Thursday, 31 December 2020

Who'd have thought it?

Twelve months ago I was busy scribbling hopeful thoughts about how good I felt about 2020 and how things were going to change whilst nature stayed constant and calming. Well things didn't quite turn out as I or pretty well anyone else could have imagined.

New words, and new concepts - furlough, bubble, social distance - are now not even regarded, and pretty well all the economic rules that determine how society operates have been thrown out of the window. But quite remarkably we have accepted all this and are, by and large, living our lives accordingly.

I was, and remain, a devotee of Radio 3, the dulcet tones of Petroc Trelawny and colleagues bringing a sense of calm and continuity to the start of my day. As well as the reassuringly familiar they manage to introduce me to and occasionally seduce me with new sounds, with the huge bonus that reporting of the ever-changing alarms and excursions of the wider world are corralled into an acceptably short precis of the news in under 5 minutes. And only once or twice in the two and half hours of the breakfast slot - and all too occasionally - read to perfection by Susan Rae, surely the model for all current news presenters in my humble opinion.

Connecting my opening thoughts with this appreciation, I hadn't quite understood until an hour or so ago how remarkable the achievement of maintaining these live broadcasts was. I realised that programmes were being presented from home but fondly assumed it was using serious technology. Well not quite. At the start it seems in more than one instance programmes were reaching us employing the might of an iPad and the presenter's home wifi. Quite remarkable. 

I love rural Norfolk with all its quirks and idiosyncracies but can only quietly give thanks that Petroc and his chums don't live here and depend as we do on what passes for broadband, as I fear they might just have decided to give up on live broadcasts.

A Happy and Hopeful New Year to both my readers!

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Save - a voice of commonsense crying in the wilderness

Organisations and membership bodies do not easily find favour these days, indeed the latter increasingly struggle to find their members unless they offer something tangible in return. Supporting a belief or a cause for the greater good as opposed to protecting or defending an interest is pretty unfashionable.

It comes as a surprise - a pleasant one - therefore to come across a body which seems to me at least to do precisely that, working for the common good. So what is this paragon of virtue? SAVE, or Save Britain's Heritage as they are fully known, sets out its case as being at the forefront of the conservation of national heritage, intervening to help buildings and places at risk of demolition or decay. Over the years they have argued and supported - successfully in many cases - for the retention of sometimes unremarkable but significant buildings, not for profit but because of the value and qualities they lend to their neighbourhood or community. 

Some of their campaigns do not chime particularly with me, but how refreshing that they fight for things that do not benefit or make money for them. They are not seeking to create visitor experiences but to secure the intangible qualities of our built environment that make life worth living, even when as now it seems pretty bleak.

So why do I suddenly feel this empathy for them? Possibly the contrast with the shallowness and lack of principles evident elsewhere, possibly their local campaigns but probably because their views increasingly represent what used to be called commonsense.

On a parochial basis, they seem to have secured the future of some unremarkable but potentiallly agreeable railway buildings at Brandon here in Norfolk. These are not great architecture or Architecture with an A, but infinitely better than the lightweight nothingness of the shelter that would've taken their place. Brandon typifies the kind of town that most of us pass through looking the other way and it needs its history and the buildings connected with it. It's very easy to dispose of things, but when we keep them they are usually valued and appreciated.

In Norwich, SAVE have supported the community in their desire to secure the future of the northern part of the City by highlighting the inappropriate form and scale of the Anglia Square proposals. Again not to make money but because Norwich is unusual in having not thus far started building high, particularly when there is no reason to.

So where is the commonsense part? Recently they have looked at the issue of the costs and practicalities of the various options for housing parliament during repairs and refurbishment at Westminster. SAVE have pointed out that whilst the Lords didn't like the idea of going to York, not only is there a historical precedent for Parliament to sit in Oxford, but that the Divinity School at the Bodleian bears an uncanny and practical resemblance to the House of Lords. 

Photo credit - David Liff

Further weight is lent to their thoughts by the relative costs – £54 million for their costed proposal as opposed to the £1 billion plus quoted for Parliament's own solution. In these straightened times, this looks like commonsense. Simples!

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

National Mistrust

I never imagined I would find myself pretty much entirely in agreement with Melanie Phillips. I only normally need to see or hear her on Question Time or somesuch to feel the hackles start to rise. Often outspoken and seemingly angry and intolerant her approach and persona is a million miles away from mine.

