Wednesday, 20 December 2017

At the darkest hour

In a week's time Christmas will be done and dusted and we'll be in that strange period where the retail world will have swept all festive signs away and will be into 'The Sales' and Easter Eggs, whilst the media will review everything they can and foretell the future.

Somewhat strangely, we've already past the earliest sunset and the evening light is creeping back, minute by minute. I realise the other part of the equation isn't quite there yet, but the feeling that a corner is being turned is good and prompts the odd reflection on what its all about - particularly when out and about early or late.


It's always difficult to decide which bit of the year one likes best - I actually think some part of us is pre-programmed to appreciate the season you're in.  They all feel right at the time, partly because everything we do still inevitably - even in the digital age - relates to the season. Cold and dark in the winter, warm and dry in the summer. It's when it gets out of sync we all feel everything's not right. So, reflecting, we seem to be doing about right just now; a late colourful autumn and for the first time for a few years a bit of cold and even snow before Christmas. More remarkably, the cold has briefly departed just in time to make family and friends getting together relatively straightforward.

Accordingly and - in our case traditionally - we spent last weekend with good friends who whilst not having the good fortune to live in North Norfolk do live in another wonderful bit of England, down in glorious Devon.  My daily walks briefly disappeared and were replaced with conversation, good food and the odd glass of red! It wouldn't do all the time, but just like the season, it feels absolutely right just now.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

The proof of the pudding

Following up on my last post, I am pleased to report that the lights did indeed go on here in Burnham a couple of weeks ago. Like most of the businesses, we are aware of what's going on during the day but only manage to go and have a look towards the end, having discharged our basic function - to trade.

Based on what I heard from customers during the day, it all seemed to go down rather well, with lots to eat and drink and a mix of music on stage and strolling entertainers loose and wandering around the village. The days of the celebrity switch-on are seemingly gone for good with the re-establishment of Father Christmas at the centre of things seeming to satisfy most people's Christmas wishes.



As for the lights themselves, I remember when tungsten started to give way to LED there was a noticeable backlash and a feeling that these new-fangled things were cold and clinical and not very Christmassy. They may have been, but the world and technology has moved on and Burnham has moved with it. The LED's no longer look cold to me and crucially (by and large) they work when asked to. Just as celebrity has been consigned to history so it seems has the need to check and replace bulbs. Another Christmas Tradition that might just not be missed.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Smaller then you might imagine

A couple of years ago I wrote about the hazards and pitfalls of having Christmas Light switch-on events.  Well it's that time again, and all across North Norfolk, lights are being installed, checked and day by day, switched on - even though Christmas isn't quite just round the corner.


When its cold, crisp and bright as it is today, it doesn't seem that strange, but on mild days with leaves still on the trees it does seem just a little early. For most of our neighbours, thinking particularly of Wells and Holt, the organisation and installation is, I think, if not in the hands of the local Town Council very much supported by them. Here things are a bit different; Burnham is smaller than you might imagine - we are not a town but just a slightly larger than average village. We have a Parish Council but the traditional Christmas Lights have always been a matter for the Traders Association, indeed I believe this is where the origins of that body can be found.

Each year in the time we have been here there has been a question of costs and management. There are a surprising number of businesses here but as time has gone past, an increasing number are staffed by those who live elsewhere and the original direct connections and community links have diminished. Fortunately largely through the efforts of a very few over the last couple of the years, some of the installation costs are now more manageable, but as somebody noted this week "they don't switch themselves on" and the Christmas trees themselves need to be funded, purchased and installed.

The Parish Council are of course involved but the fact remains that without the time and effort expended by one or two individuals sorting every thing out, Burnham's lights simply wouldn't happen and another little bit of community life would fade away.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Role reversal

In a previous world I was an urban designer. I know and I apologise, although actually some of what we worked on was good. Some of it was however too radical for conservative clients, both public and private.

Nearly forty years later, the world has now moved on. The idea of retail parks in edge of or out of town locations - closely followed by new business centres alongside - and then the explosion in online shopping, means town centre shopping is now more or less irrelevant. Niche destinations remain viable either because the destination is attractive in itself or because they offer small specialist and unique services. 

The small town 'shopping centre' built in the 60's and 70's has by and large had its day. Nobody wants them and fewer and fewer go there. All across the country there are towns and cities desperately trying to reverse the tide.  Funding and re-branding ain't going to fix this. As one of my colleagues memorably advised one of the regeneration agencies we were working for way back then, "it's like a dog chasing a motorcycle - it wouldn't know what to do with it if it caught it". History suggests there is some truth in this - sadly the country is littered with regeneration schemes that didn't actually fail but just spluttered and subsided back from whence they came.

The answer is to change the way we see these unloved towns. Nobody wants to shop there so we need to reverse things - live there. Convert the unloved shops to residential and community use, maybe put care facilities in the centre so those in need don't depend so much on others to take them there. It's worth remembering this is not rocket science; historically it was done the other way round with housing being displaced for retail. 

