Saturday, 29 December 2012

Post Christmas Ponderings

The days between Christmas and New Year are always strange with the normal pattern of weekdays and weekends abandoned. This year seems odder than most but maybe that's just me. One thing that doesn't change is the usual surge of visitors to this part of Norfolk post-Christmas. As someone remarked this morning it does often seem that this part of the world is just right for the New Year. The beaches, the wind-blown walks all seem just right.

Listening to a conversation here yesterday - even for those who are not dedicated birdwatchers - the birds do provide common interest for so many. Norfolk's own Sacred Ibis is apparently still hanging around in Cley, oblivious to the speculation as to its status as a legitimate visitor or merely an escapee. And then there's the seals. Blakeney's colony is having a bumper year and unsurprisingly they are being seen along the coast, in the channel at Wells and on the beach at Brancaster.

And of course between the walks there is the all important visit or visits to your favourite hostelry.  If you only acted on what you read on-line about some of our local pubs and restaurants you probably wouldn't dare set foot in them.  Yes, they change with ownership and chefs and in some cases they do seem to be being a bit greedy with their prices, but they must be doing something right or they wouldn't still attract the numbers they do. An extended family lunch in one of my favourites more than came up to expectations and you can only marvel at how they do it. It's not just one good meal, it's all of them, all day, everyday. Long may they thrive and prosper!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

3 days to go

North Norfolk isn't looking particularly Christmassy today.  The world hasn't ended but it is rather dark and decidedly damp. A couple of visitors yesterday who are staying at the Mill asked whether the Burn floods.  I said it was doubtful as there are sluices which can be opened and they seemed re-assured. Think I'm right.

Interesting discussion yesterday regarding artist's proofs.  I have always believed that there is more than one, and that in the case of a large edition there can in fact be quite a number. Subsequent discussion with those much more expert than I have indeed confirmed that.  As far as whether, as is suggested on various internet sites, AP's are worth more I somehow doubt this.  As with all art you should buy because you like it, not because one just might be worth than another. Here end's the lesson.

Prints always do well around Christmas, and this year is no exception with Glynn Thomas leading the field by some way. Despite being a Suffolk boy, his Norfolk subjects must be right as well.  Happily, Glynn works close to my alternative route from London to Norwich so we have been able to meet some very late requests. I think his framer may now have had enough! so no more until the New Year I think.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Strange things on social media

"9 people have booked pre Christmas oven cleaning today so far - don't leave it too late"  I'm not sure I'll sleep now for worrying.

"Christmas Club Turkey and Cranberry sandwiches now available £8. Lunchtime only. #tistheseasontobejoyful.
  Yes I suppose so if you're selling them. Mind the rush. 
and finally,

"the 17.02 London Liverpool Street to Norwich will start at Colchester tonight due to a train fault". Not a complete surprise but it's not really from London then, is it?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Some years ago - certainly before we opened in Burnham - I remember having a phone call from another gallery along the coast just checking that no calamity had overtaken the wider world, they having not seen any visitors over the previous few days.  All was well, but it served to highlight the unpredictability of these things, particularly at this time of year.

November this year has for us been much busier than last. Some of this can be attributed to Norfolk having thus far escaped some of the more extreme weather of the last couple of weeks (I'm sure our turn will come) but it has been Gerard Stamp's exhibition which has attracted so many. Despite the often off-putting conditions for those travelling far, we have seen visitors from across the country and the comments in the visitor's book suggest they have been more than pleased with what they have seen.

Autumn is fairly clearly now giving way to winter here.  The brief burst of autumn colour was somewhat brusquely blown away early on Sunday morning and is now just a memory.

Just to confirm things, Burnham's Christmas lights were switched on last weekend although, as ever, the as yet unlit tree at this end of the village appeared after the event. At this point, I should confess I have yet to put our own lights up yet. Advent seems early enough - although not very commercially aware.  At least one other local business had lights and a tree up before half-term. It would be interesting to know if it really makes any difference; I remain to be convinced.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Back to Burnham

Thoroughly enjoyed being buzzy on the South Bank - but it's quite good to be back on home turf! The reaction to the exhibition was great and particularly pleasing because we were talking to new customers who - without exception - were stunned by Gerard Stamp's extraordinary paintings.

