Tag Archives: The Whistler

The Whistler – December 2020

It’s officially winter. The nights have closed in, the straw hat is back in it box and coats are the season’s must-have accessory. Still, we’re out of lockdown and we’re allowed out. Remember that? Out? And if we’ve got to have a substantial meal, well that’s OK too. Lockdown’s had its moments. We’ve met people, well we’ve seen people on small screens, and as long as the West Hill quiz keeps going, so will we (even though we were robbed at the last quiz, positively robbed. Who knew what a Star bar looked like?). 

But remember, if things are hard, if you have trouble getting out and about, Lovely Vinod at Bright News is doing deliveries and helping those who need it. It’s what community’s for. 

Finally, a quick word about us going all 21st century – the website’s got a new look, there’s a new Instagram (@westhillwhistler) and Twitter (@WestHillWhistle) and a re-vamped Facbook page. You can probably guess what that’s called. It’s all very exciting.

And, as always, if you’ve got something to say, drop us a line. Join in. Life’s better that way. 

Merry Xmas / New Year. See you on the other side.


The great Eddie Thompson

Peter Batten pays tribute to one of the great British jazz pianists

One wet Friday evening in November 1961 I was about to leave my place of work, the Stevenage College of Further Education. As I came to the main entrance I met a bachelor colleague. Like me he was new to the College; we had both arrived in September.

“What are you doing this evening?” he asked. I explained that I was going to a jazz club run by one of my new neighbours. 

“May I join you?” he asked.

Later that evening he gave me a lift and we arrived at the club just as Eddie Thompson was about to play. His dog was already settled comfortably under the grand piano.

Eddie [1925-86] had long been recognised as one of our finest jazz pianists. Born blind, he attended the same school as the great George Shearing. Like some other people with his disability, he turned to piano tuning as his trade. However his talent for jazz soon began to shine through. He performed  solo and with bands in a variety of styles. That evening, although I had heard several of his recordings, I was to hear him in person for the first time. I fell in love with his playing. What I did not know was that his dog was about to retire. A few months later Eddie took a very brave decision to try his luck in the clubs of New York.

He was away for ten years. Although he won great respect in New York, he knew that the experience would enhance his ability to make a living in London. By the time he returned I was working at a new college in South London. He often appeared nearby at a pub called the Leather Bottle in Merton. One of my friends played bass with Eddie at his regular gig at the Playboy Club as well at Merton so I was introduced. At that time I was very fond of a great song by Tadd Dameron called “If You Could See Me Now.” Eddie played it superbly, so it became a regular request from me.

Then I decided to give myself a special treat. The music studio at the Sutton College was equipped with a small Bosendorfer grand piano, one of the world’s finest pianos. I arranged for Eddie to give a solo performance for an audience of about 50 people. He loved the piano. The result was an evening of outstanding jazz. I never heard him play better. And there was a bonus. Eddie had a very sharp wit and a stock of jokes, most of them unsuited for polite company. It was an “Evening with Eddie Thompson” to remember.

As we entered the 1980s he was playing better than ever. Sadly his years were limited. He was diagnosed with emphysema. Within 18 months he declined rapidly, was housebound, confined to bed and died, aged 61. He had been a very heavy smoker.     ]

If you want to know what a great player he was, call up some of his recordings on Youtube. I would particularly recommend “One Morning in May” by his trio with the great Martin Drew on drums.

At 87 years of age I have been shielding at home during Lockdown. That is my excuse for leading you back through my memories of a lovely, gifted man. One special evening comes to mind. It was August and very hot. I went to the Bull’s Head at Barnes, a famous jazz venue, to hear the great American saxophonist Johnny Griffin. To my delight Eddie was at the piano, with Martin Drew on drums. The music was fantastic, the room was packed, the sweat was pouring off us and even seemed to be running down the walls. Through it all I could see Eddie, exactly opposite me at the grand piano, a broad grin on his face, enjoying the chance to accompany such a great musician.

