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Posts from the ‘2019’ Category

From Napoli to Capri, Part 7: Ischia Ponte

Of course, we had to leave the paradisaical grounds of the Tenuta del Antico Poggio eventually, and when we did, we crossed the island, from the vicinity of Forio to the island’s capital town, which combines the dual districts of Ischia Porto and Ischia Ponte. While the former is the main gateway to island visitors coming by boat from Naples, Sorrento and Capri, the latter represents the true historical heart of the island, and is characterised by the sight of its most iconic landmark: the Castello Aragonese.

When we arrived in Ischia Ponte, part modern metropolis; part charming old town, the whole place already felt familiar. It was here that scenes of the house of Dickie Greenleaf were filmed in Minghella’s 1999 thriller, The Talented Mr Ripley, and where Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow reclined back on beach loungers with the imposing silhouette of the Castello Aragonese on the sea’s horizon. It was also here that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton filmed some of the ultimate scenes of the great epic Cleopatra. And today, it was to be the backdrop of another enthralling scene from the life of…Me.

Setting the scene… the streets of Ischia Ponte

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That scene was set, and it carried all the dramatics of a film set, as our stroll through narrow lanes packed tight with pastel coloured fishermen’s houses gave way onto the imposing silhouette of the Castello. Its imposing mass drew us ever closer, as we traversed the narrow causeway which links this ancient rocky mass to the main volcanic island. Once in, a rather tightly packed elevator ride shot us at speed up through the rocky interior and out onto the most splendid terrace alongside the old monastery. The views, back out to Ischia and across the island and Cartaromana Bay were quite impossibly stunning, as likewise was the little shady garden cafe immediately alongside it. There, we happily bedded down with a limoncello spritz for a lunch of sensationally sweet tomato bruschettas, a very Italian coffee cake, and that view as an accompaniment to all courses.

The Castello, the view, the cafe and those exquisite tomatoes…

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Once up in the fortress of the Castello, we could start appreciating its history, and with structures dating back to the first recorded Syracuse manifestation in 474 BC, it certainly has plenty of that. Over the centuries the islet has passed through many hands, and its occupiers (including the Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, Arabs, Normans and Angevins) all left their mark on the structures. It also became a citadel in its own right after an eruption of Ischia’s Monte Epomeo in 1301 forced local inhabitants off the main island. Since then, the Spanish, British and French made further occupations. Today’s mix of hotel, tourist sites and private ownership feels pretty unglamorous by comparison.

Fortess features…

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The thing that struck us about the Castello Aragonese was not just what it could offer historically, but the surprising beauty which sprung up all over the islet in the form of incredibly lush gardens, little vineyards, orchards, cafe’s, art galleries and even a top-notch restaurant. And of course at every turn the views that could be admired were simply ravishing, not least as we walked away from Ischia and overlooked a Bay of Naples which included views of Vesuvius, the Sorrento Peninsula, and our beloved Capri which we would reach a few days hence.

Those impossibly enticing gardens

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We spent many hours on the Castello Aragonese. It’s historical embrace and its garden beauty ensnared us, and we could have remained even longer. It meant we had scant time left to admire the winding streets of Ischia Ponte, and still less the sleepy streets of Ischia Porto. But then again, it’s always good to have something saved for next time…

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.

From Napoli to Capri, Part 6: Giardini La Mortella

Let’s face it, the mellifluous tones of TV gardener, Monty Don, could prove to be quite persuasive. His TV series Monty Don’s Italian Gardens (and indeed the French alternative) are true staples of our household. On dark wintery days, when all the hope of summer seems far away, we run these DVDs in the background to remind us of happier climates and the seasonal spectacles to come. Over the years, we have been to many of the gardens visited by Monty Don, but one which always evaded us was La Mortella on the island of Ischia, the sumptuous scenes of which are some of the most enchanting of Monty’s Italian exploits. So when Monty told us to go there, what could we do?

