Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No colour in the dark

Do objects still have their colour in pitch blackness? It's a question I've been debating with my five-year-old daughter for the past month. Obviously, she thinks her dad's an idiot, and that of course objects still have their colour in the dark. But actually they don't. This is a concept most adults find difficult to believe, let alone five-year-olds (though I was hoping my daughter would be more receptive to the notion).

Objects – whether it's a red tomato, a purple flower or a green bowl – need light to have colour. Colour is perceived by the human eye only when white light is shone upon an object's surface. The red tomato is reflecting red light and absorbing all other colours. Even though an object will still have the property of their particular colour, in pitch darkness there is no light to reflect it so no colour.

This notion has nothing to do with Schrödinger's quantum physics theory about the cat in the box with poison being both dead and alive at the same time… especially if said cat is black. Or the metaphysical tree falling in a forest philosophical riddle… unless there's a black cat stuck up said falling tree.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

We're all in this together

Homosexual New Romantic boy band? Guess again.

In a unique new government incentive, Prime Minister David Cameron and Mayor of London Boris Johnson are giving some of the looters in the recent riots that spread throughout the UK a once in a lifetime opportunity of free membership to the elitist Bullingdon Club.

The club, usually the domain of the rich, upper class, white and male, is an Oxford University dining club founded over 200 years ago, most notable for its members' destructive behaviour, including the trashing of restaurants and the smashing of crockery, windows, car windscreens and antique violins. In the 1980s, both Cameron and Johnson were members.

'Smashing things up is well good fun that transcends class, gender and race', said Cameron in a recent press conference. The PM and mayor are hoping the initiative will lessen the divide between the rich and poor, which is at its widest since records began, and generally promote a feeling of chumminess.

In similar news, there was no comment from the International Olympic Committee on speculation that rioting and looting were going to be made official Olympic sports. It could well be the only thing the English are good at.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

London through its charity shops #13: Mornington Crescent, NW1

For me, the name Mornington Crescent conjures up images of sleepy Sundays in an empty, autumn 1950s London with a soundtrack by Belle and Sebastian. Of course, the band didn't exist in the 1950s but they did write a song called Mornington Crescent (in 2006). Singer/songwriter Stuart Murdoch apparently fell in love with the romance of the station when walking past it. The North London tube station was closed for much of the 1990s and there were fears it was never going to reopen, but thanks to a successful campaign it finally did, in 1998. The name is most famous for the game Mornington Crescent, which features on the Radio 4 programme I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.

From the station, walk up towards Camden Town tube along Camden High Street. On the left hand side within a very short space are six charity shops. The first is a poor Age Concern with not much of anything at all. Relief Fund for Romania (RFFR) is far better with clean and well organised stock, a large space with plenty of clothes, CDs, records and books. Next up is a decent British Heart Foundation; Scope is average; Cancer Research is likewise unexceptional. Last but not least is a fine looking boutique-style Oxfam (pictured), which is slightly a case of style over substance, but never mind.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Two types of music

We were drunkenly choosing which of her records to play. We'd gone through Led Zep, the Beatles, Springsteen (which nobody but me had liked), The Kinks, The Jam… it was now probably about 4:30am. The guy talked about music constantly. He'd asked me earlier what the only two types of music were. After thinking about it then saying 'jazz and classical?' (no), 'the Beatles and the Residents?' (no), 'opera and pop?' (no), 'Chuck Berry and Mozart?' (no) and probably some others too, it suddenly came upon me and seemed so obvious: good and bad*. But, still, that guy just really annoyed me.

*Years later, I found out it's actually a Louis Armstrong quote: "There ain't but two things in music: good and bad". Everything the guy spoke was either cliché or quoted from somewhere else, and claiming as his own. Roland Barthes' also has two types of music: the music one listens to, and the music one plays.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Like Prince, Madonna and Pele, Pevsner only needs the one word name to convey meaning. Have you got a Pevsner? I've only got one unfortunately, and a boring one at that: Surrey (I got it cheap). Nikolaus Pevsner's classic 46-volume of guides to the buildings of England has been called (by Jonathan Meades) 'the greatest endeavour of popular architectural scholarship in the world' but that's not really saying that much, is it? I mean, there's no alternative. It's the only endeavour, surely.

Born a Jew in Leipzig in 1902, Pevsner was slow to see the tyranny of Nazism, and arrived in England as a refugee in 1933. It wasn't until 1951 that Pevsner was commissioned by Allan Lane of Penguin books to write the series of books (which Penguin foolishly sold to Yale University Press) which made him a household name. Covering every important building in every county in England with multiple guides to major cities (six to London), the series took Pevsner over twenty years to compile. A workaholic, he visited every building himself and wrote almost every guide in between lecturing at various colleges and working on other books at the same time. The guides total some 20,000 pages.

A biography of the great man entitled Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life, has just been published. That it took its author, Susie Harries, just three years less to write than it took Pevsner to write all his guidebooks (twenty three years) is a fact probably not lost on Harries. At 886 pages, it is certainly the most comprehensive biography of the man we will ever see; Pevsner himself would have been pleased with its exhaustiveness.

Packed full of facts and anecdotes, it's doubtful I'll ever read it, but I wonder if it includes a Pevsner anecdote I heard first hand. I used to work in a bookshop where the manager, a man in his fifties, went to university with Pervsner's grandson in the 1970s. They used to visit Nikolaus in his house in Hampstead. There were original Leonardo cartoons on the walls. One day they introduced the old man to marijuana. He didn't like it and never did it again.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Happy 5th Birthday, Barnflakes!

