Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Barnflakes' top 20 of the year

Low—Double Negative album cover

Barnflakes celebrates the people, moments, music and movies that defined 2018.

1. Moving to Cornwall [Event]
2. Looking for fossils at Lyme Regis with daughter [Event]
3. Being a juror for five weeks at the Old Bailey [Event]
4. Beauty and the Brutalist exhibition [Event]
5. Going Slovenia [Country]
6. Bob Dylan – More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 [Album] 
7. Low – Double Negative [Album] 
8. Stopping smoking [Major Event. My New Year's Resolution is to start again. Joking!]
9. Sitting outside a pub with DJ Nind on the Portobello Road on a glorious weekday afternoon, having bought some records (and fearing they'd melt, it was so hot), watching the people go by and talking trash [Event]
10. Long Cornish walks [Event]
11. Gazelle Twin – Pastoral [Album] 
12. The Shape of Water [Film]
13. Kurt Vile – Bottle It In [Album]
14. Mandy [Film]
15. It's a Shame About Ray [Book design]
16. 'Meeting' Ross Poldark [Event]
17. Charity shop bargains [Barngains]
18. Leonard Cohen – The Flame [Book]
19. The Other Side of the Wind [Film]
20. Cleaning my records [Event]

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Enigma of Casper the Cat

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is a 1974 film directed by Werner Herzog, based on the true story of the eponymous Kaspar, who claimed to have lived in total isolation, chained in a dark cellar for the first seventeen years of his life. Many historians now believe Hauser to have been a fraudster.

"Casper lives in a world without promise
Sitting at home in his pyjamas
Just wishing it would all go away somehow

He walked by but he never saw us
He could have been a famous guitarist
He must have not have had a clue"

– Daniel Johnston, Casper the Friendly Ghost

Casper is a big cat, and we'd both have to brace ourselves for his landings. In the mornings he'd jump up on our bed, meow, and settle himself on one of our chests, inches away from our noses, his whiskers tickling our cheeks. We'd feel his cold breath on our faces as he purred contentedly and dug his claws into the duvet. If we were spooning in bed, he would lie diplomatically across both of us, half and half.

It occurred to me a while ago that whilst my former pet cat, Casper, occupied the same space as me, lived with me within the same four walls, to all extents was a member of my family (or so I liked to think; we didn't have any children), he had a completely different experience of life to me. Yes, sure, he's a cat, but I could also be talking about my wife, Annie, who also left me.

I used to say to her that Casper's one of the world’s great thinkers, with a Buddhist-like propensity for sitting still and staring into space, thinking great thoughts. When he stared into nothing with his big black eyes, I always thought he was seeing things us humans couldn't see. Annie wasn't so sure. She thought when he stared into space he was staring at sounds, looking in the direction where he could hear things that we couldn't. Either way, he experienced things us humans didn't.

It was when I'd left for work one morning Casper told Annie I'd been having an affair. She told me later she screamed so loud but wasn't sure what was most upsetting – me having the affair or Casper speaking, in English, and sounding a bit like Kenneth Williams. It was the first time in recorded history a cat had ever spoken a human language. Casper was exaggerating somewhat when he said I'd had an affair. I'd spent time with a female neighbour, it's true, but less than half a dozen times, in the evening, when Annie was out at yoga. It meant nothing. I was stupid, but it was a blip. But for Casper to tell Annie was a gross betrayal. I thought we'd had a bond.

I knew something was amiss that day because Annie hadn't answered any of my texts, and when I got home sure enough, she was gone, and so was the cat. I knew they weren't coming back (there was a note which emphatically said so). Well, not until I was gone, which happened very early the next morning with a loud knock on the door from the police.

At first I thought they had the wrong address. I opened the door to two policemen in uniform and a detective. Then I thought it was a joke – I racked my mind for what I'd done wrong (all I could think of was the fling with the neighbour). The detective told me I was under arrest for domestic abuse, kidnapping and torture. Eh? I'd never laid a finger on Annie. I protested, they said the usual 'anything you say will be taken down and could be used in court later', though it was the first time I'd actually heard it spoken outside of films and TV. They forcibly escorted me to the police station.