Ischia booked, we knew this was going to be priority no.1. So much so that on the day when celebrated our 10th year anniversary, Dominik and I made a beeline for the place. Conceived in 1956 by the late Lady Susana Walton, Argentinian wife of famed British composer, Sir William Walton, the sub-tropical and Mediterranean gardens were a true project of passion, being seeded from almost nothing in the arid volcanic hillside of a rocky promontory overlooking the bay of Forio, and developed into a lush garden of Eden displaying some of the most exquisite varieties of plants from across the globe.

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Working with determination and a heavy dose of her Latin spirit, Susana planted enthusiastically and with daring originality, importing plants from all over the world to create a garden quite unlike any other. As the plants took to the perfectly sunny climate of Ischia, so an almost unbroken canopy of verdant leaves spread over the skyline, creating underneath a micro-climate in which tropical varieties could thrive and add vivacious colour.

I speak often of finding paradise, but I must admit that as I strolled through the gardens of La Mortella, I felt we had come closer than ever to finding it. The softness created by sweeping leaves and palms and flowers hanging, nudging and caressing the space at every twist and turn is deeply satisfying. The dappled sunlight passing through vast tropical trees creates a kind of disco-ball like effect, and as if to further refresh and entice the visitors, a series of idyllic fountains and rivets of water are generously scattered throughout the garden, conceived with the help of Russell Page, the famous landscape architect.

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The garden takes advantage of the suggested natural landscape, moving and twisting up steep volcanic cliffs to unveil further openings of gardens, each having slightly different themes and offering sumptuous views. I must admit to being less of a fan of the false crocodiles and other such paraphernalia which became more prevalent as the gardens moved skywards, but the overall effect was truly ravishing. We could have stayed there forever.

Today the gardens are run by the William Walton Foundation, and every summer the foundation organises a series of classical music recitals in the gardens in honour of the great composer. We were lucky enough to enjoy a highly emotive and utterly beautiful guitar recital by Neapolitan classical guitarist – Francesco Scelzo – making for the perfect ending to the perfect anniversary spent in yet another Ischian slice of paradise.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.

Honeymoon and Hotels: Tenuta del Poggio Antico

I have spoken much of the incredible garden and grounds of the Tenuta del Poggio Antico, a hotel in Ischia which personifies the meaning of “boutique”. But I have not really addressed the views, and more particularly the views from our bedroom which were quite frankly breathtaking. Looking westwards over the sweeping bay of Citara, across to the Punta Imperatore, and across the horizon towards the tiny islands of Ventotene, the view was quite honestly jaw-droppingly beautiful. I had already promised myself, the hotel staff, and anyone else who cared to listed that I would make the most of our terrace and paint that ravishing view. But when it came to it, I was so awe-struck that I didn’t even know where to begin. Eventually, however, I did.

Our terrace benefited from every inch of that incredible view. Given its westerly direction, we enjoyed the most incredibly sunsets by night and watched the sea mist dissipate over the sea as the morning sunshine cleared a path for its golden rays. But my favourite time to enjoy this view was around about 5 in the afternoon, when we would return from a day’s sightseeing, and I would settle down to paint this…

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View at the Tenuto del Poggio Antico (©2019, Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

This view is the latest in my collection of Honeymoon and Hotels gouaches. I love it for the extent of the view it captures, but also for the creamy pinky dusky hues contrasting so starkly with that wonderful Hockney-style blue pool. It goes down in my collection as one of the favourites.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.

From Napoli to Capri, Part 5: Ischia…our little slice of Paradise

I always knew that Ischia, our next destination after Naples, was going to be a paradise isle. How could it not be, having seen those ravishing scenes filmed in Ischia Ponte in Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley? Yet apart from that film, and the odd garden profiled on Monty Don’s Italian Gardens, I knew very little about the island which many refer to as Capri’s poorer sister. How wrong they are. And how right I was to suspect that Ischia would be a little slice of Paradise.

Embarkation into the little port of Forio, with its little domed churches and pastel coloured buildings jutting alongside a small harbour, gave a first scintillating taster of how pretty Ischia would be. But if Forio was the aperitif, our hotel was set to be the starter, main and dessert all rolled into one. I had laboured over hotel websites long and hard in the run-up to this holiday, uncertain whether to go for a beach side hotel for the views, to a thermal retreat to benefit from the island’s naturally hot mineral waters, or for something altogether more bucolic. In the end, the latter won the day, as the Tenuta del Poggio Antico ensnared me with its promise of olive trees and vineyards, mountainous panoramas and a sweeping cerulean blue pool.

