Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Notes on YouTube comments

If Google is the biggest search engine in the world, YouTube is number two, and though it’s meant for videos, it’s also the biggest music streaming site in the world – something I’ve always found a bit strange seeing as you have to have something on the video screen to accompany the music. Why not just do away with it? Of course, it's free to listen to/watch, which is why it will always be more popular than Apple Music or Spotify, but most of the [full album] uploads by individuals are presumably illegal, so it's luck whether they stay up there or get taken down. (I'm guessing YouTube Music, which no one has ever heard of, is at attempt to get people to pay for their music, and do away with the video screen; much as I love homemade videos accompanying Bob Dylan bootlegs, it's probably for the best. There's something annoying about that video screen – even if it's just a shot of the album cover, I'll end up watching it for far too long, just because, I guess, I associate the screen with the sound in a YouTube context, as in a video or a film.)

I used to dismiss comments on the internet in general, and on YouTube in particular, as nonsense; badly-written, moronic and meaningless. However, with my music collection being in storage, I've found myself listening to albums more on YouTube and sometimes reading through the comments. I've found them amusing and insightful, sometimes poetical and once in a while surprisingly moving and personal. There's nothing really to compare with the emotional power of music, how hearing a certain tune can transport you back to a very specific time and place in your life.

In fact, I've found the comments on YouTube more meaningful than most of the self-obsessed drivel on, say, Facebook, which consists mainly of bragging. Commenting on a specific piece of music, people seem open and emotional; and perhaps the anonymity (whether they use their actual name or not, it's unlikely to be read by all their friends) helps with being open and genuine than they otherwise would. Of course, many comments are funny or flippant or stupid or garbage. This is democracy, right? My favourite ones are the stories and memories, usually drug-related, that people have chosen to share.

This is just a few choice ones I’ve come across out of, obviously, billions. I don't know why I've picked mainly jazz albums; probably because I'm pretentious – but I do like jazz. 

Stockhausen: Song of the Youths

"If I die and then hear this music I'll know I went to the wrong place."

"What the hell. I am scared to go to sleep now!"

Brian Eno - Thursday Afternoon

"I backpacked around South-East Asia for 5 months this past summer. I remember taking mushrooms for the first time in the mountainous fields of Vang Vieng, Laos. There was a mountain there that seemed to attract my attention throughout my entire trip . During the 8 hour long trip from daylight to nighttime, that mountain kept luring me in to its grassy fields as if it were pulling a string connected to my body. When I listen to this song and close my eyes, I can feel the rays of light shining brightly on my face and the rustling of leaves and the children playing in the fields and the galloping of horses nearby. And when I lay down on the grass near that mountain, mother nature manifested itself into a beautiful creature and took me by my arms and danced with me - away into that beautiful mountain. The distant yet audible humms throughout this song remind me of the mountains calling. I will never forget the serenity and tranquility of living as one with the present."

"Listening while my baby naps beside me."

"greetings my fellow sufferers of anxiety and panic attacks"

"i like the part that goes bloop"

"This sounds like transformers having sex or something"

Bob Dylan - Tangled Up In Blue

"Those eyes, can't get past his eyes. I'd tie the laces of his shoes."

"To those of you who are fixated with what's on Dylan's face , if you encountered Van Gogh on the street....would you bother him about his ear?  Try just listening to the music."

Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks

"i can't stand this music sometimes, it's so good it's like a mirror reminding me of the shortness of life, the beauty of the moment, but the tension from knowing that half the beauty is unreachable, or at best, fleeting. Months listening to richter, slept through the sleep premier, and always the same, a feeling life is capable of so much framed by a more uncomfortable feeling we can never accomplish all we set out to do. Thank you for posting, and thank you Max Richter"

"I just came here to offer a weapon"

Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92

"Friday nights in 92/92, getting the 18.36 Thameslink from Farringdon to Leatherhead with this on my Walkman. Beautiful."

"Apparently he wrote "I" when he was 14. I was a complete and utter retard at that age."

Miles Davis - In a Silent Way - 1969

"I'm old enough to remember when this and Bitch's Brew first came out. A lot of people didn't like it, especially Jazz fans. But that's the difference between a pioneer and a follower. Miles had such status, and street creds, that he didn't have to worry about who did or didn't like it. I used to live across the street from him, and I could see him coming and going on 77th and West End Ave. . He was a jazz man who dressed like Jimi Hendrix, and marched to his own genius drummer. He never allowed himself to get stale. As soon as his fans thought they knew him, he would metamorph into something new. That my friends, is the definition of a true artist (think Picasso}."

"who else is listening to this between 2 and 5 a.m.?"

John Coltrane My Favorite Things (1961) [Full album]

"I want a girl that's into this."

"Those commercials really tie this album together."

"When I think the world is ending, I come here....."

"I think this record could bring peace to the middle east."

Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto - Getz/Gilberto (1963)

"I still have my vinyl copy that I bought back in 1963 when I was 19, and living on a 50' sports-fisherman in Nassau in the Bahamas. We would play that album every day as the sun began its descent into the sea. Many friends in Nassau got to hear Antonio Carlos Jobim for the first time. Wonderful music brings back wonderful memories. Many thanks for the posting"

ST GERMAIN - Boulevard

"I bought this album 15 years ago when i was much younger. When i bought that album i also bought myself a new big glass pipe the same day. I hadn`t smoked for days. I was happy because delicious cheeba dropped that day.  When i arrived at home i threw on the CD and then i was hitting my new bong and BOOM this new pipe hit me so hard that i was close to a circulatory collapse. I staggered from my couch to my bed and laid me down.  I was superstoned and heard the whole album. Wow i was totally flashed by this music. This was like a LSD-Trip. I remember how that album and my new bong in combination send my outter space that day. Love this album."