Naturally we were delighted to hear that the exhibition had received such complimentary coverage in the EDP and it has come as no surprise to have so many visitors here this week.  The exhibition looks very different here compared to the big spaces of the London show, and even if you saw it there I definitely think its worth coming to see it in Burnham.  Both here and in London a number of works have attracted particular comment, the current favourite seems to be the view of Ely across the fields. Purely personally I think it looks even better here than in London.

There has been much discussion as to what is being planted. The early favourite, potatoes, were first overtaken by carrots but these have now been supplanted by celery! Much smaller and slightly closer in geographical terms, a view from Wiveton Church looking across to Cley, and not shown in London, is attracting a lot of attention.

Friday, 2 November 2012

The view from the South Bank

It is a little while since we last transplanted the Grapevine to London, but the last week has found us once again plying our trade at the Menier Gallery in Southwark, just behind Tate Modern.  Not actually sure how many years ago it was, but what a transformation.  The whole area has a real buzz - not just around Borough Market.  And now there's The Shard... which we thought we hated - but now we don't.  Far less dominant than some of the comment and images suggest, it's actually rather appealing.

Unsurprisingly, the exhibition - Gerard Stamp's latest collection of watercolours - looks (immodestly) excellent and has attracted a lot of attention and just like the area, the opening earlier in the week had a real buzz about it. Only in London for the week it seems strange that apparently so soon after opening we move it back to Norfolk at the weekend.  This poses a number of challenges in itself. Packing and loading in London is rather more challenging than Norfolk and then there's the question of hanging in a smaller gallery, albeit on our own patch.  As ever, I guess we'll get there.

If you don't manage to come and see it here in London, we should be ready for you in Burnham on Tuesday.  As always with Gerard's work, this latest collection seems to be his best. Which of course is how it should be!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A Different Perspective

Having long admired the distinctive etchings of one of East Anglia's most popular printmakers, Glynn Thomas, it's a real pleasure to have them on exhibition in the gallery.  Prompted by the publication of the book of his work - we hosted an evening event in the Norwich Grapevine, where Glynn not only signed a few books, but demonstrated just how much work goes into even the smallest prints. Watching this, I'm sure I wasn't alone in realising at just how subtle and sensitive the process is. As Glynn pointed out, these are hand-made prints and a world away from the mass produced digital work that increasingly comes on the market.

Sunday, 30 September 2012


Just over 10 days ago, the gallery was rehung to host an exhibition of the remarkable equestrian paintings of Eleanor-rose Stamp.

None of the eight paintings could be called small - the general perception being that these are big paintings - in all senses - of big animals.  Growing up on and around horses, the artist displays a complete understanding not just of the muscles and sinews but crucially, also the spirit of the horse.  Reaction has been universally positive; perhaps the most telling being from a visitor who came in saying "I don't like horses. Never  have" and left 30 minutes later saying "Wonderful, wonderful paintings. Just extraordinary"  As they say, that is a result.

The exhibition continues for another week, before the gallery changes again - which neatly brings me back to the theme. On the day the exhibition opened a couple who had visited the gallery in the preceding week returned to purchase a ceramic that they had seen. They were however taken aback to discover that a picture they had seen at the same time was no longer there - a reaction that is surprisingly common. The fact is that the gallery changes all the time and in this instance I was able to show them the work they were seeking. What is more surprising is the number of times one person's thoughtful consideration of a work is shortly followed by sale to another.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Birds, Badgers and other things

Yesterday saw (I think) our first flight of geese of the season, although I understand some Pink Foot - or possibly Pink Feet - were noted at Blakeney a week or so ago.  Even so, the ones flying over the village yesterday seemed to be somewhat earlier than last year and much earlier than in 2010. I always think of the geese coming from the north, but yesterday's early birds seemed to come from the south east with subsequent arrivals from all points - bar north. A few more flew over this morning, with the weather turning suitably autumnal; much cooler and no sun.