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As we took a little mini bus up perilously narrow roads, each becoming steeper and more green in its turn, and arrived up the perfectly manicured driveway of this boutique hideaway, we discovered a place that not only lived up to its promises, but multiplied on them, ten times over. Here is a hotel which benefits not just from the dramatic mountainous backdrop immediately behind it, but also from the most ravishing views of the bay of Citara and the Mediterranean horizon at sunset.

The decor was subtly chic, but not lacking authenticity – tasteful to the nth degree – its white breakfast room with white drapery wafting slowly in a gentle sea breeze being one such space where my heart melted on contact. Here, a vineyard with grapes growing in miniature made us feel like we were in the heart of Tuscany, while the thermal pool nestled alongside it provided perfect vine-views while being able to enjoy its best vintage from the comfort of Ischia’s warm waters.

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But best of all things was the pool. A sweeping curved basin of perfectly blue water around which the most sumptuous flowering Mediterranean gardens spilled out in every direction. Jasmine, lavender, pomegranate blossom, geraniums and countless others I couldn’t even name – all were present to frame this hotel with a kaleidoscope of ravishing colour.

Thanks to the Tenuta del Poggio Antico, we had truly found our own little slice of Paradise. We could have stayed there in perpetuity. But of course Ischia awaited. More about that next time.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.

My Travel Sketchbook: Naples

Many berate Naples for being a filthy city; strewn with graffiti, laden down by crime, full of waifs and strays wandering the menacing dark streets until visitors are so scared they depart swiftly on a ferry for Capri…Are such concerns an illusion? For me, the madness of Napoli is what makes the city so enduring alluring. Yes, it’s somewhat tragic that the local authorities turn a blind eye to the relentless street art and vandalism coating some of Italy’s most beautiful baroque palazzi. But look beyond it, and you will find a city as architecturally rich as Rome or Palermo, with countless sources of visual spectacle.

So when it came to flicking over the pages of my sketchbook from Pompeii to this great city, I was once again spoiled for choice. I settled upon a location that we discovered when we were in search of Naples’ undisputed masterpiece – Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of MercyThe painting’s location, in the Pio Monte della Misericordia is right opposite one of Naples’ smallest but most beautfiul squares, the Piazza Sisto Riario Sforza, in the centre of which stands a structure of breathtaking baroque beauty… the Obelisco di San Gennaro. And here it was that I settled down to sketch.

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Obelisco di San Gennaro (©2019 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

It was an ambitious composition to choose to be sure. During the hours of sketching which proceeded, I secretly cursed all of those elaborate baroque embellishments which made the scene such a challenge to draw. I also didn’t realise at the time that the stunning domed structure which can be seen in the distance is the cupola of Naples’ Duomo. So a significant scene to sketch indeed. And at the end of my many baroque-induced struggles, I must say that I am pretty pleased with the result.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2019. 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 artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

From Napoli to Capri, Part 4: Catacombs, Chiara, Caravaggio

More than any other district of the city, the Spaccanapoli embodies the spirit of a city emboldened by its own insuperable energy, history and cultural superiority. In Napoli, city of dangerous extremes, crimes of passion, astonishing food and stunning geography, the Spaccanapoli feels like the ancient core of a time-battered city, like the old family grandmother ticking along besides the central hearth. It is an area whose quaint narrow streets are intermittently broken by staggering baroque palazzi; which has so many squares and churches and historical buildings that it feels like an open air museum; but whose array of shops and cafes, all overflowing with locals, demonstrates that this is no still life for the tourists: this is the living, breathing heart of a city which never stops.

But for all the life that courses through its streets, Naples is a city that is morbidly fascinated with death. Whether this obsession acts more like a memento mori – a reminder to seize the day and live to the full (which Neapolitans almost certainly do) is unclear. Whatever the reason, I have never before experienced a place quite so haunted by the ghosts of its past, and by the creepy presence of the dead.

