Friday, July 31, 2009

GULLIBLE TRAVELS OUT NOW!


Gullible Travels, published by Chapbook Publishing, is now available to buy exclusively from the new look gullible-travels website. It costs £9.99 plus postage. It's a 343 page paperback book with some black and white photos. Expect 4-5 business days for delivery.

Here's a review of it:

"Like grey-faced foreign office officials around the world I am currently – eternally – negotiating peace (or war). My family is planning a holiday. Summits have been held, late night phone calls made, and finally, having worked around the clock or so it felt, success has been claimed: an agreement has been reached on the destination. Now, as they say, the real work must begin. Flights, shuttles, travel times, must-sees, tours, hotels, costs; it all needs to be researched, organised, proposed, discussed and agreed upon; it all needs to be itinerarised. And soon: we aim to leave in a mere eight months.

None of these aspects are paid much attention by Barnaby in his recently published book, Gullible Travels. Of course all non-fiction writers leave information out – travel writing often omits most of this common chunk of what travel actually entails – even if it were desirable to include all the boring and irrelevant details of life into a book it would be impossible. But in this collection of stories, it begins to seem less likely he was making any attempt, conscious or otherwise, to avoid the details of preparation, formalities such as getting immunised before travelling to SE Asia, than that such preparations may never have occurred. Indeed, he catches Dengue Fever – without any insurance – in Indonesia during its 1998 revolution (distracted by a prostitute who had stolen his video camera this event only became apparent to him after nearly all other foreigners had fled, the airport had closed and Jakarta smouldered around him).

Not worrying about consequences seems to be Barnaby’s approach to decision making in general and through this collection of stories we get to see how this plays out in Europe, the US, Asia, North Africa and Australasia. Every page is soaked in fear, embarrassment or loneliness – he spends a lot of time looking for sex and drugs – and yet Gullible Travels is an inspirational book: few people collect as many great stories in their lives."

Enjoy the book... but please don't judge me!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Top 10 Great Ideas

Here's some great money-making/society enhancing/planet-saving ideas. They are copyright free. You are welcome to steal them – I'm too lazy to do anything about them.

1. CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) Historical
This will be part-documentary, part-drama, as our anal team look back at unsolved real life cases and mysteries through history and apply their state-of-the-art forensic technology to try and solve them.
First episode: Michael Jackson.
Other episodes: Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Elvis Presley, Roswell, crop circles, how Gordon Brown got to be Prime Minister, etc.

2. Big Brother Special Needs
The popularity of Big Brother Tourette's Syndrome sufferer Pete Bennett proved that disabilities can be compulsive viewing. So why stop there? Let's have Big Brother Special Needs Syndrome Special with an assortment of people with disabilities and mental health issues including Down's syndrome, autism, bi-polar, schizophrenia and cerebral palsy.

3. 50p tube seat
To make a bit of extra money on the daily commute via bus, train or tube, wear a 'You can sit here for 50p' badge. NB: You have to have to be already sitting down to do this.

4. Perspex plant pots
So you can see the earth. Maybe some roots too.

5. The Sunday Times Poor List
Their Rich List is such a vulgar, inappropriate thing. They should do a Poor List instead.

6. Car crash art installation
With loads of wrecked cars, bodies and blood. In an art gallery.

7. Teaballs
Plastic balls of tea. Get optimum tea leverage by a small lever that allows different strengths of tea to be released into the cup. Re-usable.

8. Nap pods
Ever feel exhausted walking around a city and fancy a quick nap? Small nap rooms – like those Japanese capsule hotels – dotted around cities that can be booked for an hour or two. Have a nap, get out of the rain, or read a book – in warmth, peace and quiet.

9. Healthy receipts
Supermarket receipts which list the nutritional value of food bought as well as the cost. You are what you eat, after all.

10. Get a proper job
Eh?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Coloured Music

I'm getting confused – and bored – with recent bands having the word black in their name: Black Lips, Black Keys, Black Dice, Black Ghosts, Black Seeds, Black Velvet, Nine Black Alps, Dan Black. Is black the new black once again? White bands seem to pale by comparison: White Denim, White Lies and The White Stripes.

(Similar band names definitely seem to come in waves. During Britpop, bands were all one, usually short, word: Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Suede, Cast. Post-Britpop bands all seemed to be prefixed by The: The Libertines, The Rapture, The Strokes, The Bravey, The Knife, The Young Knives.)

Traditionally black has always been the cooler shade (it's not a colour) for bands: Black, Black Lace, Black Eyed Peas, Black Sabbath, Black Uhuru, Black Crowes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Black Flag, Frank Black (of The Pixies). The best white can come up is Whitesnake. And David Gray is sitting in the middle (in more ways than one).

