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Tuscan Towns #2 – Bolgheri

Bolgheri is a tiny town, more of a hamlet really, based as it is along one main street which latterly converges into two, a sunny square and a row of delightful little houses and restaurants precipitating the divide. For the majority, the closest they will come to knowing Bolgheri will be to read its name upon one of the plethora of nectarean bottles of wine produced by the region every year. Yet for the lucky few, who are led, magnetised, down the perfectly straight cypress-lined Roman road to the tiny little village, finding Bolgheri will feel like stumbling upon a hidden jewel.

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While Bolgheri has a castle, it is as proportionately small as the village. It is not a place for museums, nor a city for those wishing to stroll endlessly from one new corner to another. No, the real attraction of Bolgheri is its atmosphere. It is enchanting. While a visit at any time of the day will be enthralling enough, there is a poetic grace about Bolgheri in the late afternoon, as the sun starts to set over the vineyards and rolling hills to the West, and every cafe and shop and house seems to fling open its shutters greedily urging the peach coloured light to spill into its small little terracotta buildings.

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Bolgheri in the afternoon is a place in which to sit and close your eyes, feeling the sunlight spill across your face. It is a village where sipping upon an aperol spritz takes on new majesty, and where an ice cream glimmers with a precious golden aura. It is a time which is all about relaxing, chatting, strolling, thinking, and if I wanted to do anything when I set out to take these photos, it was to capture this time of utopia. So apologies in advance to the fellow visitors who ended up in the photos on this post, but without the look of sheer pleasure and relaxation written all over their faces, I don’t think I could ever have properly expressed the blissful experience of an afternoon in Bolgheri.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

A walk one early Tuscan morning

Florence, Siena, Pisa, Lucca, Arezzo, Grosseto… Tuscany plays host to more stunning cities than you can even begin to list, let alone visit on a single trip to the region. Full of art history’s jewels, quaint little streets and magical churches, these are the cities which inspired a golden age of travel. Yet the cities are only one facet of Tuscany’s charm. All along the length of the region, there are beaches so sandy that they can rival the very best of Spain’s costas. In its restaurants, the Tuscan people will tell you that the very best food of Italy is served up, from wild boar to Sopa Della Pescaia. But above all things, Tuscany is characterised by its iconic landscapes. Who hasn’t salivated over the picture postcard views of undulating hills truncated by a cypress-lined winding road? And it is this landscape, punctuated by vines and olive trees and pine-perfumed air that I like to enjoy above all things.

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I’m lucky. I have family living in the region. And that means proximity. When we visit them my favourite thing to do is to get up early, as the sun is just starting to make its ascent, and walk. Walk in whatever direction my feet take me. For all roads in Tuscany lead to a lovely landscape, as countryside paths take the earnest visitor through those perfectly ordered vineyards, across freshly ploughed fields and amongst wild flowers.

These photos are from one such morning walk when the hour was perfectly peaceful and the light a creamy tone of reflected gold. But despite the sun’s fast ascent, there was a tangible sleepiness to the air, as poppy heads drooped delicately along grassy verges, snails curled up in snoozing groups on deserted street posts, and the birds, slowly awakening, heralded the start of a sunny new day. Pure. Bliss.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Tuscan Towns #1 – Monteriggioni

There is nothing like a period drama to stir the soul, not least when an exotic location enables escapism, both historical and geographical. Such is the enduring magnetism of a film like A Room With a View. Starting a young Helena Bonham-Carter and the endlessly successful partnership of Judy Dench and Maggie Smith, it is the very essence of period delicacy, all set against a stunning Tuscan backdrop. Having become hooked on the film last year, it has gained a near gospel status in our household, and when a trip to see relatives in Tuscany beckoned this Easter, the film was omnipresent in our preparations. As we looked at the map and planned towns and cities to visit, the voice of Judy Dench as Eleanor Lavish pervaded. Recommending Monteriggioni to her fellow diners as a must-do destination, we felt persuaded to follow suit. Many years have past since the novel (on which the film is based) was written, but Tuscany is a richly historical land, steeped in the past, and we were sure it’s charm would not have disappeared with the period.