 The Catacombs of San Gaudioso

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This was no more so than in the Catacombs of San Gaudioso, a dark cavernous place accessible only through a secret trap door in the Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanita. There, in the depths of this once historical burial place, the tombs of the dead were marked not only by painted images of their former selves, but by their real skulls embedded into the wall. Meanwhile, downstairs, the alcoves still remain where bodies would be propped to be drained of their liquid selves, before being buried as a decidedly reduced form.

San Gaudioso was spooky to be sure, but offered a fascinating insight into Naples’ extensive underworld. Back in the sunlight, an oozingly cheesy pumpkin and pancetta pizza in the Piazza del Gesù reinvigorated any spirits which might have been temporarily subdued in the world of the dead, and gave us nourishment and energy in sufficient doses to appreciate the magnificence of two staggering places of worship in the heart of the Spaccanapoli – the Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo, with its diamond-like facade and its staggering golden interior, and the mesmerising Cloisters of Santa Chiara.

The Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo

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In Santa Chiara, in particular, we were stunned into submission by the mastery and magnificence which a garden filled with hand-painted majolica tiles embodied. Each depicting pastoral scenes, fruits and floral patterns, the overall effect was dazzling, and was to be a fitting precursor to the many beautiful majolica tiles we were to find decorating the floors of so many homes and hotels in Capri.

The Cloisters of Santa Chiara

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But it was back into the gloom for the end of the day… albeit a gloom punctuated by the staggering light created by the undisputed master of light and shadow: Caravaggio. I have long wanted to see his masterpiece, The Seven Works of Mercy, in person. After all, I have traipsed across Europe admiring so much of the oeuvre of this incredible bad-boy< artist. But as is always the case with a Caravaggio painting, properly lit and embedded within the surroundings he intended, seeing this work in the Pio Monte della Misericordia was quite an experience, and once which was a fitting conclusion for this exhilarating day in the Spaccanapoli.

Caravaggio in the flesh

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.

From Napoli to Capri, Part 3: It Continued in Naples

See Naples and die, or so they say… well I suppose we all have to die at some point, but the sight of Naples will not be the thing that finishes me off. For with its fantastic tangle of mad urban bustle, its multi-layered, jam-packed and over-constructed landscapes, its fiery hot-blooded temperament, and its mix of the baroque extravaganza with graffiti-strewn slum, Naples is to my mind a city to see, to experience and to savour.

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After the historical still-life that we experienced in Pompeii, we thirsted for something more akin to modern day madness. And where better to find it than in Naples, the city that never sleeps, never tires, but bustles with all the energy of its rather unstable tectonic foundations. So on this second day of our Naples adventure, we took to the streets of the Spaccanapoli, the Vomero, the Via Toledo and the Decumano Maggiore, each regions of a city exuding more character than I did sweat in the searing heat of day.

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From vast churches and convents to spooky catacombs and cocktail bars, we covered an awful lot as we continued our tour of Naples. But let us savour those characterful streets for now. This post concentrates on the fabric of the city, on those splendid baroque spectacles, on the multi-layered cityscapes constructed of palazzo upon pauper’s house, on the cramped shops selling sfogliatelli, and the cafes whose steaming hot terraces proved to be the perfect place for an extra strong negroni. See Naples… and live!

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.

My Travel Sketchbook: Pompeii

How could I not take my travel sketchbook out with me on this trip? With antiquity abound, stunning scenery and the ancient city of Naples splayed out before me, I could have sketched non-stop. Sadly, time never allows for such a frequency of activity. But it did allow for this sketch of a pile of ruins in Pompeii.

Pompeii is the kind of place which lends itself to monochrome sketching at every turn. With so many ruins, textures, half-battered statues, discarded pots and mosaics (to name but a few features), all set against a backdrop of mountains and that ubiquitous Vesuvius, I was spoilt for choice in my decision of where to open my sketchbook. In the end I opted for this place – a pile of rubble towards the exit of the archaeological site, which appeared to lack the significance attributed to some areas, but which had one very striking highlight at its heart – a magnificent bronze nude, rising from the rubble and set against a staggering mountainous panorama.

