Saturday, 3 December 2011

Who know's where the time goes?

Not just the timeless words and music of Sandy Denny but an all too familar feeling. Can it really be over 2 months since my last scribblings here? Well that remarkable late burst of summer and an extended autumn seems finally to have given in to slightly more seasonal weather with the temperature easing down to what is laughingly referred to as normal.  Just remember, twelve months ago we had snow and very low temperatures but, despite the sensationalist predictions for a repeat performance - it hasn't got here yet.

The lights have been on around the Green in Burnham Market for two weeks - it really did feel a bit too early - but for whatever reason, they're not on at this end of the village. We do, however, have a nice green tree.

Can't really claim any credit for this, but just by chance, we managed to get a brief fix of early seasonal cheer with a visit to Copenhagen. Bit chilly, a Christmas Market and some fantastic food and a little drink. A very civilised place.  I shall be back for more.

Slightly closer to home, but still to the east, I spent a very enjoyable evening with Gerard and Jacqui Stamp at the 'soft' opening of The Gunton Arms.  Restored and reinvented from its former slightly off-target existence as a country house hotel, it looks set to transform various lives at Gunton. The man behind it, Ivor Braka has already restored much of the Park to its former glories and having it's own pub - for that's what is - is just fantastic.  Good to see so many friends there for its first night including Diana Parkin, Helen David and of course the man who started the whole restoration at Gunton - Kit Martin.  More surprisingly there were others like me who have gone to the dark side (West Norfolk) but thought it worth the journey. Which, of course, it was. The beer's great - Yetmans of course, and the food was good. Not surprising given the chef's pedigree but it was first night.  Oh and there's a piano which was suitably christened by Gerard, who despite these distractions continues to paint.  Amongst recent works, two in particular stand out.

The first of these, of the Duomo di Orvieto in Umbria is by anyone's reckoning a staggering achievement.  From those who know his work, to visitors who know nothing about what has gone before the reaction has been overwhelming. Favourable, that is.  Which is good, because we are planning a major exhibition for Autumn 2012 which will include more paintings from Umbria.  Our current thoughts are to open the exhibition in London and then for it move to Norfolk.. and possibly even further afield.

There may be other delights in store as well.... Watch this space as they say.

The second is equally remarkable - but this time for it's simplicity. Much, much closer to home Saltmarsh Creek is a return to a the Norfolk coast.  Andrew Ballantyne, author and Professor of Architecture at University of Newcastle summed it up. There is a touch of melancholy - but it is the serenity of the space and the light that holds your attention.  My thoughts entirely. It's a big picture but it's going to look stunning on someone's wall - and in these strange times, it reminds you that we are so lucky to have these spaces just down the road.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Here comes summer!

Just a couple of months back I wrote, "Strange old summer we seem to be having.  The wall to wall sun of April is but a distant memory and the routine seems to be days of quiet where nothing much happens weatherwise. More like early October than late July" Now it's nearly October and like the rest of the country - with apologies to our followers in the north and west - it's more like late July.  In fact, better than that. It's simply glorious and looks set for a few more days at least.

Today being Michaelmas Day (by the New Calendar), it's traditionally the last day of harvest and, most importantly in our neck of the woods, it's Nelson's birthday. 253 today to be precise. Hard to imagine, but they must have had days like this as well.  It being Thursday it's also Market Day in Fakenham, a much derided and under-valued town. Wandering round the stalls today it's hard to see why it is so un-appreciated. Fantastic fruit, veg, food and plants - and it's got every conceivable piece of ephemera, tat, curiousities - call them what you will.  Most importantly it attracts people. Real people who live here and roundabout.  You could live happily just coming here once a week and very prudently as well.  As a lapsed architect and urban designer, Fakenham on Market Day has got what every urbanist world-wide aspires to - life!  Real people, all shapes and sizes, not just the trendy uber-cool beloved of students and designers, doing real things; buying eggs, dog-biscuits, bulbs electric and bulbs horticultural, cheese, and a few old toys for good measure. You couldn't imagine it could happen but it does, week after week.  I know it's quiet between times, but it's a market town and that's what it does!

It also has possibly the best HSBC branch in the world, but don't tell anyone.

