Thursday, June 13, 2019

Tunnel of green

If I told my daughter about the train journey, she’d sound excited and want to do it. And maybe we would in a few weeks time, then after a minute on the train she’d say, dad, this is so boring. It was the same with the record cleaner; I’d built it up to be the most exciting thing ever, which I still think it is, but after cleaning one side of one record she’d said, dad, this is so boring.

The train journey was from Truro to Falmouth Town. Admittedly it doesn’t exactly have the same exotic ring about it as the train journey through the jungle we did from Cusco to Machu Picchu in Peru, but it wasn’t far off.

The rattly old train hurtles south towards the coast. For most of the 20-minute journey we are surrounded by lush, verdant foliage. The bushes and trees are alive and moving as the train whooshes past them. The foliage is alive, obviously, but more than that, it seems to jump out of the way of the train. The plants, trees and bushes seem to enjoy the train speeding past, blowing them out of the way. It's like they're waving with their leaves. Most of the journey is like this, with the foliage really near to the train and the banks really high, so really the journey feels like a tunnel of green.

Except for the flowers. There's part of the journey where it's all about the flowers. Foxgloves, mainly, but also, maybe, rosebay willowherb or clematis, I wouldn't really know, or care. But their pinks and purples are overwhelming. Some of the foxgloves are giant, as big as the ones at Trebah Gardens that have a plaque by them for being so big, but these are just on the side of the railway line, blowing their trumpets in the wind the whizzing train creates. They don't seem natural, the blurs of pink and purple, but like candyfloss and sweets from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, perhaps.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Where we are now

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Two leaks (in a week)

Leaks are all the rage – in politics, technology, business, sport, film, music – if anyone is anyone, they're leaking (or being leaked) something, somewhere. The internet, like a church roof, is full of leaks. Being cloaked in secrecy, is it quite exciting when the something in question actually leaks. I've bought – legally – two musical leaks this week. It's hard to know anymore if leaks are genuine or simply PR ('Google leaks its own phone').

The first 'album' I bought was Radiohead's MiniDiscs (Hacked), over 16 hours worth of unheard Radiohead music recorded during the OK Computer sessions between 1995 and 1998. What happened was a hacker nicked Thom Yorke's MiniDisc archive and threatened to leak it online unless he was paid $150,000. Yorke thought fuck it, the material 'isn't v interesting' (his words), so released it all himself on Bandcamp for fans to buy for £18 (you know, to be exact, if it sounds like £18 for 18 hours, it's actually a bit less than 18 hours – 16 according to some articles online; and if it sounds like £18, it's actually £21.60 after VAT).

If you know me, you'll know I've probably never played a Radiohead album all the way through, so the only concept more depressing than having to download 1.8Gb of Radiohead material that didn't even make it onto a record was having to listen to it. So I didn't bother. But I did buy it. All proceeds are to go to Extinction Rebellion, so a pretty good cause (Thom Yorke feeling guilty for taking so many flights – he apparently had a build-up of liquid in his ears from doing so – quip a thousand cynical Guardian readers in the comments section of the article about the decision to release the material). We're still not quite getting this whole climate change thing when some depressing leaked music gets more press than the future of the planet. (Today, there are actually online reviews of the 16+ hours – yes, that would mean the poor sods had to listen to it all night.)

The second album I bought was Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) by British producer Jai Paul. It got 8.9 on Pitchfork recently so I thought I'd give it a try. The story is, the collection of demos was leaked in 2013 and sold illegally through Bandcamp. Jai Paul was so upset about this that for the next six years he underwent therapy and couldn't produce or even finish his unfinished demos. Only now is he able to officially release his unfinished demos. The Fader say: 'one of the great records of the decade'. Pitchfork say: 'the sound of borders breaking'. Anyway, I bought it through Paul's website, where you can pay what you want for the album. So I paid 1p. Well, I felt burnt after Radiohead.

What can I say? I've been watching the barnstorming and incendiary performances of Bob Dylan in the new Netflix documentary Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, as well as listening to the 14-CD set The 1975 Recordings. They make Jai Paul and Radiohead sound like dull, miserable kids playing on their laptops in their bedrooms.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Community Reflections Private View

The catchily-titled Community Reflections on Health and Wellbeing Through Smartphone Photography (no, not a contradiction) has actually been a great and fun photography course I've been attending for the past few months, visiting a church, Art Deco swimming pool, woods, mine and, best of all, Feadon Farm animal sanctuary, where I got weed on by a squirrel, whacked on the arm by an angry owl's wing and kissed three times on the nose by a fox. These things don't happen to me every day. Our group is having a private view on Wednesday 12th June at Heartlands in Pool, after which the exhibition is on until Saturday 7th July, so plenty of time to visit.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Beauty and the Brutalist exhibition
Beauty and the Brutalist private view

Cornwall loves and hates

St Ives is all high fives
St Just is justified
Padstow has a warm glow
And Porthleven is heaven.
St Agnes is ace
Penzance gives penance
The lizard is lush,
The Roseland Peninsula is singular
Sing a hymn to Newlyn
And all hail Hayle!  