What about other colours? There's Deep Purple, Blue, Pink, Silver Jews, King Crimson, Screaming Blue Messiahs, Pink Floyd, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Green Day, Orange Juice, Blue Oyster Cult, Cream, New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Maroon 5, Tangerine Dream, Goldfrapp, Al Green.

Album titles use colour too to convey an emotion or feeling. Blue is big in jazz: Mile Davis' Kind of Blue, Coltrane's Blue Train. Jazz is a form of the Blues, a genre 'meaning melancholy and sadness'. I don't necessarily associate the colour blue with sadness. Why wasn't it called the greys instead? The term has stuck, though, and transcended music to be a common phrase, having the blues.

There's Black, Grey and White albums by Prince, Jay-Z and The Beatles respectively. And Back to Black, Black Ice and Back in Black (black a popular choice for heavy metal music). Other coloured albums include Music from the Big Pink, Purple Rain, Blonde on Blonde, White on Blonde, Red on Blonde, White Blood Cells and White Ladder...

Any others?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Swedish Dark Arts

Sweden, for a country that's meant to be peaceful, prosperous, happy, healthy and intellectual, and famous for little else other than its two most famous acronyms – ABBA and IKEA – is producing some pretty amazing, odd and disturbing films and music.

Its cinema will forever be polarised by the intellectual, depressing films of Ingmar Bergman on the one hand and 1970s porn (though sadly the traditional blonde and busty Swedish au pair/masseur has been taken over by the busty Pole) on the other. The director Lukas Moodysson looks like he's bridging the gap. His first feature, Together, an amusing look at hippies in a 1970s commune, gave no indication of where he would go next. But Lilya 4-Ever (about a girl kidnapped into sex slavery), A Hole in my Heart (about the making of a porn film, intercut with close ups of female genital surgery) and Container ("a silent movie with sound" – his words) are some of the disturbing films ever granted a certificate.

Let the Right One in (Låt den rätte komma in), which we saw last night, is a beautifully shot and performed low-key vampire film. About the relationship between a pale, bullied 12-year-old boy and a girl with a fondness for blood, what's more disturbing than the blood count is the generally unhealthy looking chain-smoking characters, the bleak, barren snow-bound townscapes and the dreadful fashions (though to be fair it looks like it's set in the 1970s – that's what I'm hoping anyway).

Musically, bands are doing their best to banish the image of ABBA forever. The Guardian has said, 'no bad pop music comes out of Sweden in 2009'. There's the eerie, icy electro brilliance of Fever Ray and The Knife as well as more conventional acts like Peter Bjorn & John, Jenny Wilson and First Aid Kit turning out their brand of quirky pop.

The thing is, happiness gets boring. And people tend not to produce great art when they're happy. They're just busy being happy. Great art comes out of shit. Look at music and cinema in the mid-60s, at the height of flower power. In the States and UK at least, it was a dull time artistically with the whole peace and love ethos. By the end of the 1960s, The Wild Bunch, The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones Altamont concert and The Doors seemed to capture the prevailing mood of The Vietnam War, race riots and Charles Manson – and produce great art too.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Top 10 Westerns

1. The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
2. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly* (Leone, 1966)
3. The Wild Bunch (Peckinpah, 1969)
4. Red River (Hawks, 1948)
5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Ford, 1962)
6. McCabe and Mrs Miller (Altman, 1971)
7. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Peckinpah, 1973)
8. One Eyed Jacks (Brando, 1961)
9. Bad Company (Benton, 1972)
10. Heaven's Gate (Cimino, 1980)

Before you ask, no, there hasn't been a great western made since 1980 (though Dead Man (1995), The Proposition (2005) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) are all pretty damn fine). You can quote me on that. I'm being generous too. I know movie buffs who would say there hasn't been a good one made since 1956. I asked my dad what his favourite was. He said The Outlaw Josey Wales (Eastwood, 1976). I said "Pah!"

*If I was a true cineaste, Leone's majestical Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) would be here instead. As John Boorman noted at the time, 'It is the greatest and the last western.' I've never been a huge fan of it, finding it too self-conscious and post-modern. When watching it, Wim Wenders said he 'felt like a tourist in a Western.' I enjoy The Good, the Bad and the Ugly far more. I love the teaming up of Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Clef. Eli Wallach, in particular, is a revelation. And there's some great set pieces.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Double Bill Me


Seeing Deerhunter – the band, not the movie – at the Scala in King's Cross recently bought back nostalgic memories of watching all-night Kenneth Anger movies there when it was still a cinema. London's repertory cinemas are now all but non-existent. Even if a few remain open as cinemas, they are but shadows of their former selves: the Everyman in Hampstead Heath now shows the latest Harry Potter but back in the early 1990s we watched Ai No Corrida twinned with Woman of the Dunes there – two Japanese erotic classics. Likewise, Brixton's Ritzy now shows popcorn fodder but I remember going to a 'blue' all-nighter – that is, Blue Velvet, Betty Blue, Blue Sunshine and the Big Blue.