On a similar note, spurred on by the weather no doubt, we also have possibly the Best Post Office in the World at North Creake and the Best Bit of Norfolk Coast in the World at Overy Staithe and to be fair, one of the Best Churches in Norfolk at Norton but as before.... shhhh!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Eating, drinking and music

Knowing how good the Wiveton Bell can be, I just couldn't wait to find out how The Duck Inn at Stanhoe is getting on under their care.  Pleased to say Bank Holiday Saturday lunchtime found it pleasingly busy - and crucially service was good!  Beer and food more than up to scratch, probably better than my last visit to Wiveton. Hope they keep it up, for as I've said before it's a perilous business being asked to suggest places to eat round here.

Purely by chance, this was followed very closely by a return to The Hunny Bell.  What a great pub. Just shows what hard work can achieve.  Having said that I've always preferred the bar to the restaurant in terms of atmosphere.  Last time, they had jazz in the bar; Three in a Bar to be precise, who we liked so much we booked them!  This time, I don't know who they were, but again very good.  I've heard far worse fiddle playing in much more august venues.  It would be fascinating to know whether good music boosts their sales?  I doubt it but I very much hope I'm wrong. The only problem for me is that its 17 miles away.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Done different

Of all the quotes dragged up about Norfolk, the two that most people know are firstly what most think is the county motto - "Do Different" and secondly Noel Coward's "Very flat, Norfolk".  Well as most of us know the latter of these isn't exactly true whilst the former is in danger of going the same way as more and more is 'discovered' by the weekend supplements.  However, Norfolk does remain different for those who care to look and in a final quote "Once you get to know Norfolk, there is no better place to live" in the words of the late John Timpson.

So what prompted all this navel gazing?  Well not actually the current exhibition by Kevin and Ann-Marie Ryan, but more the reaction to it.  Just in case you haven't seen it or don't know their work, they are - like most - incomers,  and have lived in a quiet corner of high Norfolk for the last 20 years.  Their palettes are dominated by intense colour - orange, brown, red punctuated by the occasional intense blue, whilst their compositions are singularly lacking in either horizontality or any obvious reference to big skies.

So - not flat, and very different. And people love it.  Which just goes to show that the Ryan's are firmly in the Timpson camp and that there are plenty out there who understand and can look beyond the Norfolk being peddled by the Sunday supplements.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Summertime in Norfolk and further afield

Strange old summer we seem to be having.  The wall to wall sun of April is but a distant memory and the routine seems to be days of quiet where nothing much happens weatherwise. More like early October than late July.

The start of the month found us revisiting old haunts around Crickhowell - that most English of towns in Wales on the northern edge of the Brecon Beacons.  And so quiet. Lunch amongst the ruins at Llanthony with only 5 others in the pub!

We followed this with a trip over the Gospel Pass to the Bookshop Centre of the world - Hay on Wye.  Forty years ago, Hay felt like a fierce little border town. Now it's upmarket coffee, clothes  and of course - books.  We relieved them of a few - but why are English booksellers so grumpy? No smiling welcome or even interest. It surely can't be that miserable an existence.  Reassuringly the friendliest face was to be found in the pottery.  Fantastic food - rounded off with a return to The Walnut Tree at Llandewi Skirrid, good weather and loads of calm and relaxation.  All very seductive.

Slightly closer to home, our annual pilgrimage to Southwold was met with rain and a very unappealing sea more in keeping with winter than July.

Again very few people about - but that was not surprising!  The town stays much as it always was and still slightly puzzling, as the hinterland is hardly attractive.  We will of course return!

Monday found us wandering round Holt with friends.  It's not that long since I visited and its only 20 miles away but it seemed like quite a few things had changed or were in the process of so doing.  It seems odd to find shops closed for 'refurbishment' in the middle of the summer holidays, but then again maybe that is the time to do it.  I just hope they're finished by when the sun returns!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The curious case of The Squid at The Hoste and other tales

It really is very difficult to keep up to date with the comings and goings on the local food/drink front.  As soon as it seems safe to suggest somewhere, the wheels drop off. Or on the other hand having firmly fixed somewhere as a no-go area it emerges that all is well, and that it is serving the most fantastic food again.

However, there are some you can depend on and last week a return to two old favourites, The Hunny Bell and then The Hoste.  A visit from one of our favourite print makers MAX ANGUSprompted a trip to Hunworth and it didn't disappoint. The beer is good, the staff friendly and the food as good as ever. Even better, there was live jazz in the shape of the very excellent Three in a Bar, of whom more will be heard later. 