But Camborne is stillborn
And Pool is uncool
Redruth is rough
Newquay should be nuked
St Austell is like borstal
Truro is tedious
Helston is hell
Lostwithiel has lost the wherewithal
Falmouth has a foul mouth
Penryn is a place to sin
But Bodmin takes it on the chin.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Wiltshire loves and hates

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Top ten Keanu Reeves films

1. Point Break (Bigelow, 1991)
2. My Own Private Idaho (Van Sant, 1991)
3. The Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999)
4. Speed (de Bont, 1994)
5. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (Herek, 1989)
6. A Scanner Darkly (Linklater, 2006)
7. River's Edge (Hunter, 1986)
8. Thumbsucker (Mills, 2005)
9. Dangerous Liasons (Frears, 1988)
10. Parenthood (Howard, 1989)

We recently had trouble watching the whole of Siberia, a 2018 Netflix film starring a wooden Reeves as a dodgy diamond trader ("Fatally, the script requires Reeves to do some serious acting", quipped the Guardian). You'd think after thirty years of doing the same job, he'd get the hang of it by now.

On paper, Reeves seems more interesting than he is on screen: born in Beirut with a mother from Essex and a Hawaiian father, Reeves is actually Canadian. I read once he didn't own anything and lived out of hotels. His wife gave birth to a stillborn baby in 1999 then died just over a year later in a car accident. It's thought he's Buddhist (though he's not). Then there was that sad meme which went viral a few years ago. No one's entirely sure if he's deep or dumb or both, but everyone likes him. Adam Driver looks like a long lost cousin of Keanu's – but at least he can act.

I’m torn about writing top tens for actors – do you rate the film or the performance or a combination of both? I'm going for both. Hence I'm leaving out the "critical approved" John Wick films, The Devil's Advocate, Constantine and the two other Matrix films – all of which are terrible. Recently he seems to be doing a Liam Neeson and typecasting himself as an action hero in his later years (Neeson was 56 when he did the first Taken movie; Reeves is in his mid-50s now.)

To misquote a line about Orson Welles and Citizen Kane: Point Break is the best action film ever, and it's not even Bigelow's best (that would be Near Dark, surely?).

Top ten Canadian musicians

1. Leonard Cohen
2. Glenn Gould
3. Joni Mitchell
4. Neil Young
5. The Band
6. Godspeed You! Black Emperor
7. Jane Silberry
8. Arcade Fire 
9. Peaches
10. k.d. lang

Do say: Where's The Weeknd, Feist, Owen Pallett, Daniel Lanois, Ron Sexsmith and Barenaked Ladies?
Don't say: Where's Rush, Justin Bieber, Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne, Drake, Michael Buble and Alanis Morissette?

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top 10 Australian bands

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Pencil patterns

Soon to be... enamel pin badges!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Trevithick Day in Camborne, Cornwall

A terrific time was had by all – despite some early rain and wind – in Camborne yesterday (Saturday 27th April) to celebrate the life of its most famous resident, Richard Trevithick (1771-1833), pioneer of high pressure steam-power and constructor of the first steam railway locomotive in 1803. All roads in the centre of town were closed to cars to make way for a day of free entertainment, including steam engines, food stalls, a brass band and the miners and bal maidens dance (not to be confused with English Morris dancing!). The event attracts crowds of up to 30,000 and transforms Camborne with its fine sense of community spirit.

H took me off the busy main drag, down a quiet road and into Holman Park, where Rosewarne House, a Grade II* listed large granite town house stands. It was hard to believe we were still in Camborne. In the six acres of grounds were lawns, an ancient woodland with bluebells and trees in blossom.

Rosewarne House, built in the Greek Revival style during the Regency era, was meant to be having an open day. But we couldn’t see a soul or hear a sound or see any signs. We wandered round the grounds a bit, and were about to leave when I tried the front door to the house and it opened into another world.

A huge fireplace was roaring near the entrance. People were dressed in Regency attire, as if extras from Poldark. There was the sound of a live band coming from another room, and light laughter and the clinking of tea cups and saucers could be heard from afar. Almost immediately a Regency lady with a large feather in her hair asked us if we were part of the tour. We said yes and were guided around the amazing house, which had been left in a state of disrepair for some years and was now being restored back to its former glory.

