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Monks House and Charleston

October 31st, 2010 No comments

Charleston, the Sussex farmhouse home of Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell and Duncan Grant, and frequently visited by the Bloomsbury Group.

Yesterday two important homes in the history of British literature were open to the public for the last time this year before they are closed up and put to bed for the winter to reopen next spring.

They are Charleston, the home and country meeting place for the writers, painters and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group, and Monks House, the country home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, leading Bloomsbury figures. One of the principal residents of Charleston was Vanessa Bell, whose sister was Virginia Woolf. Both homes are a few miles from each other and outside Lewes, East Sussex, which is not that far from where I live in Hastings Old Town.

As someone who is interested in the Bloomsbury Group and celebrates Virginia Woolf as my favourite writer of all time, yesterday’s visit to Charleston and Monks House takes on the feel of a pilgrimage.

As meaningful as it is for me to visit them both, Charleston stands out as the place to go to to connect with this outstanding group of creative and unique individuals. Sadly Monks House wasn’t acquired by the National Trust directly on the death of Leonard Woolf in 1969. If it had I suspect visits to Monks House would be as moving as they are to Charleston. I always leave Monks House pleased with the opportunity but disappointed because I don’t feel an emotional connection to the lives of the Woolf’s.

Whereas at Charleston, the Charleston Trust does an outstanding job of keeping the house and garden in such a way that, for someone like me who is passionately interested in its history, I can imagine what it was like to live there. This is because the trust took on the house after the death of its last remaining resident, Quentin Bell, who died in 1996. His parents were Vanessa (nee Woolf) and Clive Bell.

Yesterday, Linda, an outstanding tour guide, shared Charleston and her knowledge of it with me as part of a small group. Moving from the Dining Room to the Garden Room, from Vanessa Bell’s Bedroom to Maynard Keynes’s Bedroom, and to learn about the paintings hung on the wall, the fabrics covering the chairs, the pottery on the shelves and the books on the bookcases and all their histories, is to make connections with the people who made them, designed them, wrote them and used them. To move around Charleston from room to room is to feel the Bloomsbury spirit. It is far from being an antiseptic experience, which I sadly so often feel when I visit some historic homes. A visit to Charleston is to learn about their lives and the tragedies and achievements of those who lived there.

This bust of Virginia Woolf stands in the garden at Monks House where her ashes were scattered.

So, when I visit Monks House and Charleston and then read about the Bloomsbury group and savour the writings of Virginia Woolf, whether it’s her novels, journalism, letters or diaries, they become even more important and meaningful to me. Their lives, whatever may be said about the Bloomsbury group, were lived to its fullest. This isn’t meant to put them on a pedestal marked “super human.” They, like the rest of us, were flawed and problematic people. Nonetheless, they, in particular, Virginia, remain an inspiration.

Virginia committed suicide by drowning in the River Ouse, near Monks House, in 1941. Near Virginia’s bust by Stephen Tomlin is one of Leonard by Charlotte Hewes. Leonard’s bust is engraved with his words, which say,

I believe profoundly in two rules, justice and mercy. They seem to me the foundation of all civilised life and society if you include under mercy toleration.

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Harvey! Every Home Should Have One

October 27th, 2010 No comments
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Vegan In Bruges

October 18th, 2010 Comments off

The medium plate at the Vegetarisch Eethuis de Bron vegetarian restaurant in Brugge

Not having seen the film In Bruges I can’t possibly comment on it although everyone mentioned it when I said I was going to visit there. Which I did in early September although I’m only just now getting round to writing something about it. My two-week plus cold having significantly upset my work schedule.

Anyway, Bruges (or Brugge) is a lovely, picturesque town in Belgium. Online research reported there were several vegetarian restaurants. One was found. The Vegetarisch Eethuis de Bron. A pleasant lunch was had there although they don’t really understand vegan. To order, you pick a small, medium or large plate. The food is basically the same. It’s the size of the portions that’s different. I picked medium, which came with quiche notwithstanding saying vegan loudly and slowly as English people tend to speak when they’re abroad.

Taken from the obligatory but enjoyable canal boat tour.

Here’s a lovely shot of Brugge. It was taken from the obligatory but enjoyable canal boat cruise.

Also took the similarly obligatory but enjoyable tour of the sole remaining brewery in the town. It was quite fascinating to see how beer used to be made and how it is done today. Past brewing methods would have health and safety inspectors even more unpopular as the workers put themselves at considerable risk.

Visiting Bruges is highly recommended. Eating vegan there is ok. One dinner and one lunch was the felafel and humous Egyptian fare. This did included — and I wished I’d take a photograph of it but I was extremely hungry at the time — what it must have been the world’s largest felafel and humous pitta sandwich. It was the size of a dinner plate!