This was all surely some mistake; some Kafkaesque administration error. Nevertheless, I tried to be as co-operative as I could. My photo was taken and fingerprints digitally scanned. I was read my rights. I was asked if I'd taken drugs, or drunk alcohol or was liable to self-harm. I said no. An officer asked me if I wanted a solicitor. I didn't see any need. They put me in a cell for two hours.

When they let me out I was taken to the interview room. It was here I was read the full charges against me. It was here that I think I fainted. I was being accused by Casper – my cat – of these so-called crimes. I looked at the officers. They were serious. They advised me to accept legal counsel and a solicitor was appointed to me.

I loved Casper like a member of my family, probably more so than most humans. The list of offences against me went on for several pages, and they were all read out to me. Most I thought were pretty trivial to say the least, but apparently this was no laughing matter. Torture, kidnapping and false imprisonment was the general gist of it.

More specifically: the plaintiff was taken away from his parents and siblings at a young age which caused him considerable psychological and emotional trauma. The plaintiff had his genitals removed against his will. The plaintiff was forced to eat the same boring, horrible cat food every day, food not even good enough for dogs (this one really got me – Annie used to joke that he had tapas for dinner every night – a selection of cat food, chicken, fish and biscuits). The plaintiff's litter tray was not always changed regularly. The plaintiff was frequently locked inside the house alone, and on three occasions, for an entire weekend. The plaintiff was, on occasion, kicked (I would have called it a gentle nudge). The plaintiff was placed in a box and escorted to vets against his will, and had treatments and operations he was unaware of (which cost me hundreds of pounds).

I was under arrest. I made a statement and pleaded not guilty. My solicitor advised me not to say anything else so I didn't. The police had a warrant to search my house. A court day was set.

Within hours it was all over social media. The #MeowNow movement was launched. It seemed inevitable that cats would take to Twitter like a duck to water; after all, they love birds – to catch, to play with, to torture, and sometimes even to eat. They tweeted till the cows came home. Then the floodgates really opened. Other pets followed suit. Animal rights marches and protests took place in major cities. There were pussy riots in the streets. Within months, a law was invoked decrying pet ownership illegal, and having a pet was suddenly likened to slavery. All pets were declared sentient beings. Pet shops were shut down. Making fun of cats on the internet was banned.

What can I say? I was the fall guy, the patsy. I wasn't released on bail; I had to stay in the cell, for my own safety as well as for the protection of all cats. Nevertheless, I thought I had a good case for the trial. I'd had great times with Casper. The truth would shine through. It wasn’t until I was in the courtroom and noticed that the jury consisted of six cats, three dogs, two humans and a hamster that I started to get really uneasy. Only then did my solicitor inform me that the prosecution was a prominent pet rights lawyer.

The trail was all a blur, to tell the truth, and I did tell the truth, mostly. Witnesses came and went, evidence was presented – cat litter tray, cat food sachets, photos, my text messages and phone records, CCTV footage, you name it. Vets, scientists and psychologists gave evidence. All the time Casper sat there, Sphinx-like and poker-faced, either on the witness stand or watching from the public gallery. The jury was putty in his paws. He seemed to hypnotise them with his big eyes like black moons, his Kenneth Williams purr-like voice.

My solicitor was next to useless. He knew the result of the case before it started, and merely went through the motions. The prosecution, on the other hand, was like an actor on a stage. He was in his element.

His summing up speech, to be fair, encapsulated man's sometimes uneasy relationship with pets. He started on a light note. There's an urban myth that 15% of all internet traffic is cat-related, he intoned, almost in a purr of a voice. Everyone loves cats, he went on, and pets in general. Indeed, in a recent survey some 90% of British households considered their pets to be members of the family. In fact, 42% of British pet owners love their pet more than their partner (light mirth from the jurors). We are spending more money on our pets than ever before. So what's the problem then? He asked the jury rhetorically.