So what has she done now? In an excoriating piece in the Times on 24th August - again not one of my favourite newspapers - she goes after the utterly misguided and patronising proposals for the National Trust contained in their, I assume leaked, 10 Year Strategy. I can't find anything in what she's written to disagree with, I only wish I'd written it myself

There's not much point re-writing it and it is readily available for free on-line. Simply to say the strategy's basic assumption that the focus should be on promoting access at the expense of caring for our cultural history and providing 'experience' is wrong. Just so wrong. The underlying thesis seems to be that history isn't relevant, coupled with a patronising contempt for both the historic identity and culture of our society and our own individual capacity to assess and understand this.

In denial of what I like many others think, namely that the National Trust has been put in its current position by both individuals through legacies and gifts and the rest of us by supporting them to look after and nuture our cultural history, be it houses, gardens or landscape, this strategy seems to aim to decide what we should see and, by extension, what we might think. 

I don't want to live in the past, and change and development cannot be denied. But to remove or limit access or how we access the nations' story - particularly by this body - is indefensible. This is to me a betrayal of its members and supporters - the nation. Rarely has an organisation's title and principles been so subverted.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

The new normal

Well here we are, nearly the end of July, and nearly 4 weeks into the new world. How's it going? Rather difficult to say just yet but not without hope. Like many others we have changed the way we operate and in our case that means that sadly you will not find the door open and - at least most of the time - you can't just wander in and out as you might want to.

We have sanitiser of course, but because our gallery space and stairs are inevitably cottage scale it means that even at the 1m distancing requirement it really is only one visitor at a time. And after they've gone we need to clean surfaces and objects just to be sure. And all this behind our face masks. So not easy to generate the informal and friendly buzz we've always aspired to.

Viewed in the context of the facts of life for a small gallery in an attractive village, namely that most casual visitors come largely to look and enjoy - which of course we have always been very happy to accommodate - our former operation no longer really works. So for the time being we are opening by appointment only in order to focus on lifeblood of any business, sales.

We know other galleries round the country are adopting similar ideas but we also know that some are trying to go back to how it was before. BCV. Thus far, we have had some – albeit limited – success but it really is far too early to tell. 

As far as our artists are concerned, they need all the sales we can encourage and that really means us focussing on that rather than the maintenance of the relaxed ambience we have built up over the years. To keep up with what we have and what's new, we do – like pretty well everybody else use social media – and we try to highlight good things there. And in due course, barring unforeseen bumps in the road, we may well promote the occasional event. We shall see.

In the meantime, amongst what we have on offer are 3 new works from one of our most popular artists, Mari French, illustrated here. Firstly, 

'After the rain', 34cm x 34cm, acrylic, ink and gouache on board, £800.00

Secondly, 'Abundance', 34cm x 34cm, acrylic, ink and gouache on board, £800.00

And lastly, 'Alchemy', 34cm x 34cm, acrylic, ink and gouache on board, £800.00

If you like these, please do get in touch. Our email is

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Silent Spring revisited

Nearly 60 years ago, in September 1962, Rachel Carson's seminal work on the hazards and horrors stemming from the worlds increasing use of pesticides was published. Foreseeing an empty natural world, bereft of insects and birds, Silent Spring marked if not a turning point in our attitudes to chemicals in agriculture, a wake-up call whose ripples spread far beyond it's original audience. Even as a young schoolboy in a far from global society I was aware of it, possibly through my Grandparent's back copies of National Geographic magazine, which I avidly devoured, and it has remained with me, an 'eyeworm', lodged in the rear vaults of my psyche.

Little could Carson or anybody else for that matter have guessed or hoped that 60 years later, Silent Spring would come to pass – but almost in reverse and for complex reasons. Yes, her fears about pesticides were largely correct and their use is still widespread, but the growth of awareness and commitment to ecology has developed massively over the years. And so, not the Silent Spring she envisaged, but through pandemic and global shutdown, we have and are still enjoying the best silent spring anybody can remember.

The air is cleaner, clearer and our world has been quieter. So quiet – few aircraft, huge reductions in traffic levels and less audible human activity – that pretty well wherever you've been, the sounds of the natural world, birdsong and now reassuringly bees and insects have been in the ascendancy.

As the seasons roll on and we move seamlessly from Spring into Summer, change is coming and the signs are there. 