That was the best thing about the repertory cinemas – their imaginative programming. The Scala in particular had a bizarre mix of horror, porn, foreign and arthouse – and great programme flyers*. Nestled amongst double bills by heavyweight directors such as Kubrick, Fassbinder, Bertolucci, Polanski, Rohmer, Scorsese, Godard, Pasolini, Cronenberg and Herzog would be all-nighters by sleazier house favourites such as John Waters, Walerian Borowczyk, Russ Meyer and Dario Argento. Then an all-day Disney matinee would be followed by an S&M Triple Bill (actually pretty good with Barbet Schroeder's then quite hard to see Maitresse), or a Lesbian Vampire Triple, Triple Yuck (Society, Frankenhooker and Basketcase II), Camp Literature, or, scariest of the lot, all night Keanu Reeves. Other imaginative pairings included Hallucinating Hacks (Naked Lunch and Barton Fink), Rural Ravage (Straw Dogs and The Wickerman), Rent Boy Double (My Own Private Idaho and Midnight Cowboy) and, somewhat cryptically, as a tribute to Francis Bacon: The Last Tango in Paris and Polanksi's The Tenant.

Often the audience was a bizarre mixture too – an assortment of raincoat brigade, students, punks, trendies and the homeless. There was a nice cafe too, which served coffee and carrot cake – so much more civilized than popcorn and Coke. Things were cheap back then too. In 1991, an all-nighter of four films would cost about £5. I guess it was appropriate that the Scala closed over the showing of a (then) banned, cult, violent and misogynistic film: A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick sued and the Scala lost. I miss the sleaziness of the Scala, and its resident cat, who acted like it owned the joint.

Other repertory cinemas had to close down or go mainstream. It's like choosing between being kept alive as a vegetable by a machine or having the plug pulled – I'd choose death any day. Some survive. The Riverside in Hammersmith still has imaginative doubles (we saw The Passenger and Radio On a while ago) and great views of the Thames from its cafe. Of course there's always the stuffy NFT, and the Prince Charles off Leicester Square shows older films for £1.50.

This was before the age of Everything At Your Fingertips (DVDs and the web). If you wanted to see something obscure like Bunuel's Land without Bread, Polanski's early shorts or Flaming Creatures (we did, for some reason), the cinema – and this usually meant either the Scala, the Ritzy, the Everyman, the Electric, the NFT, or the Riverside – was the only place to see them. I know – this was only the 1990s, not the 1890s, but a lot wasn't on VHS and yes, Channel 4 and BBC2 (Moviedrome!) did show some interesting stuff but back then going to the cinema felt like a ritual and an adventure. In the case of the Scala, a real experience.
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* One of the Scala's programmer's was Stephen Woolley who went on to set up Palace Pictures (Diva, the Evil Dead, David Lynch), then produced plenty of really good British films including A Company of Wolves and The Crying Game. He directed his first film Stoned, about Brian Jones, in 2005.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Crop Circling



It must have been going to see the Banksy exhibition in Bristol and then seeing some crop circles in the same week that made me realise the similarities between the two. Graffiti art and crop circles are both clandestine operations, usually done at night, in pretty awkward places, neither exactly legal, but both very public, and questioning of what art can be. They either fade over time or are destroyed – that is, neither of them are permanent. The artists are either outlaws, folk heroes, criminals, vandals, con men or aliens. There are crop circles 'hoaxes' and there are Banksy 'fakes', but neither of them are really – they're still what they are.

We drove to Milk Hill, Alton Barnes, Wiltshire, on a misty Saturday morning which turned out glorious. From the top of Milk Hill we spotted four crop circles – including a great one being described as "a navigational tool to another world or dimension". When we returned home and checked the web updates, another crop circle had appeared below Milk Hill – since we'd been there. Other strange things happened like when we got home a parcel from my mother had arrived – with a clipping of the crop circle we'd just been in. I'd also been looking for a crop circle book I seemed to have mislaid about a year ago. As soon as we got home – I found it, and saw it was by Michael Glickman.

Look, I don't think it's aliens, but I don't think it's humans either – can we agree on something in between? James got an old Spirograph at Frome car boot on the Sunday – and we exclaimed, "So that's how they're made!"