Saturday, 30 May 2020

Silent Spring revisited

Nearly 60 years ago, in September 1962, Rachel Carson's seminal work on the hazards and horrors stemming from the worlds increasing use of pesticides was published. Foreseeing an empty natural world, bereft of insects and birds, Silent Spring marked if not a turning point in our attitudes to chemicals in agriculture, a wake-up call whose ripples spread far beyond it's original audience. Even as a young schoolboy in a far from global society I was aware of it, possibly through my Grandparent's back copies of National Geographic magazine, which I avidly devoured, and it has remained with me, an 'eyeworm', lodged in the rear vaults of my psyche.

Little could Carson or anybody else for that matter have guessed or hoped that 60 years later, Silent Spring would come to pass – but almost in reverse and for complex reasons. Yes, her fears about pesticides were largely correct and their use is still widespread, but the growth of awareness and commitment to ecology has developed massively over the years. And so, not the Silent Spring she envisaged, but through pandemic and global shutdown, we have and are still enjoying the best silent spring anybody can remember.

The air is cleaner, clearer and our world has been quieter. So quiet – few aircraft, huge reductions in traffic levels and less audible human activity – that pretty well wherever you've been, the sounds of the natural world, birdsong and now reassuringly bees and insects have been in the ascendancy.

As the seasons roll on and we move seamlessly from Spring into Summer, change is coming and the signs are there. 

The silence has been wonderful but it was unrealistic to think it could be maintained if our economies are to recover, but how immensely reassuring to find that the world can be resilient and that nature does recover when we wake up to see what is there and notice what matters most to us.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

More questions than answers

As we come to the end of the strangest month in our lives there are just so many questions.

Are those swallows swooping low over the water? or are they martins?  Are the trees earlier into leaf this year? When's a good time to go for a walk - early morning? or early evening? Will it ever rain again in Norfolk? Why do lambs change from being full of bounce and innocent joy into impassive and obstinate sheep? Is that a weed?

And then there are the deeper issues. Other than the deaths and the suffering, is this simpler life better? Do we want to travel so much? Do we want a more local and less global life? Is it the limitation of face to face conversation that is so strange or are we actually communicating more but in a different way?

The one thing that most of us have is more time. Time to think, time to sleep and time to ponder all these things and for growing numbers, time to grieve – if not in the way we have become used to. As this time passes more and more are turning to writing, music, art and crafts as well as becoming more aware of our natural surroundings, whilst those who help and care for others are becoming more appreciated day by day.

At the moment attention is rightly focussed on the practical questions of survival in all its senses, but if and when our world stabilises, we need to hope that some of the good things that are coming out of this are not swept away in the backwash.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

So where do we go from here?

Just four weeks ago I referred to what were then increasing pressing reasons to encourage life to be as local as possible. The world in which I wrote those words now seems so remote and from a different time. In just a few days we have moved from encouraging life to be local to it being a necessity for all of us everywhere. 

As one of my favourite and hence much used quotes says, "the past is a different country; they do things differently there". Indeed we did, and hopefully we will one day do again. In the meantime, I like so many am taking pleasure in the blue skies and the sounds of spring. Looking for positives, the crisis has achieved worldwide what would never have even been considered possible in our most extreme fantasies, a genuine reduction in pollution and hopefully positive impact on our climate.

What happens when in the months and years ahead the health aspects become more manageable is a very different question. I can't see life returning to normal, if one's definition of normal is the lives we have lived. To speculate further is simply that – speculation.

The idea of history and time at least in the christian world is defined very generally by the concept of BC and AD. In the humblest possible terms I am now using a third, BCV.  They did things differently there.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Diversionary tactics

Like a lot of things in the world just now, these thoughts have been out there for a while but have now finally emerged here. Not peculiar to our bit of the country but seemingly at times more apparent here is the wonderful dark art of diversion.

I could be talking politics - local or global - but for the moment I'm considering something that affects almost all of us, namely transport networks. In the very local context, road closures - and I use that term advisedly - send the law-abiding or cautious on lengthy and seemingly absurd extended excursions through the delights of the North Norfolk landscape. Not infrequently those wishing to go from Fakenham to Burnham or maybe Wells are confronted by an apparent exclusion zone; "Road Closed Ahead" with well signposted diversion routes.

In the most extreme case in recent history such signage would have lead the unsuspecting on a journey of over 20 miles to drive from Burnham to North Creake rather than the usual 3 miles. The courageous, foolish or well-informed would have found that if they behaved in an anti-social manner and ignored the signs, there was indeed a hole in the road on the edge of North Creake but being looked at and managed by helpful and sensible chaps happily waving traffic through.

These diversions seems absurd to many and cause justifiable irritation and stress to businesses and residents in these challenging times. So why do they happen? Simply because the diversion route has to be of the same standard as the route closed. The fact that the closed road can be about as small as a road can get but still labelled as a B road prevents short local diversions being signed along often wider and safer roads simply because they are "Unclassified". The consequences are missed deliveries, interrupted or cancelled bus services and the absence of all-important customers and trade.

A bit further afield but still in Norfolk the economic impact of closures and diversions have been apparent for all to see in Sheringham and currently in North Walsham. Here the disruption is inevitable with the replacement of mains services in the commercial centre of the town but the cost to a town trying to regenerate is considerable. The very obvious non-opening of town-centre shops in the absence of any visitors or customers on recent Saturdays hopefully will quickly become a thing of the past.