Charming Monteriggioni

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Charm we found in buckets when eventually we made it to this idyllic Tuscan village, whose miniature scale is tightly contained within the impressive and historically unbreachable castle walls that encircle it. Located within the gently undulating hilly green landscape which has put Tuscany on the tourist map for centuries, the castle town is practically untouched by the passage of time, with a historical core which has escaped the sullying of modern expansion.

The Great Walls of Monteriggioni

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Based around a tidy little Square whose central stone fountain is partnered by a rustic stone church, everything in Monteriggioni is rendered in miniature albeit with a distinctive flavour of power reflected by the imposing walls which encircle it. A walk around those walls was a clear highlight of the visit, not least for the Tuscan views punctuated by cypress trees and sun dappled hillsides.

No wonder Monteriggioni was on the wish list of visitors making their way to Tuscany in the late 19th century. Happily for we romantics of the 21st, very little has changed, enabling a level of escapism which only a carefully staged period drama might otherwise provide.

The rolling Tuscan landscape surrounding Monteriggioni

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Hampton Court Palace, Part 3: The Wild and the Wonderful

My blog is reading like something of a paid marketing campaign for Hampton Court Palace at the moment, which I promise is not the case. Such was the visual pleasure of my visit to Hampton Court that my photo stream ran on for miles. In seeking to share the best from that day, while losing nothing of the splendour of the aesthetic pleasures which a visit to the Palace entails, I have sought to split up my Daily Norm narrative into more bitesize pieces. First I told you about the Palace’s incredibly manicured gardens, followed shortly afterwards by a tour of the hybrid interior. Today I’m back out into the gardens, but this time to the Great Fountain Garden, and the Wilderness, a stunning grassy landscape which is ostensibly less controlled by gardeners and designers, although I suspect that in reality, this appearance of under-management is as meticulously choreographed as the rest.

The Great Fountain Garden and Home Park beyond

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There can be no doubt that Christopher Wren’s Baroque facade of Hampton Court Palace is best viewed from its mighty gardens, whose tree tree-lined avenues radiate outwards in a crow’s foot pattern towards a water-bounded semi-circular parterre. Those avenues, whose trees are perfectly clipped to create cloud like green forms, provide a theatrical foreground beyond which the Palace can play a leading role as it glows, mighty and red, in perfect contrast with its green surroundings. If William and Mary of Orange had intended to compete with Versailles, it is clear that they gave good game, not least with the extensive Long Water canal which extends into Home Park beyond, magnifying both the scale of the grounds, but also reflecting the Palace in its mirrored surface. For us, a walk in these gardens proved to be unforgettable. We were enamoured not only by the dramatic landscape, where we felt like strolling into a Sunday evening period drama, but also by the peace and tranquillity which could be found there, away from the shrieks of children lost in the famous maze and closer to the stags and deer who could be seen grazing so majestically nearby.

But what the Great Fountain Garden gave in drama, the Wilderness oozed in bucolic tranquillity. Appearing almost wild, this semi-woodland full to the brim with long grasses and beds entirely given over to daffodils was one of my absolute highlights of the visit. As the sun started to dip behind the yellow petals in the late afternoon, a heavenly light seemed to fall over the place, fragmented as it was in an easy peppering of dappled sunlight, as low lying trees burst forth new pale green leaves. The effect was so transformative that I expected a lady in a long flowing dress and a gentleman in a top hat to wander into the scene at any moment. This was surely an impressionist moment worthy of Monet’s brush?

The untamed beauty of the Wilderness

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This day’s final acquaintance with the grounds of Hampton Court served as yet further illustration of the diversity of the gardens which make this Palace much more than its interiors. With their riverside location and semi-rural sensation, it was hard to imagine that we were a mere 30 minutes from the hectic heart of London. Thus we were transformed, not just by history, but by the green and verdant landscape which immersed us in an earthly paradise one very happy Sunday afternoon.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Hampton Court Palace, Part 2: Bipolar Palace

For me, Hampton Court Palace is all about its gardens, or at least it certainly was when I visited, and outside the fragile glass which history has maintained within the ancient woodwork of the Palace’s hundred-fold windows, the sun shone with a rare early glimpse of British Summer in Spring. Yet there is something unapologetically festive about the hallowed halls of the Tudor-come-Baroque palace, which I’m sure on a colder day would be all the more enchanting. For Hampton Court Palace has the power to ensnare like no other.