The silence has been wonderful but it was unrealistic to think it could be maintained if our economies are to recover, but how immensely reassuring to find that the world can be resilient and that nature does recover when we wake up to see what is there and notice what matters most to us.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

More questions than answers

As we come to the end of the strangest month in our lives there are just so many questions.

Are those swallows swooping low over the water? or are they martins?  Are the trees earlier into leaf this year? When's a good time to go for a walk - early morning? or early evening? Will it ever rain again in Norfolk? Why do lambs change from being full of bounce and innocent joy into impassive and obstinate sheep? Is that a weed?

And then there are the deeper issues. Other than the deaths and the suffering, is this simpler life better? Do we want to travel so much? Do we want a more local and less global life? Is it the limitation of face to face conversation that is so strange or are we actually communicating more but in a different way?

The one thing that most of us have is more time. Time to think, time to sleep and time to ponder all these things and for growing numbers, time to grieve – if not in the way we have become used to. As this time passes more and more are turning to writing, music, art and crafts as well as becoming more aware of our natural surroundings, whilst those who help and care for others are becoming more appreciated day by day.

At the moment attention is rightly focussed on the practical questions of survival in all its senses, but if and when our world stabilises, we need to hope that some of the good things that are coming out of this are not swept away in the backwash.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

So where do we go from here?

Just four weeks ago I referred to what were then increasing pressing reasons to encourage life to be as local as possible. The world in which I wrote those words now seems so remote and from a different time. In just a few days we have moved from encouraging life to be local to it being a necessity for all of us everywhere. 

As one of my favourite and hence much used quotes says, "the past is a different country; they do things differently there". Indeed we did, and hopefully we will one day do again. In the meantime, I like so many am taking pleasure in the blue skies and the sounds of spring. Looking for positives, the crisis has achieved worldwide what would never have even been considered possible in our most extreme fantasies, a genuine reduction in pollution and hopefully positive impact on our climate.

What happens when in the months and years ahead the health aspects become more manageable is a very different question. I can't see life returning to normal, if one's definition of normal is the lives we have lived. To speculate further is simply that – speculation.

The idea of history and time at least in the christian world is defined very generally by the concept of BC and AD. In the humblest possible terms I am now using a third, BCV.  They did things differently there.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Diversionary tactics

Like a lot of things in the world just now, these thoughts have been out there for a while but have now finally emerged here. Not peculiar to our bit of the country but seemingly at times more apparent here is the wonderful dark art of diversion.

I could be talking politics - local or global - but for the moment I'm considering something that affects almost all of us, namely transport networks. In the very local context, road closures - and I use that term advisedly - send the law-abiding or cautious on lengthy and seemingly absurd extended excursions through the delights of the North Norfolk landscape. Not infrequently those wishing to go from Fakenham to Burnham or maybe Wells are confronted by an apparent exclusion zone; "Road Closed Ahead" with well signposted diversion routes.

In the most extreme case in recent history such signage would have lead the unsuspecting on a journey of over 20 miles to drive from Burnham to North Creake rather than the usual 3 miles. The courageous, foolish or well-informed would have found that if they behaved in an anti-social manner and ignored the signs, there was indeed a hole in the road on the edge of North Creake but being looked at and managed by helpful and sensible chaps happily waving traffic through.

These diversions seems absurd to many and cause justifiable irritation and stress to businesses and residents in these challenging times. So why do they happen? Simply because the diversion route has to be of the same standard as the route closed. The fact that the closed road can be about as small as a road can get but still labelled as a B road prevents short local diversions being signed along often wider and safer roads simply because they are "Unclassified". The consequences are missed deliveries, interrupted or cancelled bus services and the absence of all-important customers and trade.

A bit further afield but still in Norfolk the economic impact of closures and diversions have been apparent for all to see in Sheringham and currently in North Walsham. Here the disruption is inevitable with the replacement of mains services in the commercial centre of the town but the cost to a town trying to regenerate is considerable. The very obvious non-opening of town-centre shops in the absence of any visitors or customers on recent Saturdays hopefully will quickly become a thing of the past.

It's quite easy to take a view that all this is of little lasting consequence in these trying times but there is a wider point. There are very good and increasingly pressing reasons, climate and now health-based reasons to encourage life to be as local as possible. If local shops and supplies are impacted, we will inevitably be tempted to travel to overcome this and our journeys are in many cases needlessly extended.

We are creatures of habit, and living and shopping locally is a good habit and we need to encourage and sustain this.