I can't work out whether this is unusual, but yesterday's arrivals were sharing their air-space with swallows and martins who are still in residence, although I suspect that they may take the hint that the season is on the turn. Definitely not unusual and absolutely on schedule was the arrival of new work from Max Angus including a new print of Pinkfeet at Stiffkey. Very topical!

Badgers have been much in the news this week following the granting of licences for trial culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset. By nature I am not given to great sympathy for those who oppose all such controls and I do appreciate the growing cost of TB to the dairy farmers. However the approach to the trials seems flawed both in theory and practice. Having watched the brief feature about how the trial is to be carried out on Countryfile last weekend, I can't help feeling that the cull will be lengthy and inefficient and secondly that any empty setts will quickly be appropriated by animals from outside the trial areas.  Common sense would seem to suggest that focussing efforts on vaccination of cattle might be more practical and effective.

The other hot topic - at least in Norfolk - this week was UFO's with widespread sightings of mysterious flashing lights on Monday night.  No doubt about the fact they were seen, but after suitable and, one assumes, slightly tongue-in-cheek coverage in the local press it quickly transpired that it was offshore lightning from storms beyond Stalham and Hickling. Apparently on a clear night, such flashes can be seen up to a 100 miles away. So there we are then.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A round trip

Some days just go past and you wonder just what you were doing. And then there the other kind. By 11 o'clock this morning I had circumnavigated Norfolk taking in Fakenham, Norwich, Acle, North Walsham, Gunton, Melton Constable and Walsingham.  Not on foot you understand but 'en voiture' and all for the best possible reason - making sure the invitations for our next exhibition make it to Burghley Horse Trials this weekend.

Starting with a leisurely amble through the apparently still-sleeping Creakes, taking care to avoid the ducks who regard the road as theirs at this hour, to Fakenham to join the by-pass taking equal care to avoid the HGV's who like the ducks regard the road as theirs. Curiously, once past Fakenham, these same HGV's then proceed at a very stately and law-abiding 40mph to Great Witchingham where they all disappear.

Onwards to Norwich and then dual-carriageway all the way to Acle.  It's so fast compared to the rest of the county but... a sign of how quickly we could end up looking like everywhere else. Printing collected from the miraculous Richard Clover, it's off on another agriculturally paced spiral up through Potter Heigham and Stalham, over the top at Wayford Bridge and a quick sprint - old railway lines make fast roads in this corner of Norfolk - to North Walsham, pleasingly busy and buzzy on this Wednesday morning.

With pleasing synchronicity, I meet the talent behind our next exhibition, Eleanor-rose Stamp at the cattle grid. Invitations are exchanged and my mission is accomplished. Should you be going to Burghley you might just see one!

And then the return to Burnham - one of my favourite routes in Norfolk. 30 miles of rural bliss not using any main roads, through Matlaske to Corpusty and onwards to Melton and Walsingham. Beyond Walsingham we're back into what I think of as high Norfolk with rolling countryside so different to the flat lands little more than 30 miles to the east. Across the Dry Road and round the back of Holkham. Then it's downhill through Burnham Thorpe and back to open the doors for the hordes just before 11.

Monday, 20 August 2012

In the Summertime

Excursions to the West Country - one of my first loves - these days usually leave me feeling smug as to the space and freedom we still enjoy up here in the remote fastness of North Norfolk.  On this occasion, maybe not so smug, the unique mix of Olympics followed by the best weather of the summer have left Norfolk (and getting in and out of it) at least as full as Glorious Devon, or so it seems.

A few days staying right at the heart of Exeter - in the Cathedral Close to be precise - proved there is peace and a timeless sense of place still to be found if you're lucky enough to have the opportunity.  And extraordinary contrasts; mediaeval houses facing the Cathedral Church on one side, whilst to the rear a small Devon garden full of flowers, climbers and shrubs - all running riot in the warmth that has finally followed the rain.