If you look at the Blog Archive at the top of this page and go down to my very first post, you may notice it was posted on Monday, August 14th, 2006. Today is Sunday, August 14th, 2011, making this blog exactly five years old. As can also be seen, it took me a while to get going with the whole blogging business; a couple of years, in fact, before I started writing them regularly. But that first post, consisting of

Is anyone out there?

has not only proved to be one of my most popular posts, with three (albeit accidental) comments, but it also asked the eternal, unanswered question unpopular bloggers the world over ask themselves: well, is anyone out there? Judging by the amount of comments I get, I'd have to say a definite no. However, Google Analytics informs me I get over 1,000 hits a month, who spend an average of six minutes reading the blog. Maybe they're just all shy. So I keep going, unsure why, and tell myself I'll stop writing it soon. Who am I writing it for? Myself? My ex? My daughter? You? Everyone? I'm not sure. I'm just writing it. Thanks for reading. I know you're out there. Somewhere.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Drinking milk in public

If I'm out and about and really thirsty, if there's one thing I resent doing it's paying more than £1 for a bottle of fruit juice or a Coke. Being vaguely health-conscious I might opt for a bottle of water; it's usually also a little cheaper than juice though I find water boring and unfulfilling. What I usually forget to do, but wish I did more often, is buy a pint of chilled semi-skimmed milk. Not only is it delicious and better for you than fruit juices or Coke (for your teeth and bones anyway), it's about half the price too. So why don't you see people walking around drinking from bottles of milk? It might not have the cool factor of a bottle of water but is there something vaguely unsettling about seeing people drinking dairy in public?

Photographer Mike de Leon thinks so. His series of photos in the latest Vice magazine are of people indulging in PDC (Public Dairy Consumption), a concept he finds 'uncomfortable'. Using posed models consuming a variety of dairy products – cheese, yogurt, milk – there is, perhaps, something vaguely gross about the acts, especially the guy eating a huge wad of cheese. Eating ice cream in public is okay, I guess.

Like George in an old Seinfeld episode eating a tomato on the street and wondering why it couldn't be socially acceptable like it is with an apple, drinking milk in public just isn't really civilised behaviour. Tomatoes are for salads or sandwiches; milk is for cereal or hot beverages.

I know it's not dairy but I had a girlfriend who was grossed out by mayonnaise – not even eating it – just looking at all that white goo made her almost physically sick.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Never Mind the Dovecotes: Anarchy in the NT

John Lydon never seems to be the most cheerful of chaps, but he's definitely not happy about the National Trust ripping him off by using two of the Sex Pistols songs without permission. Yes, that's right – the National Trust, that bastion of rebellion and shady deals – have released Never Mind the Dovecotes, a CD of 18 punk classics including songs by bands including The Jam, The Fall (who are actually post punk), X-Ray Specs and the Sex Pistols in a piece of marketing as crass and inappropriate as John Lydon himself selling butter or Iggy Pop car insurance. The two Sex Pistols songs on the album, Anarchy in the UK and Pretty Vacant, have apparently been used without his consent (though the versions used are demos, not the album versions, so he may not actually own them). Still, it seems Jolly Rotten of them, turning rebellion into money.

And while it is apparently a fact that half a million of the Trust's members were aged between 16-25 in 1977, the heyday of punk, I can also virtually guarantee that 99.9% of them disapproved of and never listened to the Sex Pistols at the time. Nor have warmed to them over the years, nor heard of any of the other bands on the CD.

Lydon, who did a radio spot for the National Trust in 1993 and advertised Country Life butter wearing a Tweed suit in 2008, is now a very different kind of icon to his Sex Pistols days, when he was called 'the biggest threat to our youth since Hitler'.

If it makes John feel any better, I've been using an out of date National Trust membership card for the last two years.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

London Falling

Just as the actual meaning of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA was misinterpreted by the Reagan administration in the mid-1980s when they assumed it to be a nationalistic anthem, so the choosing of a cover version of the song London Calling by The Clash as an advert for the London 2012 Olympics seems similarly misguided. However, it seems like a more appropriate anthem for the rioting of the last couple of days, with 'London calling to the faraway towns / Now war is declared, and battle come down'. And: 'London calling, see we ain't got no swing / 'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing'.

And it's apocalyptic chorus – all together now:

The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river

(NB: this is post #400)

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Internet Explorer for Dummies

It's official (and something Apple Mac users have always known): a study has shown that Internet Explorer users have a lower than average IQ, putting them on a level that's 'borderline deficient, marginally able to cope with the adult world', according to Prof. David Spielgelhalter of Cambridge University. The test looked at over 100,000 users who were given a free online IQ test. Results were logged, along with users web browser of choice. IE users tended to score under eighty.

People who used other browsers, including Chrome, Firefox and Safari (Apple Mac's default browser), scored over 100. Specialised browsers with limited users such as Opera and Camino, scored even higher.

Read the original BBC article here.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Windows 7 wasn't my idea

UPDATE 3/8/11
Obviously this story was a hoax. The BBC, CNN and the Daily Mail, among others, were hoodwinked by it. Journalism used to mean searching for the truth; nowadays it involves blindly printing press releases virtually verbatim. In the case of the IE story, though, I reckon it's many a truth spoken in jest.