Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Email étiquette


It's well known that computer applications use old-fashioned terminology, presumably (originally) to make the transition from analogue to digital a less painful one. Copy, cut, paste and print all come from old terms for page layout; Adobe Photoshop uses terms familiar to photographers from the days of the darkroom, such as burn and dodge; folders, clipboards and tabs come from the pre-computer office.

Email, too, is obviously based on the old-fashioned letter, where one composes a letter then posts it (and cc (carbon copy) and bcc (blind carbon copy) come from the old days of the manual typewriter). The old-fashioned letter was either sent or posted, but emails nowadays, in the office environment anyway, are never merely sent: they are dropped, fired or shot, inferring that the busy senders do not have time to merely send an email, but rather employ a far quicker (and violent) method. It does, however, take the same amount of time to send an email as to fire one (both methods are still sent via the 'Send' button, though I'm surprised programmers haven't introduced a 'Fire' or 'Shoot' button into the email interface, just to please those really busy and important people at work).

Though emails are often written in an informal manner, certain conventions have emerged. 'Hi' instead of 'Dear' sets the informal tone, with 'Many thanks' or 'Kind regards' as the sign off, instead of 'Yours sincerely' (for 'Dear Mr/Mrs [Name]') or 'Yours faithfully' (for 'Dear Sir/Madam') in the formal letter.

But when first emailing someone, and then continuing to do so (in a work situation, say), how long should these 'Hi' and 'Kind regards' conventions be retained for? What I mean is, as a recent example with a new colleague, for the first few emails I kept to the 'Hi [their name]' and 'Kind regards [my name]' routine, but is it necessary to carry on after twenty emails throughout the day, when I had got sufficiently e-quainted with the recipient? I believed no, and dropped it. The recipient – shall we call her Kate? – did not drop it, and over the course of a fortnight, persistently emailed me 'Hi [my name]' and signed off 'Kind regards, Kate', even though we had emailed each other dozens of times. Whether these were automated or hand-typed each time is only partly the point: aside from a waste of time and space, they kept the relationship on a purely formal basis.

I was also 'e-introduced' (his words) to someone recently. Has there ever been a more awkward e-word? Those two vowels together just do not, well, go together. Entroducted would sound better, which made me think of of DJ Shadow's 1991 album Endtroducing… which I always thought was spelt Entroducing… (as it was his first album). It took me twenty years (and writing this post) to actually read the title properly.

Finally, someone at work actually picked up on this, after overhearing a phone call. When people give their email address to someone, they usually say 'all one word' (such as 'my email address is, all one word') but email addresses are always one word, so there's no need to say it. If there's a full-stop or dash in-between, you'd mention this, sure, but it's still just one word.

Many thanks,

Kind regards,


Saturday, March 24, 2012

London through its charity shops #20: Crouch End

Crouch End, N8, has many similarities to its nearby cousin Muswell Hill (no tube, posh) but is possibly cooler. After all, Bob Dylan came to Banners, a funky cafe, and had a burger here (this was in the 1990s when Dylan was working with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, who had a music studio in the area). Stephen King wrote a Lovecraftian short story called Crouch End. Shaun of the Dead was filmed here (and in Muswell Hill). Expect lots of yummy mummies, costly coffee shops galore and a cool record shop.

Oxfam Books & Music, opposite Banners, is great; spacious, interesting and full of books, records, CDs, magazines and comics. A pleasure to spend half an hour browsing in. A cramped Cancer Research is quite good; occasionally they have decent CDs and records; plenty of handbags and women's shoes. North London Hospice, where I was accidentally attacked with a coat hanger (don't ask), is okay if tatty. Marie Curie is quite pleasant. Has some records. There's a cool and funky RSPCA. Also has records. The London Centre for Children with Cerebral Palsy is like a jumble sale but quite interesting, with loads of books.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cross Bones Graveyard, Southwark

The above plaque (on Redcross Way, Southwark SE1) reads:

In medieval times this was an unconsecrated graveyard for prostitutes or 'Winchester Geese'. By the 18th century it had become a paupers' burial ground, which closed in 1853. Here, local people have created a memorial shrine.