It's quite easy to take a view that all this is of little lasting consequence in these trying times but there is a wider point. There are very good and increasingly pressing reasons, climate and now health-based reasons to encourage life to be as local as possible. If local shops and supplies are impacted, we will inevitably be tempted to travel to overcome this and our journeys are in many cases needlessly extended.

We are creatures of habit, and living and shopping locally is a good habit and we need to encourage and sustain this.

Monday, 30 December 2019

A new dawn

The sun is shining and the sky is blue - it's all looking pretty good out there just now.  These few days between Christmas and New Year are always different – the rhythm of the daily grind briefly disappears and pretty well anything goes. This year however the absence of that normality is rather satisfactory as there is a pleasing balance insofar as Christmas and hence New Year fall in the middle of the week, neatly sandwiched between two weekends, producing one long weekend.  An added bonus is that this  actually leads to relatively straightforward arrangements for school holidays and travel. Coupled with benign weather there really isn't much to dislike this year.

Looking back, previous scribblings at this point in the year inevitably tend to the contemplative, but this time we not only have a new year but a new decade. We're going to be living in the 20's, which whatever it brings sounds pleasing to my ears. So is this a new dawn? Will anything change?  This tree was there in 2010 and I'm pretty sure that it'll still be there in 2030, but all around things do change and following the discontinuities and frustration of the last few years I sense that many of our friends and visitors are quite keen to move on a bit. Whether that's possible is anybody's guess.

We have a new government – well sort of.  It goes against the general desire for progress to find that people who were not elected are eased back into power whilst some who patently do not deserve recognition are honoured for divisive actions and policies. At the local carol service some of this was referred to (obliquely to avoid upsetting those who only go to Church on such occasions) in the address – not a sermon – by our stand-in Vicar. At the end of his remarks on change and what might be awaiting us in the next few years he concluded with the words "We shall see".  I couldn't have put it better myself.

Oh – and a very Happy New Year to both my readers!

Friday, 6 December 2019

Forever green

A long time ago in a gallery far away. Well actually no, predictive text is fraught with hazards, but certainly a long time ago, the idea of the Grapevine was born. Having found the space and agreed terms, the need for an identity was uppermost. Various names were suggested and considered but we very quickly settled on Grapevine. Why? Well those who have followed our progress over the last 17 years will probably know, our then location at No.109 was already well-known as Grapevine, having previously been a wine shop with an exhibition space upstairs. There seemed little logic in changing it for even in those pre-online days, most delivery and taxi drivers knew exactly where we were. Name settled we then commissioned graphic designers and with the approval of younger members of the family the logo and typography emerged, and it was green!

And it still is. When we opened in Burnham 12 years back it was very soon made clear by those who mattered in North Norfolk that our identity should be perpetuated, so as 7 years previously we accepted the inevitable. Now of course, green is fashionable and more significantly part of worldwide consciousness.

Not getting too carried away, I have given some thought to how green we actually are. Surprisingly encouraging it seems. We are entirely lit and heated (minimally) by electricity and I am informed this is renewable and sustainable. Our artists and makers are increasingly local - no airmiles to be found here, and they use local craftspeople for framing and local supplies wherever possible.

We could do better of course. Most of the packaging we receive is re-used but I still feel uneasy about bubble-wrap however many times it goes round. We also use cling-film wrap. With this, we are at least now using what I am told is a degradable form but I'm not totally convinced. And of course, in common with most rural businesses, we do use that ubiquitous on-line retailer for things not readily obtainable locally - but as noted before their boxes do come in useful.

On a personal basis my footprint has also reduced, no longer travelling to the far corners of the country on the pretext of meeting artists. There is inevitably a downside to this and in some cases a real sense of sadness, as inevitably a number of those who exhibited with us and supported us in the early days have retired or sadly died.

This time of year prompts consideration of gifts. In common with many of our friends and acquaintances, the character of our giving and receiving has changed over the years.  The blatantly commercial element has been squeezed by various forces, economic and political uncertainty across the spectrum and a more deep-seated drawing back from the acquisitive desires by the younger and greener sectors of society. So where does this leave the world of the small gallery?

Probably and hopefully not in a bad place. Our art is reasonably green - particularly if you let us wrap it in brown paper or corrugated card. It supports genuinely local economies. It comes in all shapes and sizes and it has a long life –  and can be passed on to future generations even if you or the recipient tire of it. So what are you waiting for?

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Time for a change

The last 3 months seem to have passed chaotically but with little change of any real significance. Unlike last year there has been repetition and distraction but little drama. Hardly any real winter weather with an absence of snow, frost and cold. Neither wet nor dry, the season has past surprisingly uneventfully. There has been wind - lots of it, but even that rather like in other aspects of our life has been "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing".

Encouraged by the absence of winter, nature joined the chaos with snowdrops running riot then disappearing as rapidly and completely as they burst into life. The statistically unusual but now unsurprising 'record-breaking' warmth of late February prompted the daffodils to burst into equally early bloom.

These too were not long for this world and are now almost history, with camelias and forsythia in hot pursuit.

So now what? Officially winter is now past and spring has been confirmed. But as with the world outwith our beautiful little Norfolk bubble, has anything really changed? Well with the weather, possibly. We shall see. It's a new month on Monday - as Flanders & Swann so perceptively noted all those years ago, "April brings the sweet spring showers, On and on for hours and hours!"

As for the wider world, I am yet to be convinced that change is that close. All one can say with any certainty is that in time, at least, we move forwards tonight, and for that I am grateful.