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.

naomibedford.com

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 turn anyone to crime
(At least we’d be there on time).


Previously on Barnflakes:
Barnflakes' top 20 of the year

Whiplashed

Middle-aged
Minimum-waged
Retired
Retarded
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.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notes on being me

Several years ago I went to an interview of photographer William Eggleston. After the interview I thought he would sign books. I’d bought along his classic 1976 William Eggleston’s Guide and made my way down to the stage, along with several others. At the last second he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t sign any. However, he had done a signing a day or two before, and my friend R had got four of his books signed. I was mildly frustrated and, naturally, it stayed with me.

R contacted me early last week to let me know Eggleston was doing another book signing at the end of the week in London. Here I was, in Cornwall, with all my books in London at my parents, including two by William Eggleston. There was only one option – ask the parents. My dad kindly agreed to go and get a book signed for me. Except he didn't know where my Eggleston books were – and neither did I. He looked and found The Democratic Forest. Great, but not the one I wanted signed. I wanted William Eggleston's Guide signed. Dad couldn't find it. Mum couldn't find it. They sent me photos of my piles of books. I couldn't see it either. I let it go. Dad got The Democratic Forest signed. I was happy.

That was William Eggleston. Next was Bob Dylan.

Saturday was Record Store Day. Getting mugs to queue up all night outside record shops to buy already-released records you'd normally only spend a pound or two on in a charity shop – A-ha, Queen, Elton John, Abba etc – but producing them in limited numbers on – say – pink or yellow or red vinyl and then charging £30 for said records, well, it's genius from a marketing perspective and record companies surely can't believe they're raking in money from what was a dead market – not just vinyl but all removable media (just wait for CD Store Day and VHS Store Day – there's already a Cassette Store Day) – until a few years ago. (I'm being slightly ungracious – RSD often features exclusive live albums or alternate versions of classic albums and has helped spearhead the vinyl revival, but a lot of RSD is re-releasing crappy old albums with the dubious distinction of being "the first vinyl release since the last one". And picture discs.)

Well, guess what? I'm one of the mugs. Not content with owning Bob Dylan's classic Blood on the Tracks album on vinyl and CD, as well as the recent More Blood, More Tracks, the 6 CD Deluxe Edition of the Bootleg Series, Record Store Day was releasing the Original Test Pressing for the very first time (naturally I already own it on a bootleg mp3 – oh, and on cassette) which I was rather keen on (Variety called it the 'holy grail' of RSD releases). To be fair, I've never bought a single record from Record Store Day before (unless it's almost a year after the previous RSD and a record shop is selling their unsold stock half price – which happened with Heart of the Congos, the Lee 'Scratch' Perry mix from the 2017 RSD, which I got for £10 some time in 2018, despite it going for circa. £150 on eBay).

I thought I had it sorted. I'd asked my ex to get it from her local, excellent (despite, in the past, staff not being exactly knowledgeable about music) record shop in a small town in Wiltshire – all she'd have to do was walk down the road to buy the record for me. Turned out she was off to Paris that weekend. I asked her to change her flight (no lie); she wouldn't budge.

Why couldn't I go and buy a copy myself, I hear you cry. Well, I could but it would take me an hour to get to any record shop in Cornwall. I went to Falmouth on Friday to a participating cafe/record shop, Jam, and asked if I could buy a copy a day before as I wouldn't be able to make it there in time on the Saturday. The owner looked at me as if I'd blasphemed in church. It goes against everything RSD stands for, she told me, in no uncertain terms. I asked her how many copies of the record she had. Four, and they'd go immediately, she said. Cost? £25.

She did mention that Drift in Totnes would probably have a lot more copies. Then a lightbulb went off in my dim brain: my brother lives there. Which I told the woman. Ah well then, sorted, she said, you don't even have to get out of bed early, but your brother does. Getting him to do that might be difficult, I quipped: he has a new girlfriend. Ah, said the woman.

Anyway, it was a possibility. I texted him. He was on holiday too, but on his way back Saturday afternoon. I told him I was off to the Truro record shop first thing in the morning to get it, and I'd let him know. By 9am Saturday morning I am standing at the end of a queue thirty deep in Truro's Pannier Market, which is where Music Nostalgia is. The man in front of me is after the alternate mix of A-ha's debut album, Hunting High and Low. Which he gets. I do not get the Dylan. Sold out instantly, the owner tells me.