The following evening found us slightly further afield - in Wimbledon. At home, actually. But not, if you see what I mean, as we were in The Fire Stables celebrating a friend's 25 years of continual working with one company.  This kind of thing must be getting increasingly rare in these days of constant change and mobility. Unsurprisingly, we have eaten and drunk there on previous occasions and again it came up to expectations. Always horrified by noise levels in London restaurants - it must be age - but was particularly impressed with the chap serving us who could be seen clearly checking his order against the number at the table (a lot) to make sure everyone was catered for, before heading for the pass.  Obvious - but often not done.  Food was very good and happily recommended - but maybe best left until after the end of the tennis.

Back in Norfolk a slightly alcoholic evening lead us from a small number of bottles in the gallery to a second visit to Burnham's recently re-opened second hostelry, The Nelson.  It's still early days and there have been reports of good lunch-time food, but this time we erred on the side of caution and went up west.  Delighted to find a table free in the bar at The Hoste, all the old favourites came up trumps... however an excursion by one of our number into squid territory proved interesting.  Not quite sure how it is described on the menu  - but apparently it was not what had been expected!  It looked absolutely fascinating and beautifully presented as ever, but call me cautious, I will be sticking with the Shredded Duck or my very good friend - the ever faithful Whittome Burger!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Birds, pots and a £5 note

Never actually made it to the Craft Fair at Bovey Tracey (that's in Devon for all you Anglians) until this year. Thoroughly enjoyable and a really good standard of work on show.  High spot for me was the fantastic wire work of CELIA SMITH, a very good friend of printmaker JULIA MANNING. Celia's birds really are quite special; having admired them from afar, I really couldn't resist them in reality and can't wait to see them happily at home here in Norfolk.

Having cunningly missed the rain by going to the preview reception on the Thursday evening, I rounded off the day investigating the merits of a very satisfactory single malt with my old mate RICHARD GODFREY.  Devon really does seem very seductive at times!

It is very easy to regard North Norfolk as quiet, but it's only after an undisturbed night's sleep in the heart of the South Hams, you realise just how noisy Burnham Market is - particularly when you are hard on the street.  Breakfast in the garden, complete with freshly-baked bread and surrounded by evidence of Richard and Chris's other skills - colour (a riot?) and burgeoning plant growth made it hard to believe that Devon too has been very dry this spring, whilst the new fence replacing the one blown to bits by the winter's gales is testimony to Richard's carpentry. Inevitably, we ended up in the studio, picking out new pots for the gallery and consuming rather too much coffee.  It's a hard life.

Moving on, Totnes exerted its usual magnetism and left me wondering just why this town is so vibrant - if a bit hippy - whist Norfolk's market towns still seem to struggle.  Having said that, I don't think I could live there... it's just so full.  Even out of school holidays, the roads are packed and it certainly feels like everyone's rushing to get somewhere. A quick trip back to the Bovey Tracey fair revealed further delights and established new connections -  particularly on the pottery front.  Dodging some hefty downpours - they certainly still seem to do these on a more dramatic scale in Devon than we do - ended the day with my good friend Robin Tolson, chewing over the technicalities of what the Judiciary wear on high days and holidays!

Having spent a good few hours looking at pots and talking about pots and potters - it seemed not a bad thing to head for the hills and blow a few cobwebs away.  Right on the western edge of Dartmoor, it seemed only appropriate to have a proper Devon ice-cream, if only out of respect for our wonderful printer RICHARD CLOVER's continuing exploration of the art of the cone back in Norfolk.  Another downpour of biblical proportions gave way to Turner-esque light over Cornwall and a quick mile and a half walk up the nearest Tor.  Not seeing a soul anywhere other than those esconsed in their cars in the car park, it came as a somewhat puzzling if pleasant surprise to come across a crisp £5 note lying on the path.  Lots of hungry sheep, a few ponies and a brisk wind - but definitely no people.  So where had it come from?  Just another of life's little mysteries, I guess.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

All that Jazz

One of the very few disappointments about being here in the Burnhams, has been that I arrived just too late for The Balcony.  By the end of 2007, the focus for Jazz here had moved to The Hoste.  Not knowing much about what had gone before, I couldn't believe my luck that, under the direction of Reg, each summer was punctuated by cool concerts in the Moroccan Garden featuring musicians like Ian Shaw and Sarah Jane Morris.  However - people kept talking about The Balcony.

