Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Thankless in Burnham

The first time I engaged in village matters I was told by one who was older and wiser - and who was born here - that two topics could be relied on to spark conversation if not controversy, namely car-parking and the Christmas Lights.

As is the way with these things I soon found myself involved. On the first occasion, a seemingly endless discussion as to the cost and funding of the Christmas Tree prompted memories of a Vicar of Dibley episode where a similar meeting about the Dibley Fete lead the late lamented Roger Lloyd-Pack's character, Owen, to offer to give them the required money just to get the whole thing over with.

With a certain inevitably I shortly found myself in charge of the switch-on - the second biggest event in the annual life of the village - in the year that we ended up with a substantial number of female TV people from the soaps and game-shows. We also ended with a frightening number of visitors - I think the Police estimated it at more than 4,000 - and very few volunteers helping on the day.  Suffice to say discretion or cowardice got the better of me and I fled before the next event came round.

This year, the Gods decided to punish us and despite months of hard work and careful planning, the event fell foul of the worst weather seen for some time. Gusting winds, freezing rain and sleet and a forecast of more to come made the decision to cancel something of a formality in these days of Health & Safety and risk avoidance. Burnham was not alone in this with Fakenham also deciding not to proceed with their own event.

Self-evidently,  even in the new world of social media, people cannot be prevented from coming and indeed we wouldn't want to, but the planned visiting stalls and performances didn't happen. The lights did indeed go on at the appointed hour and despite the sleet were - to my ears at least - very much appreciated by the families who did brave the elements.

I am absolutely sure that just as in the midst of the chaos 6 years ago, those precious few who had put so much effort into planning, funding and generally organising the event would, on Saturday morning – just like Lloyd Pack's character, have given money for the whole thing to just go away. I am equally sure they haven't been inundated with thanks and yet if it didn't happen the village would miss it and the spirit of the place impoverished. As a local parent said, "Isn't it great that it still happens, its a family thing. I know the weather is c...  but it's not just this evening, it's Christmas"

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Into the dark

A week ago we were still enjoying Summer Time or more correctly BST. With the change of the hour comes the general feel of grumpiness and frustration over the imposition of the dusk coming too early. Each year the annoyance at this change peaks at the changeover and the absurdity of some of the reasons behind it are highlighted again. Do we really need to be concerned about Scottish cows and their minders? Do we now need to be concerned about Scotland at all? It's not that clear that they are concerned about us.

In our rural community there is no getting away from the fact that an early dusk brings an early end to the working or trading day. Already in the first week of the new (or old) time - even though it is still October - the village goes quiet around sunset and its hard to believe that much is happening or likely to happen between 4.30 and 5. Given that the economy is so dependent on tourism this can hardly be viewed with enthusiasm by anyone.

Clearly this impact is not felt in urban areas, or is it? With an ever-ageing population there surely will be significant numbers who prefer to be home before dark given the choice. Equally there is growing evidence to support a move to delay the academic day, reflecting greater knowledge about how the younger brain operates. So why do we continue to respond to the now questionable needs of a minority hundreds of miles to the north in preference to the needs and preferences of the wider community and economy where we live?

Self-evidently the lighter mornings are a pleasure but there are clearly few up and about to enjoy them, and other than the Scottish dairy industry, I am unaware of other economic benefits. All in all, I am not convinced our annual reversion to GMT serves any real purpose.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

On a lighter note

Since early June, Houghton Hall has been staging programmed illuminations of the West Front running from sunset to darkness every weekend, part of LightScape - an exhibition of light installations by James Turrell.

As ever, the closer and more convenient these things are, the less effort is made to visit. So it's no surprise that it was only on the final weekend, in fact the penultimate show, I travelled the 11 miles to witness it. Standing in the somewhat chilly - if very still - gathering gloom of a late October friday, a hundred yards west of one of England's finest houses waiting for the lights to come on felt a peculiarly English thing to be doing. And of course I was not alone - a rough guess would be that there were some 80 or 90 others dispersed across the grass. Some sitting, some standing and some - I assume - somewhat damply lying down. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the whole affair was how quiet it was, a view shared by the man standing alongside.