And just beyond, the penthouses and the 21st century take on a mediaeval roofscape of Exeter's new retail quarter.  Strange to say, I think it works.  Just.

And then on to the Isle of Wight and the heady delights of Cowes Week. Not to sail you understand but to enjoy the unique buzz of a small town entirely in the thrall of sailing at the top end. It would be easy to mock and scorn the money involved - the entertainment and sponsorship aspects and so on.  But why?  The heart of it is the sailing; not just showing off the hardware but really getting down to it.  Sailing doesn't get much more competitive than this.  And without it I'm not sure what the Island would do.

Fifty odd years ago - in the far-off days of steam trains - we twice holidayed in the far west of the Island, at Freshwater to be precise, staying in a house owned by a well-known radio actor. Even then the place had a character all of its own.  Nowadays people tend to say going to the Island is like going back to England in the '50s.  Well I'm not so sure;  I think it has changed and I'm not sure I quite get it as they say.  The beaches, the coast, the water and the boats - yes I get that, but it's the rest.  The interior of the island seems a little claustrophobic, bits of Surrey surburbia seem to pop up everywhere and the roads which are I guess appropriate to the actual size of the island are seemingly out of step with the number of vehicles.  Newport, the island's capital seems to be grid-locked much of the day, but just where they are all going or trying to go, isn't that obvious.  And if you look at the constant queues for the numerous ferries it becomes even more puzzling.

But we had a grand time - enjoying the buzz, the boats and the generous hospitality - and will rush back at the next opportunity.  Maybe that's the answer.  Or maybe it's the magic of any ferry sailing out of the sunset....

Or maybe it's the extraordinary waterfront at Portsmouth, or.....

Monday, 30 July 2012

The wonder of Walsingham

I have always found Walsingham a strange and mysterious place - even for Norfolk.  I drive through on a fairly regular basis and have been known to visit the Farm Shop and in fact was on one memorable occasion mistaken for a member of the clergy in sodoing.  For what it's worth I even get my ever diminishing amount of hair trimmed there.  And yet I feel it still eludes me.  It looks different and feels different but it is very difficult to identify just what it is that makes it so.

A hitherto hidden aspect was revealed last week when visiting friends who live at the very heart of it. Their mediaeval house is unlike anything I have seen in Norfolk over the last 25 years and has been beautifully restored.  That said, it was the garden that came as the big surprise. Almost completely enclosed by buildings, each with their own complex and idosyncratic filed roofs, a series of stepped terraces climb away from the house. The overall sense is one of an Italian court or square in which one might confidently expect to find members of some religious order at their leisure. Or failing that, Morse or Lewis wrestling with some intellectual crime.

But as with much of Walsingham, this is not the case and apparently never was.  Historically most of the surrounding properties were indeed owned and used by the Church, but the bigger space - now the garden - was, somewhat prosaicly, the yard for the Blacksmith, whose building is to be found at the upper end of the garden.

So a bit more revealed... but still strange and mysterious.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Just (?) desserts

Having devoted at least as many words to food and drink as to art, it seems possibly fair that the former has now laid me low.  On a visit to one of my personal favourites, the delightful and gentle Pierce Casey - he of the mystical landscapes evoking all the colours and memories of our travels through life - my digestive system decided to have it's revenge. Being taken seriously ill on the motorway is not funny.

However, the combination of Pierce and the London Ambulance Service saw me safely if painfully to hospital. Having avoided their clutches for 52 years (!) I was genuinely impressed by everything that happened to me and that I saw in Whipps Cross. The NHS and their staff are very good in my view.

Even at the very heart of this vast hospital, Burnham managed to weave its own magic, with an un-announced and unsolicited visit from two friends of Dr Diana Black's who took the trouble to seek me out.  Difficult to resist a quiet smile subsequently, when the ward staff - obviously concerned - tried to find out why these two great men had visited.