Finally, last Saturday, jazz returned to The Balcony and this time I was there.  Two fabulous musicians - KIT DOWNES and LEWIS WRIGHT. The two of them have been playing together, Kit on piano and Lewis on vibes, for over 10 years having met as members of the Norwich Students Jazz Orchestra.  Since then they have moved onwards and upwards developing their musical relationship playing in Clark (son of the great Stan) Tracey's Sextet and other groups.  The current duo project is their latest collaboration with new music written by both Lewis and Kit - and on the basis of Saturday's showing this looks likely to run. What great music!  The understanding and synchronicity (is that a real word?) seemed seamless. Improvised or scripted? Difficult to tell - but just great. And on the doorstep, too.

If you want to get a flavour of Kit's jazz piano their are two albums readily available from Amazon and the like - 'Golden' from 2009 and 'Quiet Tiger' released earlier this year.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011


Having escaped the clutches of the gallery for a couple of days, Saturday afternoon found us in deepest Northamptonshire, celebrating - too well and not wisely - Alison's Godfather's 80 years on the planet.  Not satisfied with creating a delightful home woven into the fine weave of the village, he has also cunningly contrived to have as a neighbour, garden designer Johnny Amos.  Whilst the planners (bless their hearts) decreed that the neighbours should not be allowed to enjoy views of this, Johnny very generously invited us all to have a look.

Within what is really quite a small plot, he has created a truly wonderful garden with an intricate series of interlocking spaces. And the plants ... just beautiful!

Sunday morning found us taking the air in one of my childhood haunts - Stratford upon Avon. Growing up less than 20 miles away, it has always amused me that people travel from the 4 corners of the earth to pay homage - whilst we only went as a last resort if nothing better could be found.  Much remains the same... but the Theatre has changed - for the better.  Quite a revelation and very much worth a look if you're in the area.  47 years ago, as a family we visited the Exhibition celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth and tucked away inside the new theatre is a wonderful exhibition, FOLIO, of prints produced at that time by amongst others - Frink and Tilson. This runs until October and is free!

Making the most of our brief sojourn we eventually - the road signing is absurd and should be ignored - found our circuitous way to Compton Verney. This stately pile, the work of Robert Adam, found itself in near terminal decline as the 20th century progressed. However it is now home to a gallery (the work of Stanton Williams I think) and a collection that is of international standing. Definitely worth a visit - and a pleasant way to pass an hour or two.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Heat of the moment

Clearly I am in the wrong sector. I am reliably informed that at the Boat/Boot sale at Overy Staithe this afternoon I offered to sell two items at £2 each or £5 for the pair. Oh well it's all in a good cause.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Another Bank Holiday!

If it's Friday or Monday it just must be a Bank Holiday - or so it seems!  Can't quite remember a normal week as it feels like everybody's been on holiday or celebrating or... for weeks.  Equally the sun continues to shine which is fantastic unless you want the garden to grow - and at the moment there is just no sign of rain in the forecast.

In the gallery, NICKY LOUTIT's exhibition got off to a great start with a really well attended private view and some pleasing sales.

It's been really encouraging to see that Nicky's highly distinctive paintings have been so appreciated and that there is a market for serious art in these slightly strange times.  The exhibition has received some deserved coverage in the press and there have been a number of visitors who have travelled considerable distances to view it.  It runs for another two weeks, so there is still time to see it - and they really should be seen, reproduction only conveying some of their quality. Since its opening it has been visited by over 200 people which is not bad for a small gallery competing with wall to wall sunshine and a royal wedding!

Speaking of which, in the same time we have celebrated two family birthdays, one on the Welsh Borders looking out over the sublime landscape of Hergest (Mike Oldfield) Ridge

 and one one closer to home here in Norfolk, which got pleasingly entangled with the Royal Wedding!

I suspect the next few days are going to seem rather quiet by comparison!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Burnham Market Horse Trials

Apart from The Hoste Arms, Burnham Market is now probably best known for the Horse Trials. But as with lots of things, the closer and the more convenient an event is, the less notice you take.  That has now been put to rights - courtesy of my good friend GERARD STAMP, who not only paints rather well but has a very competent horsewoman in the shape of his daughter, Eleanor.

Prompted by a phone call, I closed up a bit early yesterday and went up to Sussex Farm just in time to see Eleanor complete the Show Jumping and the Cross-Country.  Found watching the former almost too tense when you know the rider, but enjoyed the cross-country; Eleanor's mastery of the water jump looked complete from my uninformed perspective. Pleasingly this seemed to be the official view as well!