As is often the case with these things, the experience was about to become more memorable in a wonderfully English way. The lights did indeed come on and as my friend noted the hush became even deeper.

There were however, and quite naturally, a number of quiet conversations taking place including in the reserved deckchairs some 20 yards away; this was, I gathered, his Lordship with guests including patrons and supporters of the installation. My companion was then joined by a friend and naturally a further subdued conversation ensued.  It was, thus something of a surprise for us to be told off in a very English female voice from somewhere behind us - "would you mind being quiet. Some of us are trying to enjoy the performance."

With I thought admirable restraint, there was no riposte; we simply did as we had been told, greatly enjoying the illuminations, albeit with suppressed mirth and of course more aware of the conversations continuing in front of us. I can only assume my companions were, like me, contemplating the delicious possibility of the people who had made the whole thing possible being similarly reprimanded.

Sadly this was not to be, but I cannot imagine such an installation being viewed anywhere in the world in more reverential circumstances. There was no music or words to be outrageously interrupted. It was simply light - and it was beautiful.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Things to come

In just under twelve months time we will be having our next exhibition of watercolours by Gerard Stamp. It is now over 10 years since our first exhibition of his work in Norwich and in that time we have shown his work in London on three occasions, York Minster and last year in Exeter Cathedral - as well as further shows in Norwich and Burnham Market.

On each occasion we have seen not only previous purchasers returning but always the unprompted wonder and delight from those unfamiliar with his work that has been evident since that first exhibition.  This was particularly so in Exeter where our most successful show was achieved far from familiar territory, 300 miles away from our home patch.  However at the end of a successful exhibition the question inevitably arises, 'What next?'

The initial temptation was to return to London with all the metro-benefits (and costs) that this would bring. However, after York and Exeter, it is clear that showing these atmospheric paintings in the places which are their inspiration is most appreciated. In the light of this we opened negotiations with one of Gerard's favourite Cathedrals - and one of the finest - and are delighted to now be able to confirm that on September 23rd next year our next exhibition of his paintings will open in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral.

At the point this was agreed, it all seemed quite a long time off and yet now, just a few months later, it seems to be coming closer with astonishing speed. The level of interest - even at this stage - is remarkable and through glimpses of the first few paintings we and our hosts are already starting to feel that frissance of wonder and delight at what is to come.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

And so we reach September

As ever, change is in the air. The last Bank Holiday of the season - and away they all go. You can almost hear the place relaxing.

However, it's far too soon to think summer's gone and the latest sequence of paintings from Brian Hinton really catch the freedom of Norfolk's wide beaches.  Unsurprisingly September looks as if it might just calm down and give us what we dream of. 

There is no denying it seems to have been a strange summer, never really settling down with wild swings from one extreme to the other. A burst of heat at the start of July, then days that felt like October. And for whatever reason it felt the same in the gallery. A great start then an unseasonally quiet patch towards the end of July.

And then August, with footfall and sales in the gallery noticeably up. Patrick Boswell's exhibition seemed to hit the spot attracting customers new and old. Alongside Patrick's exhibition our gallery artists continue to find success. If it's possible to generalise, our customers typically seem to come from Norfolk, Cambridge, Leicestershire and Northampton. However this year we have seen art departing to Dallas Texas, Buffalo NY and Philadelphia as well as New Zealand and South Africa - and this mostly in the last few weeks.

Tomorrow we open our latest exhibition, showing etchings by one of our favourite printmakers Emma Buckmaster. As regular visitors will know it is rare that we do not have one or two of her evocative works in the gallery but this will be the first time we have shown a full collection. An added bonus is that the exhibition includes work from a collaborative project with Janet French - Tree Portraits - a unique series of etchings printed on to paper made from the trees own leaves.