Opening has been disrupted - but not too much thanks to the stirling efforts of George, Theresa, Beth and of course Ali!  Hopefully a fuller service will resume shortly - and you might even see me again!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Another week

Bit of a Max Angus fest, but no apologies for that as she has just brought me a new print which I think is one of her best.

This little group is to be found between Thornham and Old Hunstanton or so I am told.  Time for a bit more investigating I think.

Having to go the far east (Holt) twice this week before opening, it's striking just how good North Norfolk is looking despite the lack of warmth.  The stretch between here and Wiveton is particularly enticing and I've finally now visited The Anchor at Morston in its new guise.  Many years ago, we used to pretend to sail an Oyster out of Morston Creek and despite The Anchor being the closest we hardly ever used it. Now run by two talented chaps, Harry & Rowan, I can at least vouch for the quality of the food coming out of the kitchen.  The belly pork was delicious... and the Norfolk Rarebit.... and the puddings...  Also very happy to report that even though the boss wasn't present, the service was good. As they say - 'you've all done very well!'

Having spent a little time in Holt including trying to get a local phone number via Google on my phone and eventually leaving a messsage for the lucky recipient - Sarah of Brays Pork Pie fame (food again), I crossed the road and went in Starlings only to find myself standing next to her.  Sadly she had no pies about her person, but she did point me in the direction of a good article about North Norfolk in Food & Travel magazine.

As far as Holt goes, I always think it looks great but the people don't seem very happy. It could be me.. or maybe it's the stress that goes with controlled parking?

Saturday, 9 June 2012

It's been a long time

Just over the 3 months since the last entry, in which time we've had summer, the wettest drought anyone can remember and the last week has been wet, windy and cold even for an English autumn!  Strangely all this doesn't seem to have adversely affected the gallery.  Visitor numbers are up on last year and whilst trading continues to have no discernible pattern, sales are encouraging.

Amongst this seemingly random scenario, a number of our artists, including Max Angus, Gerard Stamp and Niki Bowers attract consistent interest.  Two of Max's recent linocuts have been particularly appreciated, Redwings - seen at Binham and Fieldfares - captured (artistically) closer to home here in Burnham.

Last weekend, just before the Jubilee celebrations, we opened our first solo exhibition for a while, featuring the characterful work of Brian Hinton.  With a small collection of drawings and studies going back over some 20 years together with 5 new paintings - all featuring jazz musicians and their followers - "All that Jazz" has been very much appreciated.

Friday, 24 February 2012

The Four Seasons

Heading into March, and we've just had a taste of spring - we managed 18.4° yesterday although that may have been sunshine assisted.  Not to get carried away though, just 10 days ago we were down as low as -10° and the week before there was quite a snowfall on the Saturday evening. Burnham Overy is normally only 5 minutes away but it took rather longer than that to get back from dinner just before midnight. Never let it be said that weather comes between me and a decent dinner party.

In the gallery, the customers keep coming and continue to surprise.  Often it is the most unlikely day and weather that seems to work, but as I remember from a conversation with my friends at Made in Cley some years ago, I am not alone in this. Not sure whether it's peculiar to North Norfolk but our visitors seem to be coming from further and further away - as well as many more from Norwich. Strange but true.

Our excursion into the world of social media following prompting from more street-wise members of staff and family is proving interesting, enjoyable and - despite my initial misgivings - worthwhile. It is a source of continuing delight who you come across socially but also fascinating how it is strengthening the business community up here in the north.  In particular I should mention Sarah Pettegree of Bray's Pork Pies - not just because I like the pies (!) but as an exemplar of how a business profile can be developed using social media.  Many miss the point - it's not advertising and to think of it as such is a big mistake. It's about the glue that goes in the cracks of life - including business. Profound, eh? Anyway if you are interested, you can follow the minutiae and trivia of life in North Norfolk by looking for Grapevine Gallery @grapevine_art

On the art front, prints are selling well and my good friends printmaker Max Angus and her husband Richard visited last weekend bearing, not gifts, but two new prints. One is very seasonal and is in the gallery now... so don't delay!