I tell my brother. He's almost in Exeter. He asks me if there's a record shop there. Of course! Rooster Records, been there a few times. He 'rushes' (after having a coffee first) to Rooster Records – they've sold out too. He phones Drift – they have copies left – and asks if he can reserve one. He's told no. I phone Drift and ask if I can reserve a copy for my brother to pick up. I'm told no, in no uncertain terms: you have to be there in person to buy the record. They have a 'pinch' of the records left. I tell brother to leg it there. After Exeter charity shops, lunch and more coffee and a late train he is in Totnes by late afternoon.

Whilst brother was running around South West England record shops, what was I doing? Having a leisurely stroll around Tregothnan House, which has the largest historic garden in Cornwall, and now contains Britain's first tea plantation, producing tea to buy in the shop which reportedly contains only 15% Cornish tea and works out costing about 50p a tea bag. Tregothnan House and gardens has been owned by the Boscawen family since the 1300s. They also own – and holiday-let to rich Londoners – property all over Cornwall. Aside from a brief ransack during the English Civil War (1642–1651), the estate has remained untouched. It beggars belief why this country hasn't had a proper revolution. Anyway, lovely garden and it was only £10 on the charity open weekend (otherwise it's £65 for a private garden visit). Then we went to Merther to see its abandoned church. It has no roof and a forest growing inside it. The squirrels and ravens were surprised to see me.

Meanwhile brother is speeding up his pace in Totnes. Then, with the shop in sight, he thinks about running and imagines having to wrestle the last copy from the hands of the punk who'd just bought it, drag him outside and 'do a De Niro on him' (his words).

Luckily time was on his side and after all the pseudo rush the shop still had half a dozen copies left after my bro bought one for me. I don't know when I'm going to see it or play it, but I've got it. The Eggleston and the Dylan – couldn't have done them without a lot of family help. Much love and appreciation.

• William Eggleston, 2¼ exhibition at David Zwirner
• Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks Test Pressing, Record Store Day Edition, Reviewed

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top ten records I would have bought in Totnes if I had any money
South London record shops
Weekend Barngains 
Top ten photographers

Thursday, March 14, 2019

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

Even though I hardly ever blog about the environment I'm probably more passionate about the planet and its wildlife than anything else. And it's pretty hard to ignore nowadays, with much of the news on a daily basis – if it's not about Brexit* – being about climate change, freak weather (whether it be flash floods, wildfires or a hot February – which the BBC bizarrely chose to celebrate with photos of daffodils and ice creams, somewhat missing the point that it's climate change in action. Enjoy it – but please do feel guilty about enjoying it), loss of wildlife populations, plastic waste and air pollution. So here's a top ten with pretty obvious solutions. Unfortunately humans are so selfish and stuck in their ways, nothing will ever change. Until it's too late.

These ten all link to each other – 'everything connects' – so apologies for any repetitions.

1. Climate Change
This is the big one, vying with Brexit on the front page of the Guardian on a daily basis. It's an emergency (one we have known about for decades and done nothing) which is happening right now... and still no one is doing anything. Yes, there's some peaceful protests and petitions being signed, and reports and articles telling us it's an emergency and we have to do something, like, now, and a 15-year-old schoolgirl climate change warrior and films and documentaries and there's government targets of too little too late and energy corporations saying they'll cut 20% of this or that by 2050... yet still nothing is really happening to prevent it.

So what is it? Climate change is the increase of global average weather temperatures and their effects on the planet's weather patterns. Temperatures have been going up steadily for the last fifty years, mainly due to man's reliance on fossil fuels and the resulting build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Chopping down the world's rainforests hasn't helped things either.

(Global warming refers only to the rising average global temperatures, whereas climate change refers to global warming as well as changes in weather patterns such as heat waves, droughts, melting glaciers, etc.)

The effects of this human-caused increase in temperatures can be seen in changing seasons, more frequent, severe weather such as droughts and snowstorms in temperate regions, and warmer, drier weather in other regions, which has caused wildfires. Glaciers – which store 75% of the world's fresh water – are melting at an alarming rate, which causes sea levels to rise. Warming oceans are affecting coral reef bleaching and ocean life. Any more increase in temperature – the now-familiar "well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels" of the Paris Agreement, which doesn't even come into effect until 2020 – will see potential cataclysmic problems.

Solution: Using more clean, sustainable energy like wind, wave, tidal and solar power. Use public transport. Stop using cars. Stop chopping down forests.

2. Wildlife Decline
Mankind has wiped out 60% of wildlife since 1970; that is, mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. This is mainly due to the destruction of their natural habitat to make way for farmland*. The UK has lost much of its wildlife, ranking 189th for biodiversity loss out of 218 countries in 2016. Bees – essential for a healthy environment – are in severe decline, in part due to neonicotinoid, an insecticide resembling nicotine.