As has been said before it's a change of pace and style that kicks in at the start of September and this new collection seems to fit the mood beautifully. Calm, serene and evocative.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Boswell's Norfolk

This coming Friday sees the opening of an exhibition which epitomises summer here on Norfolk's north coast. Beaches, boats and families all depicted by one of Norfolk's own - Patrick Boswell. Paintings with verve and elan, yet with almost pedantic attention to detail reflecting the man wielding the brush - equally at ease with his boat as with his art, and always with his characterful style.

A firm favourite with North Norfolk's summer crowds - be they resident or on their annual pilgrimage to Brancaster or Holkham - this is the first time he will have shown with us in Burnham having previously exhibited at Norwich Grapevine many moons ago.

Unsurprisingly, they feel just right for the time of year.  For just these few weeks, the Norfolk world fizzes and bubbles with an endless flow of parties, music, food - all with friends and family - and always with the backdrop of sea and sky. The roads are busy, the parking absurd, the vehicles supersized and yet move just a few yards from the pinchpoints and the hotspots and there is the real Norfolk - space and beauty to dream about. You can see why 'they' all continue to come.

As with all things Summer, be they holidays, fine weather or exhibitions, Patrick's personal view of North Norfolk is on show for all too short a time - just two weeks - running until 22nd of August.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Back to the sea

I walked out to the sea last evening. There is nothing particularly unusual about that other than remarkably it seems to have been 3 weeks since my last walk in that direction.  In so many ways it stays the same and yet in others it has changed significantly.

Having had a sequence of days of brilliant sunshine and wonderful light, last evening was different. Chilly and cloudy, but clouds with mobility and ragged edges. The bittern is still there, booming as his, or her, want and now joined by a cuckoo over towards Holkham. Birds aplenty but now slightly less activity which always surprises, but birds do what they do each year much earlier than I expect.

The Alexanders along the bank are growing up on either side, changing the character of the path. No longer on the top but nestling down into a burgeoning froth of green and yellow. As yet it isn't intrusive but with the next burst of warmth they'll be up to waist and then shoulder height, and soon past their peak reminding us just how fast the season moves on.

The closer to the sea you get the less the seasonal changes are apparent, the dunes always seem much as they always are. The sand moves and drifts in the wind but the plant growth hugs the ground out here. The beach itself looks unchanged. It could be October, January or May. And yet to those who know it has changed.

Looking west towards the Island, the channel has moved. Having been stable for a while it has now shifted eastwards back towards Wells. Subtle in terms of the scale of the landscape but to those who enter and leave the creek more significant than all the visual seasonal changes around us.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Going out like a lion

Having had a relatively peaceful month weatherwise, March has been making up for it bigtime in the last couple of days. Since the clocks changed and we entered British Summer Time, we seem to have had everything. Warm, cold, rain, sleet, hail, wind - and in all directions. Vertical - up and down - and horizontal. All that is apart from the wind which seems stuck blowing in from the north-west.

With little more than 6 hours of the month left and the wind finally appearing to ease, this bit of Norfolk collected the whole lot in 10 minutes. It did however leave quite a good rainbow in its wake.

So what next? As I have noted here previously, Easter in Norfolk has a habit of bringing more weather than Christmas, so it seems reasonable to think there might be a bit more to come. "Ne'er cast a clout til May be out", as they say.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Not in your backyard

Most planning applications attract objections regardless of the quality of design or the merit of the proposed use. My recollection is that an application has to be publicised on site and that those affected are given the opportunity to have their views considered. Consequently within communities, be they rural or urban, it is unlikely that anything proceeds without this consideration. At rural locations outside communities it seems things can turn out rather differently.

Within the last few days a proposal to develop a poultry unit just outside Sedgeford has hit the fan in a big way. The term 'poultry unit' is one way to describe it. To most this is an industrial process, an animal factory housing over 300,000 birds in a facility which I understand is large on a national scale. Almost unbelievably it would seem that, despite the application being lodged over two months ago, until the last week most of those who live in the villages most closely related - Sedgeford, Fring and Docking - were not aware of it.