The problem is, he continued, the more we think of our pets as being part of the family, the more we think of them as being human, the more difficult it to justify keeping them as pets. More and more research shows us that pets, from cats to goldfish, have far more emotional feelings than we previously thought. They are independent, free-thinking, emotional beings that we are treating like prisoners. We are deciding where they go, what they eat. We are deciding if they have genitals or not, for God's sake! It is not our choice to make! With cats, we call it neutering and spaying. In human terms, it would be called castration and female genital mutilation.

Then the lawyer zeroed in on me one last time – me, the abuser and torturer – and it was all over. The jury took two hours to reach a guilty verdict. The judge gave me three years. Casper blinked at me and licked his lips. The public gallery erupted in applause. The press went mad. Casper was a celebrity.

When I got out of prison, 25 months later for good behaviour, my life was in shreds. I rented a room in a house away from London, and kept mostly to myself. I changed my name. I'd received enough death threats. But I missed the company of a woman and a cat. The amount of times I said to Annie I wished Casper could speak and tell us what he's thinking and feeling, but in truth, well, in hindsight, I preferred it when cats couldn't talk.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Protest music is dead! Long live protest music!

“Fossil fueling, masturbation, immigration, liberal kitsch, kneeling on a pitch”
– All the big ones addressed in The 1975’s Love It If We Made It

In this age of Brexit, climate change, huge disparities between rich and poor, diminishing wildlife populations and a thousand other near-apocalyptic predictions for the future happening in front of our eyes, we were wondering where the fuck was all the modern protest music in the U.K.

Well, for starters it’s not played on Pirate FM (the default Cornish radio station). Besides, apparently people over the age of 35 don’t listen to new music. But it’s out there, it’s angry, it’s loud, and most importantly, it’s good to dance to.

Pastoral by Gazelle Twin and Merrieland by Damon Albarn's supergroup The Good, The Bad and The Queen both tackle Brexit head on. Albarn has been examining what it means to be British since the days of Park Life. There's an argument that's been circulating the internet for some time that Britpop helped fuel nationalism, so perhaps this is Albarn trying to make amends, exploring Britain's loss of identity in a variety of musical styles.

Pastoral is scary stuff, featuring an Adidas-clad, demonic pied piper (see the Banksy-esque cover, above, mocking classical music publisher Deutsche Grammophon) touring modern England, from the phone-hacking scandal to false nostalgia. From the outset, the music is a frightening mash-up of ancient, traditional, folk sounds and chants combined with frenzied, electronic beats to create an England divided and adrift. Gazelle Twin is the moniker of Elizabeth Bernholz, a Brighton musician. It comes as no surprise that she conceived of the project whilst watching Fever Ray live.

There's also some chanting on Suede's latest album, The Blue Hour, which gives us a slice of British Gothic horror, reflecting Brett Anderson's recent move to Somerset. Whilst not overtly political, the album's dark themes of a missing child, dead animals and rubbish dumps conjure up an anti-pastoral, modern bucolic realism not often glimpsed in contemporary rock.

It's pretty much a political act in itself to have an album recorded entirely in the Cornish language; more confusing if the singer is actually Welsh. Anyway, this is what Gwenno has done on her album, Le Kov, sounding like a Welsh-Cornish lass singing Gainsbourg-era Jane Birkin via Air and St Etienne.

Whilst the Idles’ shout-singing-post-punk-anthems on their album Joy as an Act of Resistance, “don’t care about the next James Bond", they are "...wondering where the high street’s gone” in an impassioned and timely album.

Though modern dating isn’t my biggest worry for the planet, MGMT also tackle the current political climate and technology addiction on their fourth album, Little Dark Age.

Nenah Cherry, whose last two albums are as good as anything she's ever done (2012's The Cherry Thing and The Blank Project from 2014), released Broken Politics in October, her second album produced by Elliott School alumni Kieran Hebden a.k.a. Four Tet. Immigration and gun control are two issues she sings about as well as more personal issues.