Solution: Nothing, really. 

3. Overpopulation
The optimum world population is about 2 billion; we're currently at over 7bn – more than double the amount it was fifty years ago. We probably need a good old-fashioned war or virus to wipe out half the population (luckily war and viruses can be a result of overpopulation).

Solution: Stop having babies; natural resources to be redistributed from the rich to the poor.

4. Air Pollution
Vehicle exhausts are the major cause of air pollution, now said to cause 800,000 deaths in Europe alone and 8.8m worldwide, per year, which is more deaths than smoking (cars also account for 1.25 million deaths from road traffic accidents, making the total amount of deaths from cars over 10 million per year). Cars, planes, trains, factories, power plants, insecticides and pesticides from agriculture-related activities all contribute to air pollution, which is also a major contributor to global warming.

Cars, the largest cause of air pollution and one of the top ten causes of deaths in the world, consume much energy before they're even on the road: car production – whether an electric car or traditionally fuelled one – leaves a huge carbon footprint.

Unfortunately electric cars aren't the answer: they run on electricity produced by burning fossils fuels, and use precious metals. The extraction of nickel, a metal used to produce the battery to power the cars, comes at an environmental and health cost.

I've never got used to cars, and never owned one. I've never thought it right to have cars on roads with people on pavements walking beside them. I've never thought it energy-efficient to take a ton of metal to transport (usually) a single human being around. Cars are ugly and noisy. Roads are horrible and clogged up with cars. Roads destroy communities. And wildlife. I hate it that I've seen hundreds of dead badgers on road sides and never one alive (the UK Government's much-opposed badger cull – deemed 'ineffective' and 'inhumane' in 2013 but continuing to this day – is indeed ineffective when compared to badgers killed by cars: 50,000 a year in the UK, as compared to 20,000 killed by culling in 2017).

Solution: What can I say? Ban cars. Cycle, get the bus, the train.

5. Eating Meat
Aside from the cruelty aspect, meat production is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions. It contributes to the loss of animal diversity and is a major source of water pollution and deforestation (animals need a lot of land to graze). Meat eating isn't sustainable.

Solution: Become vegetarian.

6. Capitalism / Economic Growth
Capitalism's relentless pursuit of profit creates a disregard for planetary resources with no account for environmental impact. 'Growth for the sake of growth' is the mantra of all governments, companies and corporations. Economic growth is always presented as a great thing that can solve the world's problems. Unfortunately, growth actually increases both inequality and unemployment, and is disastrous for the environment: it leads to deforestation, loss of natural habitat and biodiversity of wildlife, increase in material and energy use and immense waste. Oxfam believes 'extreme capitalism' is to blame for poverty, with 82% of the world's money going to just 1% of its population.

Economic growth as we know it, measuring GDP, the capitalist-consumerist ideal; these concepts are barely 300 years old – since the start of the Industrial Revolution, yet they have already reached their peak. No one said growth was infinite. It's not. But capitalism without growth is apparently a sustainable possibility.

Solution: Socialism! Or something like it.

7. Consumerism / Waste
This is the by-product of capitalism and economic growth, of course. Crap gets made. Crap gets bought and consumed. Lots of crap is wasted and dumped. Hardly any of it is recycled.

We in the west had it so good for so long – houses, TVs, cars, debt, bad diets, unhappiness, pointless objects of desire in a disposable and throwaway society – but now the rest of the world, in particular the vast populations of China and India, want it too, and who are we to blame them or stop them and tell them it's all a lie (and disastrous for the environment)?

Solution: Stop producing and buying crap. Use less.

8. Plastic Waste
It's suddenly all over the news. Of course I've been moaning about it for years (like here and here; yes I wrote that a decade ago); I haven't accepted a plastic bag from a shop for years (despite every cashier asking me if I want one, every time I buy anything, even if it's just one item); haven't bought a bottle of water for years (been using the same old bottle for years); can't understand what's wrong with tap water. Recycling isn't the answer – it's to stop using plastic. Banning straws seems like a joke (like a tear in the ocean; a tip of the iceberg).

I always tell people I go days without drinking a drop of water (any drink, such as tea, does the same job water does), and then I might bore them with the story of when I walked 20 miles in the Sahara desert in Morocco with no water and a heavy backpack, chain smoking all the way. When I did eventually find a village with a cafe, I ordered a (glass) bottle of Coke. Tasted great. Nowadays people can't seem to go a ten minute train journey without glugging from their precious bottle of Evian.