These communities are not immediate neighbours to the proposal but their lives would almost inevitably be affected by lorries servicing the site and potential environmental issues yet it seems that in the absence of public consultation, the majority were unaware. A cursory look on-line at the planning application raises further issues. Sedgeford Parish Council were consulted and somewhat strangely, given the level of adverse reaction that has now surfaced, they would have appear to have supported the application. Not only does this raise the question how representative they are of their constituents but how their consideration was not widely known.

Environmentally, there are significant issues raised by this type and scale of unit. The Environment Agency have already flagged up the site's location in relation to primary aquifers and the need to manage run-off. Slightly more alarmist, at least one of those now alerted to the application has very clearly stated the potential hazards relating to this scale of unit population in terms of use of and transmission of anti-biotic resistant genes, not just from the ventilation of the site but from the lorries moving birds in and out of the site.

This proposal is not in our backyard but it does highlight how easy it is for this type of proposal to proceed outside communities. It is also not alone. Much smaller in scale but realistically described as 'giant' rearing sheds for ducks at Fulmodeston near Fakenham attracted opposition from residents and the three neighbouring Parish Councils, despite which it was approved by the District Council last Friday.

Further afield and utterly different in type of use, a licensing application for wedding parties in a rural location has been made in advance of a planning application for the use, which seems a way in which a potentially disruptive use might make progress without wider consideration - in a way that would be unlikely in an urban context.

Monday, 9 March 2015


On Saturday it was definitely mild - if a little breezy. It felt, as Kenneth Grahame put it, that “Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below.. "

Yesterday, I had cause to go first to Norwich and then onwards via Acle to North Walsham. The sun shone, the sky was blue and Norfolk looked good and felt good. So good that there was a perceptible air of puzzlement if not disappointment amongst those at the plant nursery that not much new growth was on offer. Of course, had it been chilly and damp, this wouldn't have been noticed by anyone, always supposing they had gone to look.

The constant supply of statistics - warmest, sunniest and so on - coupled with the underlying climate change story means that our expectations outpace reality. Yes, the weekend was mild and yes, the last couple of months have seen sunny days, but it is still early March and despite the statistics, February was not unusually mild. Plant growth is accordingly more or less where it normally is in this part of the world. In fact looking back at photographs from last year everything is slightly later this year.

Just to prove the point, today after an early frost we are back with grey skies, a chilly breeze and a little dampness..... but there is no denying Spring is indeed on the move again, and our first featured exhibition of the season is just three weeks away.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

A quiet time

Life round here seems to have slipped seamlessly into another year. No alarms, no excursions - its all rather peaceful. From a business point of view this is not entirely unexpected but these things do vary. This year, across the board whether your business is food or fashion, the word on the street seems to be quiet.

Many tourism based businesses use this as their down time, often not opening again until the February half-term. Strangely to some, Burnham does not follow that pattern and almost everybody continues, albeit with more modest opening hours. Our winter thus far has, like last year, been fairly unremarkable. Some rain, some wind but little frost or snow up here on Norfolk's northern fringe so that can't be the reason. Or maybe it can.

Largely deprived of real horrors, the English tend to actually like being scared - as long as it's within reason - and now with instant news and social media the extremes of tempest, snow and ice are on every phone or screen. We love the drama, the interruption and excitement - the whole idea, and given the opportunity we go out looking for it.  Triumphing over nature in our capable cars, attired in clever clothes - it's so much more than just going out.

And so far, it just hasn't happened here. Quiet weather, quiet days, not much action anywhere. Over the years, we have seen more sales on days when you would have thought anybody who didn't need to be out there would have stayed at home than on those more challenging days. So maybe some serious snow is what's required.

But of course we are in Norfolk where historically we're more likely to see snow at Easter than Christmas, so the best may be yet to come. And has been said before, "be careful what you wish for"   for as the person being interviewed in a snow-bound Derbyshire said today - "it looks lovely until you try to drive"