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.

Monday, 7 January 2019

The sound of birds

It's grey in Norfolk just now and we're at one of the days that is singled out as a low point of the year. Apparently yesterday, January 6th, is not only when we take the decorations down but also, somewhat soberingly, is statistically the day the most people die – if you read the Telegraph. Other statistics are available but when you put this alongside stories about what the most depressing day is - although how this can be identified is beyond me - you might be forgiven for not feeling upbeat just now.

But put your nose outside and whilst it's maybe a little early to be full of the joys of spring just listen and look. Even though we haven't had much winter the birds are out and being busy. Any feeder seems to be overflowing with small birds, all looking full of life. Blue tits, Great tits, Long-tailed tits - you name them - there they are. Robins are singing, Blackbirds are busy nest prospecting, Pigeons are back apparently doing what pigeons do mostly and the Rooks are starting to remind us they're there.

The lengthening of daylight is barely perceptible and yet the birds' biological clocks clearly know. Maybe if we didn't have our obsession with statistics, we too, might be out and about doing rather than contemplating darkness and cold.

Nearly 120 years ago at the start of the twentieth century, one of my favourite poets, Thomas Hardy, wrote one of my favourite poems, The Darkling Thrush, evoking the sound of a bird singing at just this point in the year, prompted apparently by

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.

Friday, 21 December 2018

In the bleak midwinter

According to our Christmas cards I appear now to have a third reader of these scribblings. Most importantly I am informed that they also cheer him up. As a tutor at University told us many, many years ago, if something you've done makes somebody smile you can't really ask for more.

At the moment there do seem to be a plethora of negative and alarming stories out there beyond our little bubble of happiness here in the wilds of Norfolk, but I do wonder whether it was not ever thus. Our development of media and connectivity is such that we now feel more involved with bad news than our ancestors did even though that involvement is largely and fortunately, virtual.

The horrors of a hundred years ago were only too real even to those living in rural Norfolk, but the involvement was actual, with the loss of families and communities. Now our shock and rage is often focussed on events that not only are we not involved with but are not even genuinely affected by.  We love bad news and are somehow drawn to it. In the words of recently departed and wonderfully eccentric Baroness Trumpington, "Don't call for help, shout Fire! then they'll all come to have a look"

Anyway regardless of what our over-dosing on media might have us believe, nature is now turning positive. The earliest sunset was a week ago, the longest night is past and the Solstice is today.

The Solstice - the shortest day, today, when the sun reaches its lowest maximum height in the sky — after which light begins its slow climb back and night yields its reach.

Midwinter, yule, the year’s pivot, Earth’s rebirth, a dawn of hope.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Slow you down

It's probably age, but there are moments when it feels like we're increasingly out of control. We're only in the first days of December and apparently many have done their Christmas Shopping whilst the emails for spring ranges are increasing by the day.

It's not all down to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, for here in the village we were guilty of a very early Lights Switch-on seemingly weeks ago. They look great but when you think that when they are removed in January they will have been up for nearly 2 months - that's a sixth of the year. In our defence the date was driven by the tide. Not ours, but down the road in Wells, where Father Christmas arrives from the sea and can only so do when tide and darkness coincide.

At home we went and chose our Christmas Tree 10 days ago, but it's still happily growing with its friends in a local field and won't come in the house for another 10 days. You could argue that this diminishes its significance but it will be present for a week before plus the 12 days which I think is about right and actually makes that time seem suitably different.

Here in the gallery, I succumbed last weekend and following my normal pattern installed some suitably low-key and tasteful gestures towards the festive season. This is partly peer pressure - if everybody else has lights you are likely to be thought truly sad if you're the one who doesn't - and partly a commercial reality, for without a bit of sparkle one might be overlooked.