As with most things in Norfolk you always meet someone you know - in this case, quite remarkably, NICKY LOUTIT whose exhibition opens with us next Thursday. Rounding the visit off with a very agreeable pint of Wherry at The Hoste, my only regret about this unexpected interlude was that my timing ensured I just missed Sarah and the wonderful Brays Pork Pies who were leaving the Trials just as I arrived.  My pleadings on the internet last night were obviously to no avail - there was no special delivery this morning!  Maybe I will have to go back, after all.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A summer Saturday!

I know it's not, but it does feel like it. Last night at Gunton, following an evening excursion to the miraculous Mr Clover at Acle to collect posters for Geoffrey Robinson's exhibition in Norwich...

and more advertising for the studio.

Seriously tempted to stay and sample the new Gunton Apple Juice, but headed west on what must be the best 30 mile drive in the country. Does Norfolk look good at the moment?  Oh Yes! The garden is easily 3 weeks ahead now, with flowers, birds and bees - one of which stung me yesterday, just to prove the point.

Interesting visitors - Hertfordshire, Heacham and Helsinki... and the Old Rectory, for good measure.  The big question is..... Silver by Nature? or Don't Push it? Difficult.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

It's Spring!

Spring has most definitely sprung here in North Norfolk.  My guess is we must be a good few weeks ahead of last year, with a number of herbaceous plants well into growth. Only hope they're not in for a nasty shock in April!

In the gallery, it's MIKE BERNARD who is in favour - though ironically it's the London pictures that are grabbing the attention. We even had a visitor who enjoys the same view from his London pad as Mike's Butlers Wharf picture portrays and was somewhat surprised to find it in a Norfolk gallery.

On the food front, sounds like The Duck Inn has found it's feet again, with a couple of good reports - so time for a new look I think. As an avid fan of the wonderful BRAY'S pork pies, I was somewhat disconcerted to find an advert for 70% discount on burgers on their blog.  Having contacted the wonderful Sarah, it seems like they can't see it -  highlighting the hidden hazards of blogging!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

A good friend

Last weekend saw an unexpected and untimely trip to Lympstone in Devon, to celebrate the life of a good friend, Carol Tolson, tragically cut short in an accident.

Many of my exploratory visits to artists in the west country in the early days of the Grapevine were based around our friendship with Carol and Robin, and business and pleasure became pleasingly intertwined. How many of our Devon artists realised my visits coincided with our vain endeavours at Exeter School Quiz Nights, I wonder?

Saturday's memorial service was a deeply moving tribute to Carol and the packed church bore eloquent witness to a life filled with music, love - and a little bit of chaos - that contributed so much to the lives of her family, her community and her friends.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


In the words of the great Michael Flanders, "Welcome March with wintry wind, Would thou wert not so unkind!" Clearly the weather has not changed much in the fifty plus years since he penned these words, the first days of March being dominated by an extremely chilly breeze from the North East. Overall, though we seem to have to got away fairly lightly after such a snowy start to the winter.  In fact the last weekend of February sort of sums it up. Saturday saw my reader and her friends getting throughly soaked on Brancaster Beach, whilst the following day saw glorious sunshine and clear blue skies for much of the day. Monday, unsurprisingly we were back in the world of the gramp. That's grey and damp to those who have yet to visit The Boathouse at Overy Staithe.

These contrasts have been evident on my close season travels to artists old and new.  Renewing my acquaintance with Shopshire (almost as good as Norfolk) saw a hoar frost followed by glorious afternoon sunshine, topped off with one of the biggest moon's I can ever remember hanging over that strangest of hills, Clee Hill above Ludlow.  Importantly this trip finally brought the wonderful of work of SUE CAMPION to the gallery. You can find more about Sue on the other Grapevine blog,

My first trip west of the year included staying with my very good friend GEOFFREY ROBINSON to select work for his new exhibition with us in Norwich. Again, contrasts. The intense colours and clear outlines of his work couldn't have been more different than the grey swirling mist of the Hampshire coast.

Heading on west, I am never sure how to deal with Bournemouth. Whichever way you go, it does seem to go a long time, but eventually you find yourself in that other miraculous county, Dorset. The bare, high land of Thomas Hardy west of Dorchester - and onwards towards Devon.  Astoundingly wet, but still wonderful. My final visit on this trip was the studio of MIKE BERNARD on the north coast.  Mike has still to return to Norfolk, but he has found his old sketchbooks, and we have just a taste of what is to come.

And just to complete the saga, leaving the wet of the south and west behind, I returned to North Norfolk on one of those truly remarkable days when the light just makes you glad to be alive.