We knew we would have to move the Glevum for the annual powerboat races that, in those days, took place in the harbour every June. As the preparations for them advanced, we moved the Glevum to our allotted space in St Augustine’s Reach. We were to be moored outside the Arnolfini Gallery and we mounted a new exhibition for the event.
We may as well not have bothered; the paintings we showed were not at all to the taste of the visitors to the modern art gallery, housed in the old Bush Warehouse. Far too traditional!
But alongside us was moored Geoff, in a Dutch motor barge called the Peter. Geoff was a genial soul and we, being on a new mooring and feeling as if we were on holiday, thoroughly enjoyed his company. The weather was fine and the harbourside was humming every evening. It was very pleasant to sit out on deck, enjoying a drink, playing guitars and watching the glittering lights in the water and the city nightlife thronging around us. Our two barges, moored alongside each other, seemed like our own private island from which we could observe the bustle.
Sadly, our private island became less and less private as the nights went on. One night, we were awakened at about 2.30am by the sound of heavy footsteps on the metal deck above our heads. I wearily dragged on some clothes and went up to see what was going on.
As I reached the top of the stairs I saw, standing on the quayside, a tall and shapely young lady, with very few inches of skirt below her belt, and as skimpily clad above as below. Her paramour for the evening, was trying to impress her by striding around our deck, presumably pretending to be a pirate.
I opened the wheelhouse door and asked what the hell he thought he was doing, stamping around on someone’s boat at that time of morning.
His reply was belligerent, “And who the f*** do you think you are?” he said.
I stepped out of the wheelhouse and replied, “I’m the one with the baseball bat in his hand”.
It’s extraordinary how apologetic some people become when they are isolated on the foredeck of a barge, with cold dock water all around them.
I stepped back to allow him free access to the gang plank and, as he hastened to the safety of the quayside, he mumbled his apologies .
When the races were over, we moved the Glevum back onto our mooring, outside the Industrial Museum, and life returned to normal.
But it wasn’t the normal for which we had planned. By August, we realised that our business plan was simply not bearing fruit. We didn’t want for visitors; most weekends, we were packed with people from the time we opened to the time we closed and their reaction to our gallery was very encouraging – but they weren’t buying anything. Well, nothing substantial anyway.
An objective analysis of our situation revealed the flaw in my plan. I had based our business prospects upon the galleries around the resorts in Devon and Cornwall. But talking to the people who visited the Glevum had revealed where I had gone wrong – people on holiday in Devon and Cornwall were away for a week or more, therefore their budget would sometimes stretch to spending £50 – £100 on a painting. But the people visiting Bristol Docks were usually on a day trip, or more often Bristolians, just out for a stroll. They might spend £5 on impulse, but generally, very little more.
However, we had put too much in to give up now, so I determined to try and salvage something from the situation.
Amongst local people especially, the reaction to what we had done was universally positive and, during the summer, I had met many very talented artists, eager to display their paintings.
So we would have to become a gallery for Bristol, rather than the gallery for visitors that I had planned.
I immediately started to arrange series of exhibitions from October onwards, showcasing the work of the many talented artists I had met.
The Glevum was on a new course.
To be continued