If protest music used to mean folk music, à la Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan or, in the UK, Billy Bragg, with acoustic guitar wailings about times a changing, nowadays a rap, dance or indy song will reach more people and hopefully have more impact. Here's to Anarchy in the U.K.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

My daughter's top ten books, aged 12½

1. The Darkest Minds—Alexandra Bracken
2. Inkheart—Cornelia Funke
3. In the Afterlight—Alexandra Bracken
4. The Hunger Games—Suzanne Collins
5. Catching Fire—Suzanne Collins
6. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard—Rick Riordan
7. Never Fade—Alexandra Bracken
8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—J. K. Rowling
9. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children—Ransom Riggs
10. Listen to the Moon—Michael Morpurgo

What about all the classics? I asked. Alice in Wonderland, Charlotte’s Web, Great Expectations, Franny and Zooey, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Bible? Nope, she said.

Previously on Barnflakes:
My daughter's top ten films, aged 12 
Notes on Harry Potter

Flickagram #6

Top 10 Cornish towns for charity shops

When I was moving down to Cornwall, people would say to me oh everything’s so much cheaper down there. I’d look at them and say, oh is it? Is Tesco cheaper? Is public transport cheaper? They’d double back a bit and say, well, you know, property is. Ah. Of course. Aside – and I know it’s a big aside – from property, everything is actually more expensive than London (and wages are far lower), from the dentist and doctor to public transport and restaurants. I’ve never believed the myth that the country is cheaper, having lived in it before. You need a car to get anywhere. Restaurants, being few and far between, are over-priced and terrible. There’s no NHS dentists. There’s no subsidies for public transport so it costs £8 to get two miles down the road on the bus.

Worst of all, as everyone’s poor and there’s no jobs, the charity shops are like rubbish dumps. You may have noticed a distinct lack of barngains in the last six months. There are none (though to be fair H still seems to pick up some great clothes for a song).

1. Penznace
2. Falmouth
3. Truro
4. Newquay
5. St Austell

6. Bodmin
7. St Ives
8. Redruth

9. Camborne
10. Helston

Monday, December 03, 2018

Roeg's Gallery

On 30 July 2007, two giants of European cinema, Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, died on the same day. Around last weekend, two more great European film directors (I’d never brand Roeg an English filmmaker, that sounds so… provincial) passed away. Nicholas Roeg died on Friday 23 and Bernardo Bertolucci on Monday 26 November.

Both directed a run of extraordinary films in the 1970s (what was it with the seventies when every director from Altman to Scorsese and Ashby to Weir directed a string of great films, then lost the plot?). Bertolucci made The Conformist, The Spider's Stratagem, Last Tango in Paris and 1900. Roeg directed Performance, Walkabout, Don't Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth. Both directors were true originals and irreplaceable. (I've written previously about Roeg, see link below.)

Roeg Gallery from top to bottom: Performance (1970), Walkabout (1971), Don't Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Bad Timing (1980) and The Witches (1990).

Previously on Barnflakes: 
Top 10 British Film Directors
Skinny dipping in the movies

Elsewhere on the web:
17 rare times when a director made five or more great films in a row

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Rachael's Cornwall to Antarctica journey

In participation with Homeward Bound, Cornish friend and environmentalist Rachael Bice is soon embarking on a journey from Cornwall to Antarctica to raise awareness about the lack of women working in STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths).

I designed a series of four illustrations (the one above was unused, but probably my favourite) for Rachael, which she is going to use as postcards. Those who sponsor her will receive one posted from Port Lockroy in Antarctica. The designs will also be available as posters, bags and tea towels.

