best First Book) and the Guardian Fiction Prize. Her first novel, ‘The Ventriloquist’s Tale’ (1997), won the Whitbread
‘Cucumber cut in the shape of a gnat’s arse. What’s the world coming to, eh?’
First Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her most recent collection of stories is ‘The Migration of Ghosts’ (1998).
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Published on Aug 19, 2011
Launch issue — October 2005 Although based in Hastings and St.Leonards-on-Sea, we hope that the magazine, by the quality of its writing, wil...