Tudor exteriors

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First it is characterised by the glamorous myth which surrounds the British Tudor Dynasty. Whether it be the 6 wives of Henry VIII who were either divorced, beheaded, died (naturally) or survived, the great religious schism triggered by Henry’s thirst for a male heir, the very bloody Queen Mary, or the flame-haired majesty of England’s favourite Queen, Elizabeth I, the Tudors are the stuff of legends, not just in English classrooms, but around the world. Seen as the very archetype of Britain in the Middle Ages, Hampton Court Palace was, and remains, the backdrop of that tumultuous time, and today its walls literally echo with wealth of that history, ghosts and all.

Tudor interiors

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Secondly, the Palace is enticing because of its dual personality. A very Tudor entrance, a grand hall and a suite of wood panelled, stained glass rooms lead swiftly on to a complete architectural about-turn, as the gothic metamorphoses into the palatial Baroque, and a construct more akin to Versailles emerges from behind the forest of Tudor chimneys. This great change was the result of a complete renovation project began by King William and Queen Mary of Orange when they moved into the palace in the late 1600s and who felt the need to modernise, largely to compete with the Sun King in France. Sweeping aside whole swathes of Henry VIII’s palace, they replaced it with a grand symmetrical construct based around quadrangles of triple rowed grandiose windows, elaborately frescoed interiors, and a new landscape of neatly geometric flowerbeds and fountains. However they ran out of money before the restauration was complete, and it is for this reason that today’s Palace is the hybrid of Tudor and Baroque, something for which we must be grateful – how else could we explore a slice of the grandeur at the heart of the Tudor Dynasty which today remains so remarkably intact.

The Baroque alter ego  

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The photos which are shared in the post give a flavour of the great contrast between the Tudor and the Baroque aspects of Hampton Court. What perhaps the Tudor side lacks in elaborately frescoed ceilings it makes up for in colourful stained glass and the stunning gothic ceiling of the Royal Chapel. And what the Baroque side lacks in stag heads and grand vaulted ceilings it instead replaces with wide sweeping staircases and rooms flooded with light from the masterfully manicured garden beyond. All in all, this is a tale of two Palaces, offered, very conveniently, to be enjoyed all at one time.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Hampton Court Palace, Part 1: Manicured Gardens

It’s always a wonderful thing to discover that an incredible attraction can be found on your doorstep. And somewhere which is literally 30 minutes by train from your nearest station is not so far from doorstep status, especially when you consider the extent to which those short 30 minutes have the power to transform you from inner city jungle to utter bucolic majesty. Such was my discovery last weekend upon visiting the former home of Henry VIII and his 6 variously fated wives, Hampton Court Palace, which can be found nestling alongside the banks of the Thames a few meandering loops down the river. Our trip to this vast palatial complex was so astounding, so plenteous in its beauty that I have decided to split my experience in three for the sake of The Daily Norm, so that a focus can be had on the various facets that make Hampton Court so incredible.

I must admit that it’s the gardens which really thrill me at Hampton Court. The inside has its merits, naturally. The Chapel Royal is pretty much one of the most stunning historic spaces in the United Kingdom. But the interiors also have the potential to disconcert, as one is led from the Tudor quarters, steeped in the gothic gloom of the age, to the more luminescent baroque rebuild instituted by William and Mary of Orange in the late 17th Century. The result is fragmentary and disorientating. It is like visiting two very distinct palaces, albeit that from the outside, there is a certain level of unity achieved by the uniform use of a rich pink stone. And it is outside where this little photographic tour begins.