Sponsor her now on Crowdfunder and view my other designs there too. I wish her all the best.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Top ten records I would have bought in Totnes if I had any money

I probably looked through more vinyl in Totnes, Devon, than I have in any market town, ever (it was like the Hay-on-Wye for records). For a start there was a record fair on, so I perused through that. Then charity shops, of course, with prices more ridiculous than the record fair (£20 for the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, anyone?). Then various vintage shops with some racks of records, and finally a lovely cafe and overpriced record shop called Drift, which sold mainly new records and CDs. Nothing was cheap and I didn't buy a thing.

1. Holger Czukay Movies
2. Crazy Horse Crazy Horse
3. Kurt Vile Bottle It In
4. Jóhann Jóhannsson Mandy (Film Soundtrack)
5. Propaganda A Secret Wish
6. John Coltrane Both Directions At Once
7. Thom Yorke Suspiria (Film Soundtrack)
8. Ty Segall Freedom's Goblin
9. Bob Dylan More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14
10. Furniture The Wrong People

In the evening we went to an art gallery hosting four DJ sets, a mix of psychedelic, post punk and dub. It was good music and fun. The films Pink Flamingos and The Warriors were projected on the wall. I was afraid of being the oldest person there, but was in fact one of the youngest. The evening started a little tense, like being at an AA party (and I've been to one), but people got limbered up as the night went on, even if it did feel a bit like an iconic comedy sketch of a Fun Night Out In Totnes. A man in dreadlocks wearing a Sun of Albion leather vest asked me if I wanted to buy a magic poem from his red top hat. There was a man wearing a rainbow-coloured beanie hat holding a wooden staff. There was a man wearing black gloves, Michael Jackson style. In other words, people had character and danced like it was 1991. Which is no bad thing.

Previously on Barnflakes:
One Totnes Pound

Amazon Prime / Netflix mash-ups

We watched some of Outlander, where a woman from 1945 is magically transported back to 18th century Scotland via a circle of stones. It reminded me of the stone monolith in the shed in The Sinner, season two, where the boy, Julian, gets taken to a detention centre, which could have been, but wasn’t, the same one in Orange Is the New Black. The Sinner also has Julian having similar nightmares, actually when he was awake and couldn’t move with a person in a hooded cloak coming towards him (actually not a nightmare at all), to Nell in The Haunting on Hill House, who also had waking nightmares and couldn’t move and had the Bent-Neck Lady walking towards her (also not a nightmare). In other words, they're all blending into one.

What unites them all – aside from characters, plot and locations all morphing into one* – and many other shows on Neflix and Amazon Prime, is the ability to have lashings of sex and violence (and, apparently, worst of all, smoking: Stranger Things has been the biggest culprit), elements most traditional mainstream TV, such as the BBC, ITV or Fox, isn't allowed. Streaming websites don't need to comply to FCC regulations, something they make full use of, often at the expense of acting and plot.

Sex is particular is actually quite refreshing to see – we've become so accustomed to violence in the media, from films to video games, but with sex and nudity we're rather prudish. But it's swearing, according to a 2016 Ofcom report, that offends British viewers most: 42% in their survey said they found bad language most offensive on TV.

I don't mind a bit of sex, violence, swearing and smoking, but the night-long male rape scene in a prison in Outlander went a bit too far.

*What they also all have in common is an inability to tell a story from start to finish. I always thought when this happened, they had a straightforward script then realised it was pretty boring being so linear, so decided to mix it up in the editing. Whatever, every single Netflix or Prime series we’ve seen mixes up the past (i.e. flashbacks) and present to the point that every five minutes there's a flashback or forward. Of course filmmakers from Welles, Roeg and Godard – "A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order" – have been doing similar for years but in a TV series I find it rather disruptive and confusing.

Top ten worst inventions

On a daily basis, I’m amazed any of these took off.

1. Cars
2. Microsoft 
3. Football 
4. TV
5. Offices
6. Social media
7. Rucksacks 
8. The Daily Mail
9.  Single-use plastics
10. Mobile phones

Blimey, it's just occurred to me... that's most people's lives right there.

NB: This is top ten #100

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top ten dislikes

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Random film review: Circle of Light

Circle of Light: The photography of Pamela Bone
Dir: Anthony Roland | Sound: Elsa Stansfield and Delia Derbyshire | UK | 1972 | 32mins.

