After weeks of dull and often rainy weather, the day dawned bright and sunny: Spring was definitely in the air. I had never been to Great Yarmouth before – hands-up all those who have! – so today was quite an occasion in the placid life of a rustic painter.
We set off in our automobile to Saxmundham where we partook of an early breakfast prepared by the worthy Karen and served under the jovial eye of mine host Bob. The gorgeous scrambled eggs and piping hot, delicious black coffee set us up for the day, and we strolled up to the railway station to catch the 09.54 to Lowestoft along the East Suffolk Line. The 3-unit diesel train slid on time alongside the lengthy platform, relic of more glorious, steamy days, and we sped out into the rural delights of sunny east Suffolk. Actually, like much of rural France, the countryside seemed largely empty of humans and habitation, though we stopped from time to time at stations with a lilting litany of earthy names: Darsham, Halesworth, Brampton (where you have to ask to be allowed off or flag the train down if you want to get on), Beccles and finally, as you skirt the southern edge of what are mainly the Norfolk Broads, Oulton Broad South (don’t ask about Oulton Broad North – or East or West for that matter).
At Lowestoft, the train stopped at the far end of what was once a long platform; the front end, nearer the town centre, is now a shopping mall. Please don’t think ‘Oh Mr Beeching, what have you done?’; it’s despite Mr. Beeching that the East Suffolk Line survives at all when so many comparable lines in East Anglia were closed in the 1960s. So Lowestoft still clings on to civilisation by what is for quite long lengths a single-track railway. For our purposes, however, it was merely an interchange. We transferred there from train to bus, successfully as it happened despite all our sources of advance information having disguised the rather helpful fact that the bus stop is alongside the platform where we dismounted the train.
The bus journey to Great Yarmouth was an eye-opener, as indeed was GY itself. The point of the journey, however, was to visit a major exhibition by Michael Horn. It was hung in Skippings Gallery, a former department store in King St., but actually one of numerous formerly fine buildings along both sides of a noble street so empty at the time of our visit that it recalled noonday scenes from many a Western.
My reaction overall is probably best expressed in my letter to Michael the following day:
“…. then by bus to Gt Yarmouth: an intrepid adventure in itself. Seldom have I seen so much suburbia without a big city in sight, quite a surprise; but that’s the (dis)advantage of travel by local buses …. Anyway, we found Gt Y a pretty sad place, with too many empty, charity, tattoo and betting shops, too many obviously poor people, and too many unemployed males standing around; yet the harbour and docks seemed to have plenty of works going on, with several service ships for oil platforms and wind farms tied up. It must be a desperate place in which to try to get anything at all cultural in the narrow sense going, as the programme at the theatre indicated (mainly light entertainment). So that gave us the context for your exhibition, one clearly about economic as well as cultural regeneration rather than just art for art’s sake…. we’re full of admiration for your contributing to that agenda.
We thought Skippings was superb, particularly the interior and the way it had been treated. You really should buy it and take it around with you as the essential backdrop to all your exhibitions! We have never seen your paintings displayed to such advantage, even in Salthouse church. It was absolutely spot on. And you had just the right number and variety as well … it was great looking at generally familiar big, ‘clunky’ canvases in plenty of space and at the same time the several smaller ones …… Personally, I thought ‘Edgefield’ and the two on the right at the start of what had been the corridor were particularly interesting.”
I am unable to add observations, pertinent or otherwise, about Lowestoft because the bus returning us from GY, following a route from Norwich to Southwold, got so caught up in a prolonged traffic jam – yes, indeed, even in furthest East Anglia, – that we had to run through the centre from bus station to railway station in order to catch our train – or wait an hour. We just made it and we ended our journey trundling through the Suffolk countryside, without stopping at Brampton, towards, appropriately, the setting sun.