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Pompeii Ruins (©2019 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

The statue itself is a modern addition to Pompeii, but by no means an unwelcome one, embodying the spirit of the place but providing a startling green/ bronze contrast to the monochrome colour of rubble and ruins. Of course the colours cannot be appreciated from this sketch in black pen, but the variance of topography it provides is what, for me, makes the landscape, and the composition of this sketch, interesting.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2019. 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 artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

From Napoli to Capri, Part 2: Pompeii

Pompeii: It’s a story which almost everybody knows, an eruption of such violent magnitude that it has fascinated writers, artists, poets and film-makers throughout the ages, making it a volcanic event more famous than any other. But the reason why Pompeii is so famous is not because of the eruption that destroyed a city in AD79, but because of the ghost of the city that was left behind. For beneath the ashes, the pumice and the multiple strata of volcanic material emerges the perfect footprint of a true Roman town, that gives us a compelling glimpse into the world of ancient Rome, its town planning, society and its people.

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Today’s Pompeii is deeply romantic. The remnants of this ancient world, cast in semi-dereliction but clinging onto mere glimpses of its fully resplendent past, are tinged with the melancholia of the romantic imagination, as weeds and wildflowers grown amongst rubble and the remains of once grand palaces and temples. It all feels rather like a idyllic pastiche from an 18th century imagined landscape… one half expects a giggling maid to sweep into the scene on a flower-strung swing tied onto a nearby tree, her rococo dress shimmering in the setting sun.

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Yet beneath the beauty of decay lies a far sadder truth – the reality of Pompeii’s end. Time is healer, but we should not forget how the people of Pompeii met their end: in an agony of excruciating burning and suffocation as the scalding gases of a pyroclastic surge swept through the town literally boiling people to death. It would have been a truly horrific way to die. Reminders of this cruel ending are all around in Pompeii: figures cast from plaster and created from the vacuum left in layers of volcanic ash as bodies have withered away demonstrate people contorted in pain, their hands rolled into tight fists as their bodies flex against the searing heat and agony, lovers clinging to one another, parents embracing their child in a final embrace.

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It was this tragic demise, and reminders of Pompeii’s daily life in the form of takeaway food bars, piles of bottles, jewellery, brothels, theatres and houses, which filled my mind as we visited Pompeii one very hot afternoon last June. True, I was fascinated by this ancient Roman world which we had so easily and transformatively stepped into. But I was also struck by the great tragedy which this vast archaeological site represents, and by the great irony that without the scale and extent of that vast eruption and its tragic consequences, we would never have had the opportunity to so totally immerse ourselves in a rare slice of the ancient world. For that alone we must be happy.

These are some of my photos from our day, in Pompeii.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.

Honeymoon and Hotels: Mareluna Napoli

Four years ago, I started what was to become a collection of gouache images of hotels. From my first image painted during our honeymoon, of our pretty pink little bedroom in the ravishing Colombe d’Or Hotel in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, with the iconic Calder mobile visible through the window and my painting tools spread on the wooden desk, a story of images was born – images which have since gone on the capture countless bedrooms and views from the many incredible hotels which have played host to us on our holidays.

As we arrived in Naples and looked onto the most ravishing views of the sea and the Castel dell’Ovo, I knew that the next chapter in my narrative of honeymoon and hotels was just around the corner, and I painted this work: Mareluna Napol, named after the hotel of the same name.

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Mareluna Napoli (©2019 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

This small painting is no traditional capture of the Neapolitan landscape, but in its haphazardness drunkenness, vivacity and freshness of colour, and that centralised seaside view, it is a very much a homage to Naples. All that is missing is a pizza! But true to form, this is very much an image of our hotel room in the Mareluna Suite de Charme, whose wooden floor and ceiling contrasted dramatically with the fresh white walls and retro curved plastic ceiling light, while its wrought iron balcony so perfectly framed that resplendent view in all its Mediterranean majesty.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised 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.