From the director's website, where you can also rent and watch Circle of Light: “This film without words is composed of Pamela Bone’s unique photographic transparencies. Her talent has been said to ‘push photography beyond its own limits, liberating it to the status of an entirely creative art form’. Inspired by nature, and being more responsive to feeling than to thought, Miss Bone has sought to express the mystery and beauty of the inner vision through photographic means alone: landscape has the quality of a dream; children on the sea-shore have a sense of their own enchantment, trees are foreboding and strange when night moves in their arms. It took Miss Bone twenty years to find the right technique and so overcome the limitations that photography would impose."

Delia Derbyshire, who died in obscurity of renal failure in 2001, has become something of a cult figure in early electronic music. Her pioneering work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop spawned the Dr Who theme. Since her death there have been plays, dramas and exhibitions about her life and work (her posthumous recognition reminds me somewhat of Alan Turing, mathematician and computer scientist, who remained unknown for many years due to his homosexuality; in Derbyshire's case it was partly due to being a woman in a male-dominated industry).

Trunk Records released the soundtrack to Circle of Light on vinyl in 2016. Consisting of natural sounds combined with the odd Dr Who-esque drone, it works best with Bone's mysterious and sometimes beautiful images of nature, parts of which come across as a slower version of Stan Brakhage's Mothlight.


Previously on Barnflakes:
The Putney Shed Synth

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Flickagram #5

Overheard #11

“That’s a cynical sunset.”

“Does my cock look big in these [jeans]?”

“She treats me like I’m part of the furniture – but not anything she’d want to sit on.

“She's [Stormy Daniels] just a storm in a double D cup.
“The difference between my week and weekend is I don’t feel guilty for doing nothing at the weekend.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Train tales #2: taking the piss

Yes, Train tales #1 was back in 2013.

The smell of him fills the train carriage before I even see him, before he's even in the carriage. An overriding stench of urine and alcohol. The man sits across the aisle from me, opposite me. The smell of him makes me want to gag. He looks fairly respectable, possibly in his late 30s, neatly cut curly black hair, glasses, green jacket. But the bottom of his jeans are filthy, and he has a filthy carrier bag full of stuff. From which he proceeds to unpack a smart-looking video camera and an iPad. He connects the two up. Not your typical homeless guy, for sure.

At least I'm an aisle apart from him; there's a woman sitting directly opposite him on the same table. She looks aghast and is perhaps holding her breath. The guy is quite pleasant and chatty, in that mad kind of way, half muttering to himself, half talking to the woman. She doesn't really want to engage him in conversation.

By now he's got his camera and iPad linked up and seems to be editing a video. If it wasn't for the smell and the carrier bags, he'd look quite cool. He notices the book cover of the novel the woman's reading. There's a photo of London Eye on the front. 'What's that on the front?' he asks her, directly. 'What?' she says. 'That photo on the front of your book, what's it of?' She tells him it's the London Eye. 'What a coincidence!' he exclaims. 'I'm making a film about London, and was just editing a sequence with the London Eye. I thought I recognised it'. The woman doesn't say anything in return.

The man gets up abruptly, walks out the carriage and enters the toilet. The woman and I collectively exhale. She takes some perfume out of her bag and sprays it liberally all around her. It's a bit better, but the mix of perfume and urine actually quite sickly.

The man returns a few minutes later. He stands in front of his table. 'What's that smell?' he asks to no one in particular. 'It's like a combination of... caramel and flowers.' No one says anything. That he has a fine sense of smell is, well, quite extraordinary. He seems completely oblivious to his own aroma.

After another ten minutes of editing and muttering and stinking he packs up all his things and walks to the other end of the carriage, finding another seat there for no apparent reason. Maybe he didn't like the smell.

I exchange a vague look of relief with the woman, though I can still smell the man from the other end of the carriage when the breeze whoofs down my way.