Anyway, plastic waste is found everywhere, in our cities, countryside, seas and rivers, even embedded in Arctic ice. The waste harms the environment, pollutes our waterways and threatens wildlife. There's an island of plastic waste (now twice) the size of Texas in the Atlantic Ocean. The production of plastic also contributes to climate change.

Solution: Ban plastic bottles and reduce packaging in general; replace with glass and cardboard. Bring back water fountains. Ban coffee cups that can't be recycled. Friends of the Earth are calling for a ban on all non-essential single-use plastics by 2025.

9. The Cult of Personality
By which I mean people. CEOs, Jeremy Clarkson, Donald Trump (still denying climate change), Boris Johnson, professional footballers, celebrities, politicians – can't we just do away with them all? People are swayed by personalities rather than policies. I read some time ago about a theory to vote via the internet on policies without politicians or political parties to sway us one way or another.

The Green Party has the right idea – the environment is more important than any political allegiance. If you remember Green Party candidate Natalie Bennett's interview on Radio 4 a few years ago, it's probably only for what was called in the press 'a car crash interview' where, according to the Telegraph, 'she fails to recognise her own party's manifesto policies'. When I listened to it, I heard nothing of the sort, only things I agreed with: the Citizen's Income, legalising the sex trade and drugs industry, dismantling the armed forces, using weapons factories to build wind turbines... all sheer lunacy, according to Telegraph and Radio 4 readers and listeners, I'm sure.

Anyway, what I'm getting at is the environment should be above politicians and personalities. It's still not top of the agenda for any political party (except the Green Party), or still even barely mentioned. Brexit has consumed British politics for the past two years, to the detriment of more important issues like the environment, education, the NHS, and poverty.

The environment shouldn't be political – the recent climate change protests by school children held outside council buildings, people working for the council weren't allowed to show any support for the protest (and the UK Government was more concerned about children missing a day of school than saving the planet). Unfortunately the media still needs personalities to sell climate change: see the '15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl climate change warrior', Greta Thunberg. She's great. Unfortunately peaceful protest has a record of achieving nothing (remember a million protesting against Blair's invasion of Iraq?) but the children are the future. Thunberg managed to stop her mum from flying and persuade her dad to become vegetarian, so let's hope other children are stopping their parents from driving their SUVs, for example.

Organisations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Extinction Rebellion (formed in 2018) are taking positive action to avert climate breakdown. If only it wasn't an uphill battle against governments and corporations (sometimes to an alarming extent: in 2017, more than 200 peaceful protesters and activists were murdered, mainly in South America). 

10. Doing Stuff
I often get asked what am I doing to help save the planet. Nothing, I reply. Absolutely nothing. I'm not driving a car. I've been on a plane once in two years. I'm not using plastic bags. I'm not buying plastic bottles. I'm not eating meat. I'm not buying new clothes, books or anything at all really (regular readers will know I'm all about the barngains in charity shops).

The problem is the world is full of people doing things. Some good things, sure, but mainly bad, selfish, pointless stuff: driving to places, having holidays, having babies, working, consuming: everything you thought was your birthright is harmful to the planet. There are too many people doing too many things. No matter what you do or eat or consume or watch or desire, somewhere, somehow, it's either exploiting someone, the environment, or both. The best thing is to try to do nothing at all.

I say – semi-seriously – we partially go back to pre-industrial times; that is, work locally, produce food locally, with an immediate ban of fossil fuels (and embrace renewable energy) and traffic (all this government crap of we’ll do this or that by 2025 or 2065 is pathetic; we need to make the changes now, and sort out the repercussions later). Obviously, the internet is a great tool for working remotely and keeping in touch with family and friends. Our current way of life is obviously wrong in many respects. It's time to try something different.

__________ 

*One of the few benefits of Brexit, believes George Monbiot writing in the Guardian, is leaving the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, a farm subsidy system causing widespread destruction of wildlife habitats by paying farmers and landowners for empty ground that's in 'agricultural condition'. This can be land that's unsuitable for farming but as long as it's empty it's eligible for public money (to the tune of £44bn a year). The payments have led to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares of magnificent wild places all across Europe. It's a policy that benefits, surprise surprise, the rich the most: landowning billionaires and aristocrats receive the most money just for owning land, not for actually having to do anything with it. 

Previously on Barnflakes:
Aspire to be average
In 100 years everyone in the world will be dead
Busy bein' busy
Blight of the plastic bag
Water as it Oughta

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Selected and collected poems – the book


About a decade ago, maybe longer, I designed – in Quark – a book of poems I'd written in the 1990s; mostly terrible art student angst stuff. I recently found the book on an old hard disk, redesigned and updated it to include some more recent poems, still terrible, but I'm fond of them, so here they are. Yes, I still have too much time on my hands but it was fun to do. Selected and Collected Poems is a 40-page book of poems from 1990-2016. Add it to the list of books I will get printed someday.