The Outcast Dead

Up to 15,000 people are said to be buried here, in what is now just a wasteland, with only the plaque and gate covered with flowers to tell of its past. Local prostitutes were known as Winchester Geese because they were licensed by the Bishop of Winchester to work within Liberty of the Clink, an area of Southwark which lay outside the jurisdiction of the City of London.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

London through its charity shops #19: Muswell Hill, N10

Barngain of the day: Eduardo Paolozzi, Tate Gallery catalogue 1971, hardback with dust jacket and original 'Boot' bookmark; Cancer Research, £3.

Of all the pop artists to emerge in the 1960s, Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) would probably be one of the least well-known yet his work is seen by thousands of people every day; as well as his public sculptures in London (including Newton in the British Museum and his 'Head of Invention' outside the Design Museum) and Scotland (Polozzi was an Italian born in Edinburgh), his mosaics adorned Tottenham Court Road tube station (now sadly under threat with the station upgrade). His sculptures, collages and screenprints – his three main mediums – all display a playful love of technology and machines, old-fashioned toys, advertisements, comics and magazines.

Not having a tube station has probably made Muswell Hill, N10, feel even more cut off and hence more like a village than other places with a tube station. It certainly has a posh village feel to it, with nice, independent shops reflecting this. Musicians Ray Davies, Adam Ant, Vivian Stanshall, Carl Barat and The Pretenders all come from here. As does Chewing gum artist Ben Wilson, though I couldn't see any of his work on the pavements.

There are quite a few decent charity shops. There are two Cancer Research shops; one is large and spacious with a good music selection. And, for some reason, lots of cushions. The other is smaller with decent books and bric-a-brac and nice, friendly staff. Sue Ryder is okay but half the stuff there is new, tacky stuff. There are also two Oxfams; a small and funky general one and a really nice Oxfam Books & Music opposite. Barnados is nice but pricey.

There have been Shelter charity shops springing up all over the place in the last year. They're of the opinion that charity shops should look like boutiques and not sell books or music. I don't like them at all. There's one such shop in Muswell Hill (which actually does have a few books and media – so what? I still hated it).

Monday, March 19, 2012

St Mary's Church, Wimbledon

In the distance, behind Sandy Denny's awkwardly-posed parents, behind their garden where Sandy sits with other members of Fairport Convention, and behind the trees, stands St Mary's Church in Wimbledon Village. Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott – architect of the Albert Memorial and the splendid St Pancreas Renaissance London Hotel – it's been around since the 12th century.

Unhalfbricking, Fairport Convention's third album, released in 1969, was one of the first LP covers to feature no text at all. Just two months before its release the band had been in a car crash which killed drummer Martin Lamble and Jeannie Franklyn, Richard Thompson's girlfriend.

Sandy Denny left Fairport Convention in 1969 to briefly form her own band, Fotheringay, before embarking on a successful solo career. But by the mid-70s drink and drugs had taken their toll. She gave birth to a daughter but was neglectful; she would apparently leave her alone in the car whilst she was in the pub. In 1978 she fell into a coma and died four days later at Atkinson Morley Hospital in Wimbledon. She was buried at – no, not St Mary's – nearby Putney Vale Cemetery.

St Mary's is home to one celebrity, however, none other than Joseph Bazalgette (mausoleum, above right), the chief engineer of London's metropolitan board of works, who created the sewage network system for the city as a response to the 'Great Stink' of 1858. Bazalgette and his family lived in Wimbledon, in Arthur Road, the same road Sandy Denny's parents lived.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Marc Bolan's Barnes Rock Shrine
The Burton's Bedouin Tent Tomb
Safe as Castles

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I'm literally not being funny but let me ask you a question

At the end of the day, we're all guilty of using annoying, clichéd and pointless words or sayings in our speech but some just take the biscuit. A few years ago Oxford University researchers compiled a top ten annoying phrases with, perhaps unsurprisingly, 'at the end of the day' at number one. The office place is the main environment where we hear these sorts of expressions literally every minute. I used to work with an extremely annoying woman who was full of annoying expressions. 'At the end of the day' was one of her favourites, along with 'I'm not being funny but…'.