The Privy Garden and the Banqueting House

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In my naivety, I thought that a visit during April may be too early to enjoy the gardens. How wrong I was, for the timing enabled us to enjoy the most spectacular array of Spring flowers I have ever seen. In the Privy Garden, the elegant South-facing walled garden extending towards the River’s edge and containing rows of manicured conical hollies and yews lining a perfectly geometric system of paths, tulips in vibrant shades of red and yellow danced in the sunlight and contrasted brilliantly against sky blue hyacinths which filled the air with their fragrance. In the cosy walled Pond Gardens just beyond, the abundance of flowers increased as floral collections were displayed in rich strata of contrasting height and colour to create a ravishing spectacle of nature’s brilliance. I don’t think I ever saw such a variety of tulips, nor so well choreographed an exhibition of this glorious Spring flower.

The Pond Gardens, the Knot Garden and the Orangery 

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This gardening brilliance continued into a small knot garden, laid out in 1924 to recreate the gardens as they would have been during the Tudor dynasty, and in the Lower Orangery Garden, which flowed from Queen Mary’s passion for collecting exotic plants. Of course the gardens of Hampton Court extend much further than those on this Southern expanse – The Great Fountain Garden is so grand as to be worthy of a post all of its own – and will surely get one in a few days time… But for now, I wanted to share photos of these more manicured gardens. Spaces so vividly enriched by their floral abundance, and so satisfyingly regimental in their layout and design that I could have remained there admiring them forever, especially during these happy days of Spring.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

London, Rediscovering My City: Richmond Park

What Wimbledon Common offered in richly verdant, tightly packed woodland, Richmond boasted in wildly windswept, delightfully untended moorland, where great swathes of sweeping grasslands were punctuated by biblically ancient twisting oak trees, and occasional rugged rockfalls like something more characteristic of Northeast Scotland than Southwest London. But London is indeed the host to an astonishing array of green spaces, and it never fails to surprise me how bucolic an atmosphere can be found so close to the city.

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Last week’s Wimbledon adventure was followed swiftly by a tromp across the harsher, wilder lands of Richmond Park (indeed, we stumbled upon said park when an end to Wimbledon Common brought us to the somewhat harsh reality of the A3, which we rapidly crossed, eyes blinkered, before escaping back into the rural idyll of Richmond). Through one of the grand gold-gilded gateways which mark the entrance to this ancient recreational space, the magnitude of Richmond Park was immediately tangible. To call it a park is to suggest a mild-mannered patch of urban greenery, but this mighty swathe of natural ruggedness is true testament to nature winning out over the city sprawl. Even the occasional car crossing its vast geographical spread cannot compete with the true king of this space – the mighty stag, one of whom we came into satisfyingly close contact with, so much so that at one point we thought an attack was imminent.

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A few hours crossing Richmond Park was enough time to convince us that in London, this great metropolis, an embrace with the great outdoors need never be too far away. Yet just beyond the perimeter of this rurality, a welcome return to civilisation was manifested in the form of the elegant Richmond Hill, whose Georgian houses and small little pubs were glowing a richly golden yellow as all concerned basked in the setting sun, and visitors sipped on bubbles while overlooking one of the most stunning views of the Thames as it snakes alongs its course towards Kingston and beyond. In this way, green turned to gold as our rediscovery of this truly idyllic suburb of London drew to a satisfying close.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Mallorca My Highlights – Part Two: The Second Year

Sometimes I find the thought of Mallorca almost unbearable; that I had such a paradise on my doorstep, that now it feels so far removed from my reality. The ease with which beauty was so readily embraceable; the speed with which it was taken away. The silky smoothness of fresh air as it filled the lungs. The sound of the waves as they nudged gently along the shore.

Yet had I stayed for longer it would have been a paradise lost. A true skill of life is in knowing when the leave the party. Linger too long and the magic is spoilt, and with it the memories are tainted.

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Happily the renewed distance from my beloved Mallorca serves only to enforce the perfection of our two year residency, to allow me the chance to reflect fondly upon a life altering adventure which enabled a level of displacement of which few people can boast. Yes we worked, but we also lived, and the weekends, the evenings, even the mornings in the sun were like an extended holiday. Like we were cheating time.