Historically, whilst sales of ceramics and - in the days of our Norwich gallery - jewellery peaked in December, paintings saw surprising sales after Christmas. This pattern now seems to be changing, with increasing sales of art as a gift. My reading of this is that in these days of uncertainty and growing antipathy to waste and pointless expenditure, paintings and prints are seen as a gift that is more than a token, a gift that requires thought and consideration and one that may give at least as much pleasure in the months and years ahead as it does when it is first given and received.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Writer's block?

My loyal reader contacted me noting the reduction in entries here this year, wondering whether this reflected the family changes. In actual fact I think it relates more to simply being out of the habit and possibly a slight move away from social media prompted by the way it has become very much a platform for political views of all shades and volumes.

As my visitors and the occasional customer will know, the gallery often has the feel of the village pump where friends and artists gather. There are moments where the suggestion that there should be an inscription over the door "licensed to sell art .... and listen" feel very pertinent. Rather like a visit to the hairdressers, the environment here seems to encourage conversation with unburdening of worries and uncertainties. I don't do hair, but I do offer coffee and I do listen.

Recently a number of artists have confessed to uncertainty as to what their work is about and to it's future direction. Rather like the paucity of my scribblings here, it is a form of writer's block common to all who aspire to being thoughtful or creative. My take on it is that if we didn't have these moments of uncertainty and questioning we wouldn't be much good at what we do - be it writing, painting or anything that prompts thought.

As I have noted before, the work we show varies considerably, but a common theme is that all the makers believe and hope that the best is yet to come and most have a degree of insecurity. As for social media, most of us apparently feel that if we don't engage with it you will be forgotten. In reality, I don't think this is true. Many artists achieve extraordinary numbers of 'likes' to their work on Instagram and Facebook, but that this is not reflected in sales, which of course exacerbates any underlying insecurities and uncertainties.

Perhaps then, as long as these feelings are kept in proportion, social media can be a force for stimulating creativity and development, whilst the more negative aspects can always be assuaged by looking and enjoying - maybe even purchasing - art. And to leave my loyal reader happy here's something that should soothe the most savage breast.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

A week is a long time

Change is all around us and the pace seems to be accelerating. Everything is uncertain. Talking politics? No, nature. For even this seems to be slightly more chaotic just now.

Just a week ago my early morning walks were serenely calm with sunrise and mists floating over the landscape.

There haven't been any notable extremes in either temperature or wind and yet in the last week most of the autumn colour has disappeared, seemingly overnight. Just a week ago the beech trees were in their full glory and looked set to continue for a while.

This morning, at about the same time and the same place, it's all gone – well nearly. The trees are largely bare and the colour has disappeared.

I'm not suggesting anything unexpected has happened; it is after all late November which by most peoples reckoning is the end of Autumn. It's just that the change seems sudden, or maybe faster than some years. We missed out on Spring this year, going straight from the chill of the beast from the east to high Summer, or so it seemed, so maybe this is the continuation of that, with Winter having blown in from the North Sea. Or maybe not.

On the basis of last week's chaos in the world of politics and today's position, we simply don't know. It might be warm and sunny by the weekend or it might be snowing – in both the political and natural worlds. We can be fairly sure though that the leaves won't be back on the trees, at least not until after next March.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Going green - the wonder of grass

10 days ago the world was still brown. We'd had rain - actually quite a lot of it at the end of July - but nothing seemed to have changed much. The lawn was still like coir matting and even the deep-rooted weeds were looking tired. And then almost imperceptibly the world started to change; just a hint on Wednesday, the merest suggestion on Thursday and then by Friday, green re-entered our dry world.

Curiously some of the first signs were not acvtually grass, but in the dust and gravel along the side of Norfolk's rural roads where grain spilled by contractor's trailers, having first provided a feast for the wood pigeons, burst into unexpected life. And now just a few days on the verges are definitely turning green - you can almost see them growing.

As for the lawns, even though we know - and are always told - not to water them as they will recover in September, this year did seem to be stretching our belief. But the grass is growing - and we're still in August. What a wonderful thing!