We were taken up a fine staircase with an elegant wrought-iron balustrade and shown around the huge, sumptuous rooms, all with high ceilings, ample natural light and ornate plaster cornices, ceiling roses, archways and columns. I told the guide I was sold, I'll take one – the feeling of space and light and attention to detail was wonderful. The rooms were being divided into apartments but weren't for sale, the guide informed us; they would be rented as holiday homes, and the house used for events such as weddings. The house was built in the early 1800s for the Harris family, who made their money through mining. Later it was acquired by the Holman family, then became a care home before falling into disrepair. When the tour came to an end we retired to the orangery for free cream teas and the live band.

It had been a fine day: the only way to add icing to the cake (though I'd already had two Victoria sponges and a cream tea) would be some barngainsas mentioned previously, seemingly rare in these parts – but amazingly I picked up ten pretty good records for £1 each in a local charity shop, including the original limited edition yellow vinyl version of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John. Who needs Record Store Day after all?

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Notes on Extinction Rebellion

If nothing else, lovely to see areas of London car-free for a few days over Easter.

Support for Extinction Rebellion soars after Easter protests’ proclaimed yesterday's Guardian, with a total of £365,000 being pledged towards the environmental group since January this year. Compare this with the £1 billion raised for rebuilding Notre Dame within a matter of days of the blaze (and talking of blazes, is anyone bothered about the 4,000 acres of Yorkshire moorland recently destroyed by fire? Shall we have vigils and donations and tree-plantings?). It’s bizarre where people’s priorities lie.

Fictitious British news reporter Johnathan Pye sums up things pretty well in this video.

Extinction Rebellion website.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The world's top ten biggest environmental problems (and how to solve them)

The Rebel Soldier

Based on an American Civil War ballad, The Rebel Soldier is on folk singer Naomi Bedford’s forthcoming LP, Singing It All Back Home. I created the video for it, above.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Seven days of nothing
Without Joy

Verve magazine, 1937-1960

I hadn’t even heard of Verve magazine until the other day, when I was asked by Oxfam to value some early issues of the magazine which had come into the shop. I had a quick look at them and was gobsmacked by the content. I was looking at half a dozen of the early editions, from 1937-39, which had colourful covers by artists including Matisse and Bonnard. Inside were unique, beautifully-produced lithographs by the likes of Matisse, Braque, Klee and Kandinsky. These were contrasted with – say – brilliant black and white photos of nudes, medieval manuscript illuminations and texts (in French) by writers such as Hemingway, Joyce and Satre. We were talking a high-quality art journal whose content was a cornucopia of seemingly surreally random yet beautiful and striking imagery and text.

Published in an imposing size of 11x14 inches, the journal sought to showcase the works of modernist, surrealist and avant-garde artists to a wider audience. Only 38 issues were published between 1937 and 1960 and each one was obviously produced with loving care. Verve was the brainchild of Efstratios Eleftheriades, a Greek art critic and editor who moved to Paris in 1915 (actually to study law) and went under the more manageable nom de plume Tériade.

Overheard in Oxfam
"I got the Apple Mac off my sister – she didn't want it anymore! She got a new one. The one I got has 27 functions! 27! I only know how to use two! My sister got a new one because she needed more than 27 functions!"

"Five years now, it's been five years since my daughter hung herself in the garage. She was 55. She had debts, which she could never be able to pay back. £1000. It's good to talk about these things, isn't it? My daughter never talked about what was wrong with her."

Notes on Jury Service at the Old Bailey

There was so much waiting around.
Watching Jeremy Kyle
With the sound turned down
Was enough to drive anyone to crime
(At least we’d be there on time).

Previously on Barnflakes:
Barnflakes' top 20 of the year


The usual spastics
Missing in inaction
On a bi-polar expedition
Exploring destitution

Previously on Barnflakes: 
Selected and Collected Poems: the book

Friday, April 19, 2019

Top ten breakfasts

1. Full English
2. Eggs Benedict
3. Pancakes with bacon and maple syrup
4. Continental breakfast
5. Scrambled eggs on toast
6. Porridge
7. Toast (with marmalade and Marmite)

8. Shakshuka (Tunisian; eggs in tomato sauce)
9. Boiled egg with soldiers
10. Crunchy Nut Cornflakes

Seeing as Barnflakes is a pun on a breakfast cereal, and my unofficial motto is 'Barnflakes: Breakfast for the soul', it’s hard to believe it’s taken me so long to write a top ten. Especially because I like breakfast so much I could have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And sometimes do (for as W. Somerset Maugham famously said, “To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.”)

Breakfast was always said to the the most important meal of the day*, but with a third of Britons skipping the meal altogether (despite evidence of a link between obesity and not eating it) and one academic labelling it "dangerous", breakfast's dominance may be waning.

But not for me; I wouldn't be able to leave the house without it. Usually just tea and toast but sometimes – usually at the weekend – pancakes, porridge, scrambled eggs, a boiled egg or a fry up. There's nothing like the morning smell of coffee brewing and bacon and eggs frying.