The latter, 'I'm not being funny but…' is apparently English in origin but I tend to think of it as Australian, perhaps because said annoying woman was Australian and when I lived in Australia I heard it literally a thousand times a day. The phrase usually occurs as a prefix to something offensive (and not really funny at all), such as 'I'm not being funny but there's a really big spot on your face' (two more reasons I thought it was Australian).

Another annoying and pointless saying – which I've only ever heard uttered in countless American films and TV shows – is 'let me ask you a question' (which I'm not sure is a statement, question or rhetorical question but which the obvious reply is: 'you already have'). This waste of words also riled another blogger, writing for the Examiner, who mentions an American interviewer called Jenna Wolfe, whose job it is to ask questions, and whose interviewees probably guess that's she's going to ask them questions, but asks 'let me ask you a question' before she asks a question.

Recently, the overuse and misuse of the word literally has been highlighted in the media, including a Guardian article and on the BBC's Today programme. Currently finding myself working in an office, I now suddenly hear the word literally uttered literally every five seconds. The debate reached national proportions at the weekend, when UK Deputy PM Nick Clegg uttered the now classic line: '... and then you see people literally in a different galaxy who are paying extraordinarily low rates of tax.' (Prompting one witty Guardian reader to comment, 'When Nick Clegg promised to fight increases in tuition fees he didn't mean it literally'.)

Other notable misuses of the word include Ulrika Jonsson explaining the Swedish system of child custody after divorce: 'literally will split the child in half to live one week with the mother ...'

But before we all scream about the degradation of the English language, it should be noted that literally – and many other words – have been misused or changed their meaning over the years. And literally has literally been 'misused' by authors from Jane Austen and Louise Alcott to Charles Dickens and F Scott Fitzgerald (unless Gatsby did 'literally glow').

Literally doesn't literally just mean literally, it can mean figuratively. It's used to give emphasis to a statement, to draw attention to it. And, depending on context, it should be obvious whether it's used literally or figuratively.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Andrei Tarkovsky's top ten films

Woman of the Dunes... in at number ten.

Following Fassbinder's top ten films (and a recent reading of Geoff Dyer's latest book Zona, concerning Stalker, amongst other matters), here's Tarkovksy's favourite films, compiled by the director in 1972.

1. Diary of a Country Priest (Bresson, 1951)
2. Winter Light (Bergman, 1963)
3. Nazarin (Bunuel, 1959)
4. Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957)
5. City Lights (Chaplin, 1931)
6. Ugetsu Monogatari (Mizoguchi, 1953)
7. Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954)
8. Persona (Bergman, 1966)
9. Mouchette (Bresson, 1967)
10. Woman of the Dunes (Teshigahara, 1964)

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The fall of Fonthill Abbey

Quite literally. Google 'England's Folly' and the second result is Fonthill Abbey – also known as Beckford's Folly. William Thomas Beckford, called by Lord Byron 'England's wealthiest son', inherited a vast fortune after the death of his father in 1770. Precocious yet eccentric and bisexual, he received piano lessons (aged five) from Mozart, aged nine. However, the young Beckford was more interested in art and architecture and would indulge both passions throughout his life, becoming a knowledgeable art dealer and 'builder of follies'. He also wrote a classic Gothic novel, Vathek, in French, aged twenty one, in a couple of days.

As well as inheriting what in today's money would be £110 million, he received an estate at Fonthill in Wiltshire. Beckford developed the land, building grottos, a boathouse and stables as well as Fonthill Abbey (described by Pevsner as 'the most prodigious romantic folly in England'), designed by Gothic architect James Wyatt. Completion of the Abbey became an obsession with Beckford, with his five hundred labourers working day and night shifts to get it finished. By all accounts, Wyatt was largely absent much of the time, leaving Beckford in command. When finally completed it was one of the most extraordinary buildings in England. Beckford lived there like Citizen Kane in his Xanadu, alone for fifteen years with his antiquities and art collection.

By 1825 Beckford had run out of money and was forced to sell the estate. He sold up in good time; two years later the abbey collapsed in a storm, a combination of shoddy, rushed workmanship, Wyatt's neglect and Beckford's grandiose plans. Nothing today remains of the abbey.