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Hastings Bonfire Parade

October 17th, 2010 No comments

This shot was taken last night as various local bonfire societies paraded through the Old Town to the beach for a massive firework display.

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Tramp the Dirt Down

October 16th, 2010 No comments
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Animal Dharma Podcast 3 “Becoming a Vegelical in the 1970s”

October 12th, 2010 No comments

My forthcoming book, Animal Dharma, explores what it means to care deeply about animals and discovers how we can live peacefully with ourselves and others by proposing four key values: truth, compassion, nonviolence and interbeing–the interrelatedness of all.

This is the third in a series of podcasts in which I read out brief extracts from Animal Dharma. It is called “Becoming a Vegelical in the 1970s.” I look back to what happened when I stopped eating meat when I was still living at home. Then, I became a vegan in 1976. There was now no turning back.

Becoming a Vegelical in the 1970s

Please click here if you would like to listen to the first two podcasts from Animal Dharma “Camberley Kate Ward” and “Chicken Slaughterhouse.”

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Hastings Vegan Dining Club

October 10th, 2010 No comments

Home-made vegan sausages are the perfect "comfort" food!

Just as I was getting sick more than two weeks ago, the rough and ready crowd who belong to the Hastings Vegan Dining Club got together for one of our, er, Vegan Dining Club get-togethers. Sadly, the notes I made about the delicious meal have subsequently disappeared. I blame my cold. (Wait! See below)

Suffice it to say that everything was delicious. And vegan.  The theme of the evening was comfort food. Hence the sausages, which were served with a sausage and mash pie. Of the three trays of sausage and mash pie made, only two made it to the dinner table. The resident dogs made off with one of them. This news resulted in adoring mumbling noises about how wonderful dogs are. Which is, I guess, what you’d expect from an animal-loving group of vegans, who, between us, have many rescued cats, dogs, sheep and chickens as well as many others who, no doubt, are being rescued as I write this.

Next up is a scary Halloween Meal and a Christmas mince pie and sherry evening.

I found my notes:

The sausages were made from red rice and wild rice which was mixed and cooked to an inch of their life. This was shoved through an Osker (heavy duty mincer) with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, commercial (Sainsbury’s organic stuffing mix), mint, onions, sage, herb salt and dried tofu. About 30 sausages were made. An additional 24 were also made that were gluten free. onions. sage. Brazil nuts (presumably chopped) were added to the mix post-Osker.

The sausage and mash pie was made from homemade baked beans, sausages, mashed potato, herb salt as well as haricot and black eye beans stewed in tomatoes and cooked in a pressure cooker with molasses.

Dessert was a raw pancake which was made by blending bananas and oats, which is spread on a dehydrator. The sheets were peeled off as big flats and folded gently into trumpets. They were served with home made custard and elderberry and blackberry jelly.

The evening was hosted at the vegan B&B, Bay Tree House, which is highly, Very Highly, VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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Camber Sands

October 8th, 2010 No comments

Camber Sands, where sky, sea and land merge into one, which highlights our puny insignificance on this spectacular planet.

These past two weeks have been a blur. Only just now recovering from a stinker of a cold. Which, in some way, looks like this shot I took with my Blackberry a few days ago on an afternoon visit to nearby Camber Sands. It’s an amazing place on an early October afternoon. Sky, land and sea blur into one. Much like how my head has been lately. It was a still day. No wind to blow the muck out of my consciousness. Nonetheless, the vast expanse of Camber Sands felt like a vacuum that put our insignificance in the universe into place. “You think you’re important,” Camber of all Universe warned. “You’re nothing but a grain of sand. And each wave crashing on the shore is but one of your puny lives.”

Nonetheless, I persisted in trying to keep various projects moving forward during this time. Not been easy. My to do list only has a few things crossed off. Still in the works is a third podcast on Animal Dharma and a presentation on the book both to be posted here. The third part of Animal Dharma is very nearly finished. This leave the final part four, which is started but needs serious gardening, and the Conclusion. Nearly there! Grumpy Vegan is stirring for a relaunch but not quite yet. Plus other activities too early for public consumption.

I’ve been largely absent on FaceBook and Twitter recently. This should change; however, I’m increasingly conscious of the need to publish only when it’s necessary to say something, which I’m not sure I’m actually doing here! Anyway, this apology is for letting it be known what I’ve been up to. Plus there’s a backlog of stuff to share.  And now that I’m feeling better ….

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Fire on Hastings Pier

October 5th, 2010 No comments

Efforts to save the Hastings Pier need to be reassessed after this morning's fire. Debris from the pier washes up on to the beach and the ash turns the sea black.

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