For a taster, browse the poems category of this blog; they all make an appearance in the book.

Previously on Barnflakes:
It's a Shame About Ray – the book 
Missed Photos
Alton Estate of Mind – the book
Rashims: the book of Rash
Pulp Poetry

Flickagram #9

Reading In Touch: The Letters of Paul Bowles has got me reminiscing about Morocco, where I went for the first time in the mid-1990s. The book is a great read, and Bowles is an inspiration: all the times I've been to a place and said I'd like to live there (Stockholm, Bali, Marrakesh, Jakarta, Rangoon, Los Angeles...), but never did, well, Bowles arrived in Tangier one day in 1947 and never left – he died there some fifty years later. Writing letters in those days was a part-time occupation, especially for a traveller like Bowles: all his letters were typed, so he'd lug a typewriter around on his travels, and have his letters forwarded from New York to Tangier to Ceylon (when he lived for a year); letters would go astray; he'd arrive back in Tangier with a mountain of letters, and respond to all of them. Then there was the problem of finding paper and envelopes in Tangier – everything from jewellery to ceramics was easy to find, but anything practical near impossible. Not to mention beautifully written, descriptive and witty letters; obviously in this day of social media and texts, it's a thing of the past. Bowles was one of the last of what one would call a man of letters (though Bowles would disagree, as did Gore Vidal when he asked someone if they'd received a letter from Bowles, then quipped that it probably consisted solely of Bowles saying what he had for breakfast).

What is happening in this photo? Well, the girls had asked for some suntan lotion, and we gave them some. I think this was near Merzouga, a Moroccan village in the Sahara. There was nothing happening in the village, so the girls took us to a nearby lake, which was completely dried out. It was still muddy, though, and there were thousands of tiny frogs in the mud, so many that we couldn't help treading on them, and playing catch with them. There was, of course, amazing architecture in Merzouga and the Erg Chebbi, a huge sand dune in the desert, but I didn't take any photos of those. Plus I only had black and white film, which was stupid.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Paul Bowles: Exile on Maghreb Street
Notes on Black Sparrow Press

Bonnard collage

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Incidental sound subtitles from Netflix’s Power

In a series about NY drug dealers, with motherfucker-this and bitch-that every other word, and the show consisting of sex, violence, lying, betrayal and corruption, it’s hard to find any quiet moments of poetry.

However, we had the subtitles on – partly because we couldn’t understand what the characters were talking about half the time, and partly because we couldn’t be bothered to turn them off once we got the hang of the street lingo.

Helpfully, subtitles also provide incidental sounds such as [grunts], [moans] and [pounding on door]. These sometimes include unexpected moments of poetical detail, which would get taken for granted without the subtitles on, such as [elevated train clanking over tracks]. Well, I thought so anyway. The following is an attempted poem from incidental sounds from two episodes of season three of Power.

engine starts
jukebox sighs
water running
glasses clink
indistinct chatter
zipper slides
speaking spanish
sirens wailing
train sounds fading
tense music
knock at door
moans
sighs
bangs table
echoes
hairdryer hums
elevated train clanking over tracks
distant boat horn blows
slow jazz plays
whispers
swords clanging
buttons clicking
engine turns
metal clangs
sombre piano music

Previously on Barnflakes:
Amazon Prime / Netflix mash-ups

Monday, January 14, 2019

Monday, January 07, 2019

Biggest missed barngain of the year 2018


Back in London over Christmas, we naturally had a look around the local charity shops. We saw the above chest of drawers in a furniture charity shop, obviously mispriced at £50. We were going to buy it immediately – but how to get it back to Cornwall? We ummed and ahhed about it, then left it. We returned later to buy it; naturally it had gone. A few days later, H was looking around Oliver Bonas and saw the exact same chest of drawers in the shop – for £495. I cursed about it non-stop for days.

This was a rarity, however. Aside from finding a few choice Christmas presents in charity shops, there were no barngains to be found. The prices of records and books in charity shops has gone through the roof; indeed, I also browsed some secondhand record and bookshops (both traditionally fairly expensive) and noticed, in general, that they were cheaper than charity shops.

In fact, my only barngain of the season was in the V&A bookshop (not their general shop). There were numerous lovely art books reduced from £40 to £5 or £10. I almost bought about a dozen, but finally settled on just one: a lovely facsimile copy of William Morris' socialist-sci-fi novel, News From Nowhere, reduced from £30 to £5.