If you're in the area, there's a 'delightful' walk around the parkland beside Fonthill Bishop and Fonthill Gifford, which includes walking through this fine (habitable) archway, ascribed to Inigo Jones.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

No more lady detectives

Gone are the gentle days of Miss Marple and Mma Precious Ramotswe of the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Nowadays televisual female detectives are tougher than men, with the added bonus of being able to cry if things get really bad. The new female detective has no time for burdens such as husbands, partners, children or friends. Her work is her life and she won't let anything else get in the way. She may have a few problems and lack a social life; she'll possibly have an addiction or two, but nothing she can't handle.

The precedent was set by Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect in the 1990s and 2000s, playing Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, competing in an all-male environment. She had a drink problem and an inability to form lasting attachments. Next followed The Closer (2005 to present), heavily influenced by Prime Suspect, starring Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Chief of Police Brenda Leigh Johnson.

More recently has been Lisbeth Salander (introverted, anti-social) from Stieg Larrson's Swedish Millennium series; Sarah Lund (taciturn) from Danish crime series The Killing; Katrine Ries Jensen (anti-social, lonely) in Those Who Kill and now Carrie Mathison (bipolar, damaged, annoying) in Homeland, currently showing on Channel 4 on Sunday evenings. Even programmes with less-than-realistic premises, such as sci-fi show Fringe, features the cold and tough yet lonely workaholic FBI 'Fringe' agent Olivia Dunning.

I personally think they're all boring. This trend for women detectives is fair enough, good on 'em, it's a backlash against a usually all-male macho environment and makes a change to the usual boozing, sexist male cop. But let's flesh them out a bit, enough of this 'my work is my life' scenario, let's be controversial and have one of them – oh, I don't know – happily married with kids? In other words, less Cagney and more Lacey.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Bourdin and Hara at Michael Hoppen

Finishing this month are two very different kind of erotic photography exhibitions at the Michael Hoppen gallery just off London's King's Road. On the top floor is the surreal, often shocking but always beautiful fashion photography of Guy Bourdin (1928-1991). Working for Vogue magazine from the 1950s until the 80s, as well as producing ad campaigns for labels including Chanel and Versace, Bourdin threw every fashion photography cliche out the window with his daring, erotic, cinematic visuals.

It comes as no surprise that Guy Bourdin was influenced by Bunuel, Magritte, Man Ray – and the painter Balthus, who died in 2001 aged 92. The other exhibition at the Michael Hoppen I knew nothing about, having gone expressly for the Bourdin, but immediately upon entering the room and seeing Hisaji Hara's photographs there is no mistaking that they are all recreations of Balthus' paintings (and his illustrations for Wuthering Heights). But whereas Balthus' pictures have an unsettling undercurrent, Hara's photographs gently portray innocence in a dreamlike manner, with a nostalgic feeling of endless summer holidays, perhaps. With a hint of eroticism.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Fassbinder's top ten films

Rainer Werner Fassbinder died aged 37 in 1982 after directing forty feature films, two TV film series, three short films, four video productions, twenty-four stage plays and four radio plays (so say Wikipedia). He also acted in and wrote many of them. Even before I saw any of his films, I'd read his biography, Love is Colder than Death: Life and Times of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, by Robert Katz and Peter Berling. I still haven't seen as many of his films as I'd like to, but those that I have seen (especially Fear Eats the Soul), I love.

Fassbinder liked a top ten as much as anyone else. Here are two he made the year before his untimely death:

Fassbinder's 'The ten best films'
1. The Damned (Luchino Visconti, 1969)
2. The Naked and the Dead (Raoul Walsh, 1958)
3. Lola Montès (Max Ophüls, 1955)
4. Flamingo Road (Michael Curtiz, 1949)
5. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975)
6. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953)
7. Dishonoured* (Josef von Sternberg, 1931)
8. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
9. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
10. Red Elderberry (Vasily Shukshin, 1974)

*Also one of Jean-Luc Godard's top ten American films when he was writing for Cahiers du Cinéma in the 1960s.

Fassbinder's 'The top ten of my own films'
1. Beware of a Holy Whore (1971)
2. In a Year With 13 Moons (1978)
3. Despair (1978)
4. The Third Generation (1979)
5. Gods of the Plague (1970)
6. Martha (1973, TVM)
7. Effi Briest (1974)
8. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
9. The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)
10. The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971)