Towns are increasingly like Polo mints - with a hole in the middle. Instead of building further and further out making a bigger and bigger hole we need to abandon our perception of 'town centres'. In many cases they already simply don't exist. We need human scale development to live in at the centre with the other stuff round the edge. The latter part has already happened but so far we've failed to act on the consequences of this.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Great expectations

Sometimes weeks come and go with not a lot happening outside the daily routine in the gallery and then occasionally it all happens together on the social front. Last week was just one of those weeks and it prompts me to note just how expectations on eating out locally have soared in the last few years.

Restaurants go up and down but the choice round here is impressive and almost without exception you can be sure of a good evening. Of course if you look on the review sites there is always someone who seems to have a shockingly bad experience and who wishes to tell the world all about it.

In the course of visiting three of my favourites in as many days last week, the food and cooking was about as good as I can remember and in each case service was exemplary. The one that sticks in the mind definitely came up with the goods on the food front - partridge (new to me) that was just beautiful - but which also inadvertently provided the most entertaining evening watching the team deal unflinchingly with a set of customers that they surely hoped not to have at all, let alone in one evening.

To be clear these people were not offensive or worse, just really difficult to please. It was half-term but I'm not sure that really made much difference. Firstly, there was a pleasant looking chap who wouldn't have booked if he'd known he was going to sit on a dining chair; he expected arms and it was really going to spoil his evening. Then was another man who felt it quite inappropriate that there were children present after 7. In their defence they were well-behaved and utterly unobtrusive. Then a family group who weren't quite sure where they wanted to sit, with the alpha male making sure everybody knew that. And just to complete this collection, a large entirely male group, all in later life who didn't seem to all arrive at the same time and seemed slightly puzzled by how they were accommodated.

Nobody shouted, nobody swore - although I imagine some of the team serving them may have been quietly going outside to vent their spleen - and I'm pretty sure that at the end of the evening they actually enjoyed it. It wouldn't be a surprise though to find maybe one or two will have written less than positive comments up for all to see. Social media is a terrible thing.

Some of you who read this will know where and when... and should any of those who cooked for us or brought it to us read it, you know who you are and we do appreciate what you do!

Thursday, 26 October 2017

10 years on


Our anniversary was at the start of October, but somewhat typically the actual date passed almost un-noticed by us. Anyway, it is now 10 years since we opened our second generation gallery here in Burnham Market.

Blowing our own trumpet it seems listening to our visitors and customers that many of them now think of us as a "must-see” when visiting North Norfolk - so we must be doing something right. Galleries come and go; one of our artists, sadly now passed on, once said his experience was that they had a 'shelf-life' of around 7 years, and told me how and why this happened. He then said, "of course, you're different" which comment I never quite got to the bottom of. Anyway we're still here, 15 years from when we originally founded Grapevine in Norwich in 2002, and it's wonderful to find more and more people appreciating our values and coming back year after year.  

On a personal basis becoming part of the village - these things take time in Norfolk - gives me a lot of pleasure. The friendships formed both in the business community and from artists and customers are a privilege denied to many in today's fragmented and changing world. Our location right at the Holkham end of the village - Burnham Ulph rather than Burnham Westgate - has over the years prompted all kinds of comments. Burnham Market is actually an amalgam of smaller historic communities and inevitably there will always be a few who come to the village who probably never find us. Visitors in the gallery regularly comment that they had expected Burnham to be larger, and it then transpires that having arrived from the Holkham end they not unreasonably think our group of Church, pub and shops is it.

We didn't have a 10 year celebration exhibition as such but have - almost inadvertently - marked the anniversary by showing work by Gerard Stamp, who showed here for our opening exhibition in 2007, including now for the first time, oil paintings alongside some of his recent watercolours.

As recent visitors will hopefully have noticed, the paintwork on the front of the gallery has finally been re-painted and we’re very much looking forward to the next 10 years here in what is still one of the best bits of England!

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Transition

Since first showing Fiona French’s paintings at Grapevine in Norwich in 2003, we have hosted four further exhibitions of her work, and they now feature in a number of significant collections across the country.

Every one of her works is different and distinct, but all reflect her love of colour and all display consumate technical skill. Internationally known for her prize-winning book illustration – variously inspired by the organic lines of Art Nouveau, stained glass and subsequently by mosaic – her earlier paintings seemed to be, at least in part, her response to the world of op-art and illusion, where for a time she had been one of a small team of assistants working in Bridget Riley’s studio.


The work in this latest exhibition records a transition in both style and content, starting with further development of her exploration of texture and colour typified by Weave and Mother-of-Pearl, through Lark Ascending and Daffodil to the inspiration of lights in the deep ocean of Primordial arriving at the realism of Stody Gardens and Sheringham Pines.


Fiona has never been one to explain her work, choosing not to constrain the free flight of our perception, but this new collection reveals a new direction in her thinking.  The most recent paintings in this exhibition are far removed from those of the early 2000’s – still characterised by verve and dynamicism – but now exploring the interaction of light and the natural world.

Transition opens on Friday 1st September at 6pm and runs until the 30th but with a closure mid-month from 14th to 18th inclusive