But breakfast is probably best when you're out – in a cafe or restaurant, in a hotel, preferably in a foreign country. When abroad, a good breakfast is an essential start to the day, a great way to ingratiate yourself in local customs and culture and see how and what the locals eat. Eating is as much a ritual as any religious activity, and breakfast is, I think, the most ceremonial of meals**.

Take the humble yet iconic and versatile egg. Cracking it open encompasses birth, rebirth and death. It's a vital part of a breakfast and a great source of protein. The egg can be scrambled, boiled, fried and poached, as well as being integral to French toast (a.k.a. eggy bread), pancakes, omelettes and eggs Benedict.

On holiday, tea and toast is not acceptable for breakfast. Coffee is preferred over tea. For a start, coffee feels more sophisticated and cosmopolitan (well, it did, honest, at least before Costa and Starbucks came along and the masses started guzzling down buckets of hot milk with a splash of coffee) though also it tastes better abroad but mainly because tea tastes so bad everywhere except in the UK.

A hotel buffet is okay but it's nicer to go out to a local's cafe. The hotel buffet has its advantages, of course. Mainly, it's free. Also, it's easy to find – it's usually, you know, downstairs, unlike trying to locate a cafe or restaurant in a new, foreign city (I tend to follow my misleading nose, rather than use guidebooks or apps).

It's no doubt a lot to do with the feeling of waking up in a foreign country, but there's something about the simplicity and freshness of a French or Italian or Slovenian breakfast that's so delicious, even if it's just the taste of the orange juice or the bread.

I can remember breakfasts abroad from fifteen years ago whereas most lunches and dinners are instantly forgettable (partly, perhaps, because lunch abroad is mostly a rushed baguette on the way to another gallery or church or ruin; dinner is trying not to get overcharged, which usually translates as pizza or pasta). Lovely pasteis de nata, otherwise known as Portuguese custard tarts, with coffee and orange juice, in a cafe in Lisbon. Or a terrible breakfast of a brick-hard pastry in Barcelona along Las Ramblas; the horrible German-themed buffet in Sousse, Tunisia (I never said all breakfast memories had to be good ones). But whether good or bad, breakfasts are more memorable.

I had some of my best-ever breakfasts in the United States, where I was introduced to the concept of mixing sweet and savoury, something the British have never really done. Pancakes with bacon and maple syrup is a classic example.

Whilst in New Orleans, I remember trying grits, biscuits and gravy ('soft dough biscuits covered in either sawmill or meat gravy, made from the drippings of cooked pork sausage, white flour, milk, and often bits of sausage, bacon, ground beef, or other meat'), mainly because I'd heard about the classic southern dish from American films and novels (probably the likes of Steinbeck, Kerouac and Bukowski). Coffee in the States is just like in the movies: waitresses come by and fill it up for free.

It's worth remembering that most of the planet probably eats rice for breakfast; and after six months in South East Asia I never got used to eating rice three times a day.

Of course in recent years breakfasts have gone healthy and hipster. And while fruit, nuts, granola, chia seeds, yogurts and smoothies are okay if you're at the buffet waiting for your full English to be cooked, I generally don’t approve of really healthy stuff for breakfast, though I'm better than I was: my breakfast used to consist of four cigarettes and a mug of tea (food came later).

*Like the myth that Coca-Cola invented Santa Claus or the big con with mineral water companies telling us we need to drink two litres of water a day (I would literally drown if I drank that much), there's a possibility that breakfast cereal makers conjured up the maxim of breakfast being the most important meal of the day.

**An exception to this was when I was in Morocco, eating in the evening after Ramadam and it involved, yup, the cracking of a hard-boiled egg (mentioned here). Egg, bread, soup: tasted incredible after a day of not being able to eat.

Previously on Barnflakes:  
Not for all the tea in China

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Abandoned gunpowder works at Kennall Vale, Ponsanooth, Cornwall

It’s always strangely beautiful and reassuring to see nature reclaim itself back from civilisation. In post-apocalyptic sci-fi films such as I am Legend with Will Smith or a real life example like Chernobyl, it's exciting to see how nature doesn't hang around – once man is gone, nature moves back in pretty pronto.

In Cornwall this is evident in the many abandoned mines. The gunpowder works at Kennall Vale were built in 1812 for producing dynamite for mining (rather than military purposes), but became abandoned in the early 1900s.

Tucked away in a lush and verdant wooded valley five miles from Redruth, the numerous ruins – including granite mills and rusty machinery – are covered in ivy and moss. The fast-flowing Kennall river runs through it, with many charming waterfalls tumbling down the hills into it. The whole area feels like an enchanted fairy tale film set, its humid environment perfect for moss and ferns. It's also a fine place for spotting intriguing birds such as dippers. Indeed, the only sounds you hear in the valley are that of birdsong and the rushing of the river.