A final story. One of Eddie’s friends had given him a lift home from a gig. Eddie invited him to come in for a coffee. The curtains were drawn, the house was in total darkness and the friend began to collide with the furniture. “Sorry” said Eddie, “I’ll put the light on. I’d forgotten you could see”.

A Biba-esque emporium

An Aladdin’s Cave where Frida Kahlo sits next to beautiful vintage kimonos while Tintin and Buddha look on. Jed Novick goes in search of the Objet D’ials

I want people to feel that they’ve disconnected with the outside world and engaged with the shop when they’ve walked through the door.”

Karin Pratt is putting the finishing touches to Objet D’ials, her new art emporium. She’s at that lovely point – halfway between excited and exhausted, and I just asked her the stupidest question. What are you selling here? It all looks like Aladdin’s Cave here. Look around and… there’s Mexican the window, a row of beautiful Japanese kimonos, a Buddha, a bit of Frida Kahlo, vintage books, art, Tintin, a red velvet sofa… Everywhere your eye lands, there’s something for it to feast on.   

“When people walk in and look around, I want them to feel like they’ve gone on a journey,” says Karin. “I want people to engage with the shop. You know how many shops you walk in and then walk out, as an experience it leaves you empty. I want people to come in here – even if they don’t buy anything – I want them to feel they’ve disconnected with the outside world.”

Pushed for a description, Karin says “I want it to be an all-encompassing Biba-esque experience.” And if you’re going to have an aspiration, that’s not a bad one. 

“You just browse. There’s a café – but only a small percentage of our life is as a café. We’re going down the cafetiere or pot of tea route. We’re not doing takeaway or trying to be a café. The shop is artisan and in the summer there’ll be tables and chairs outside.” 

So let’s go back to the beginning. Who are you and how did you get here? “We live next door and this shop used to be the garage for the house. My husband has looked into the history of the house and has always wanted to put it back together, to bring it back. I’ve worked in shops (and the oil industry, and tourism and hotels…) but I’d never had a shop. I had a feeling it was going to come on the market and one day we were sitting in the garden and a friend said ‘Come here, there’s a guy in the street with a clipboard outside the shop.’ 

And you ran outside and said “Stop!”? 

“More or less.”

To anyone opening a shop in 2020, it’s the obvious question to ask, so let’s just ask it. You’re setting up a new shop from scratch, how much of a nuisance has lockdown been? “Not really that much of a problem because I knew it was coming. We’ve had a four-week turnaround – we bought it at the end of November and…” 

Hang about. Stop. You only got hold of this at the end of October? 

“Yes, the 23rd. We came straight in after getting the key and started with the paint…” 

That’s just… That’s amazing. 

“Was it longer? I’m so tired… It’s gone really quickly, I know that.” 

While it’s Karin’s shop, Karin’s idea, Karin’s dream, she’s very keen to support Sussex based suppliers for my local goods. “The idea of helping and promoting local produce and business is really important. We’re very lucky to have a shop and while it’s OK to be online, if you can have somewhere to show your goods, that can make all the difference.”

So you’ve got? 

“Well, we sell Craft House Coffee, which is based in Wivelsfield. There’s Katie’s Nuttery, who do all sorts of organic nut butters and they’re based in Henfield. We’ve got Park Farm honey, from just up the road.  J.Cocoa, the chocolatier from Hassocks, and Slice, the local Seven Dials bakery and sweetmaker.”  

And it’s not just about the small producers; there’s a place at the table for shops, too. “We’ve got stuff from ‘And More Again’ in Upper Gardener Street because they –  Penny –goes to India a lot and she’s going to have a permanent feature in the shop because she fits what I like, the vibe.”  

So are you going to expand into things like local cheeses? “My core is art, that’s what the vibe is. The heart of the shop is community, but my core is art. If we can bring those things together…”

We hear so much about the death of the high street, about big stores closing, about how people only shop online. But maybe this is what the future will look like, post-Covid when big high street shopping has recalibrated. Community-based shops that work together, that help each other, that support other local businesses. 

“There are so many lovely people here and if we can all work together we can only make everyone stronger, and have more fun while we’re doing it”