So in this second collection of Mallorca photos, I look back over our second year on the island, a year in which there was still much to discover and during which the creation of photos went hand in hand with the flurry of artwork I created.

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This may be my final reflection on my two years worth of photos, but it won’t be my last post on Mallorca. For the island has more than earned its place in my heart, and will continue to inspire me. In my reflections, I will relive the turquoise sea and the earthy smell of blood red earth. In my ears I will hear the gentle bells of sheep on a mountainside. And from my hand the palette of Mallorca will play out in my creative output, as the qualities of that great chapter of my life furnish me for the remainder of my story.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

London, Rediscovering My City: Wimbledon Common

Knowing that the first weekend of Spring was going to be gloriously sunny, we had one objective in mind: to get outside. After living two years in Mallorca, London can feel claustrophobic by comparison. Life here is more geared up to the inside – cosy corners, candlelight, cushions – and yet ironically it’s one of the world’s greenest cities, so much so that a map of the city remains recognisable, even when the roads are taken away. This past weekend, we were determined to enjoy some of those green swards, and enjoy them we did. After agonising over Wimbledon or Richmond as potential locations, we actually ended up doing both in one. But the photos which resulted from that extensive walk are so ravishing that frankly I’ve felt compelled to split this post in two. Both green gems need their place in the sun!

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A renewed enthusiasm for the great British outdoors definitely comes of my Mallorcan experience. I spent so much time taking inspiration from the island’s impressive landscape that I realised how little I had devoted myself to the equally beautiful countryside back at home. And the English landscape really is beautiful, a point made no better than by artist David Hockney, whose vast multi-coloured canvases pay homage to the Yorkshire countryside in all its wild beauty, a selection of which can currently be enjoyed in a show of his work at London’s Tate Britain.

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It was to Hockney’s ravishing landscapes that my mind turned this weekend as we set out on our outdoors trek across Wimbledon Common. Within metres of entering the Common from the bustle of Wimbledon Village, we felt as though we had been plunged into the middle of the countryside. Here there were no cars, no litter, few people… you could barely even hear planes. But what could be heard was a relentless chorus of chirping birds awoken by the promise of Spring. The further we walked, the deeper the wooded landscape became, and as the trees leaned inwards over a path made from the footsteps of many, the tunnel effect brought to my mind the works of Hockney, as did the twisting complex maze of branches over head, which looked all the more beautiful for the lack of leaves, which, in mere weeks time, will be covered.

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These photos capture, I think, the very elegant beauty which can be found in the simplest patch of the British outdoors. Here there is no topiary, no control. The flowers are far and few between. Instead the trees, wild and tall had been allowed to dominate, and in the twisting unplanned trajectory of their growth, they had created an architectural marvel which is every inch as impressive as the sea of glittering glass skyscrapers comprising the centre of London, mere miles away.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Solidarity for London

22.3.17 – just another number to add to a growing series of dates which mark terrorist atrocities. The trend begun with 9.11, and those images so ghastly that none of us could believe our eyes. The dates which have followed each add a further horror to this incredible trend of evil, senseless murder in countries known for their civility. Today, London was hit again, and we must once again reflect how unsafe we really are; how, owing to the despicable ignorance of an unconscionable few, we must live life on a knife edge, gambling with our existence when we simply walk over a bridge, or take the tube in the mornings.

Yet we British are famous for our resolve. The show will go on – how could it be otherwise. But that does not mean that we should indulge too far in the English “stiff upper lip”. This is a time to reflect and show emotion. To be shocked and to react. To fight against terror and stand up for our free-thinking democratic society. There is always a bastard in every group of innocents.We must just do everything we can to stop them in their tracks.

So doing my bit for London solidarity, I´m posting a few of my recent shots of London, taken on the go. Their desaturated, grey tonality is beautiful, but also rather appropriate for this sombre day. But while London is today shrouded in the black of mourning, its soul is deeply, strongly, diversely coloured. Centre of the world, standing stronger whatever the adversity.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com