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue - Full Album

"Rain outside, hot bath, a book and Miles davis. Life is good"

"Listening to this makes me wanna write comedies about a neurotic guy with glasses in New York."

 John Coltrane - A Love Supreme [Full Album] (1965)

"this something else than music is much more than that every time i hear this i cry at some point i really cant help it if i where to listen one final piece of music before my death it would be this one and also in my funeral "

"do not pray..except to this album!"

"This album got me sober, thank you Coltrane."

Thelonious Monk - Monk's Dream (Full Album)

"The great thing about life is, no matter how long it's taken you to come to someone like Monk your days thereafter can only get better - I'm looking forward to exploring more of his legacy.
You keep thinking he's gonna fall down the stairs, but he recovers like Chaplin on roller skates."

Monday, October 01, 2018

The China clay pits around St Austell

I arrived at St Austell train station around midday; looked around a nice record shop, Museum Vinyl, in the historic Market House, and, naturally, a few charity shops. Again, another Cornish town not exactly inspiring, with its best buildings boarded up and derelict, but with stunning countryside all around. Again, naturally, the beautiful countryside was devoid of people on a glorious Saturday afternoon whilst the ugly, homogeneous high street was heaving.

Enthusiasm having waned slightly on the copper and tin mine front (and no doubt having bored friends and family by dragging them around to see them), I moved onto the China clay pits with ease, like a breath of fresh air.

I arrived at the China Clay Trails possibly the wrong way – by walking miles along an uninspiring cycling track (running parallel to a road and what sounded like a river and waterfall, though I couldn't see them for the trees along the path – more of which later). Nevertheless, at some point I arrived at the Wheal Martyn Clay Works Museum for a coffee and Kit Kat break (I was in an extravagant mood, having not needed – by which I mean the ticket office was closed, the ticket machine was broken and no one on the train asked to see my ticket – to buy a train ticket, plus finding a fiver on the pavement).

Like the Mineral Tramway Trails, the 37.5 mile network of paths exploring Cornwall's tin and copper mining heritage, the Clay Trails around St Austell are a series of walks traversing the China clay history of the area, taking in pits, dams, peaks, historic mines and lovely scenery and wildlife, with large parts of the area feeling like a martian landscape. The surreal and towering white-peaked clay tips, which are large hills made up from the mining waste, are known affectionately if ironically as the Cornish Alps. Some part of me, briefly, wanted to make a model of them out of Sainsbury's instant mashed potato, similar to Richard Dreyfuss doing the same with Devils Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Similarly surreal and incongruous, the dams and lakes in the discarded pits are a gorgeous, luminous turquoise colour, making them look as inviting as a beach in the Maldives – though they are full of chemicals left over from the China Clay mining. Combined with the lush vegetation which has sprouted up all around the pits (actually a lot of it purposely planted, a local horticulturalist told me), there's an otherworldly, almost Jurassic-era feel to the area.

I started walking one of the clay trails proper, from the museum to the Eden Project. I didn't make it all the way to the Eden Project, partly because I was already shattered, but mostly because I found the two things I'd wanted to see about halfway along the four mile trail: Baal pit, and opposite, the Great Treverbyn Tip.

Baal pit (pictured above) is a massive disused China Clay pit, partially flooded with the turquoise lakes, and teeming with wildlife. It has a fence all around it, and I asked a local dog walker if it was okay to go through the fence. She was guarded at first, asking me why I was here, but after I told her I was just here to take photos and look around, she said it was okay to go over the fence. Then she told me about the proposed 'eco village' plans for the pit. I thought it sounded a good idea – I imagined a giant dome, Eden Project-style, covering the entire pit, the poisonous lakes transformed into safe swimming pools with beaches, and people living in pod-like eco homes with palm trees and mangoes growing in the tropical environment. Eh, anyway, it's just going to be a bunch of houses and offices.

The lady was very opposed to the eco village, and said it would completely destroy the area, which had become a nature reserve, with plants, trees and many species of birds, some endangered, flourishing. I went through the fence and explored the pit. It was certainly a beautiful, peaceful area. I stood looking over one of the lakes, watching a flock of birds flying over it.

An elderly couple had also climbed over the fence and came walking my way. We greeted each other, and I checked with them too if it was okay to be walking beyond the fence – it felt like I’d stumbled onto the set of Stalker – and they said it was okay, just to say i hadn’t seen them and they hadn’t seen me. They walked back towards the fence, only to reappear again five minutes later. I tried engaging them in conversation. The man had been a miner in this very pit. He'd worked there every day, seven days a week, for a decade, up to its closure in the early 1990s.  I told them how beautiful and peaceful it was. Try to imagine it as working mine, with the pit completely white, the woman told me. Hard to imagine, I said. In the 1970s an episode of Dr Who exploited what would have been a far more alien landscape than what it is now. The couple were also opposed to the eco village. I knew why. I've been all for regeneration in recent posts (here, here and here) but that's been for abandoned buildings, not flourishing nature reserves.

Mist was closing in. The couple went on their way, joking as they went, ‘I hope you know your way back’; ‘No!’ I replied in earnest; but they merely chuckled and went on their way (the opposite way they’d come). I took some more photos then attempted to follow their route back, which cut across the pit, avoiding having to walk all the way around it again.

I followed them down a steep hill of rubble, not sure how they’d managed it, then slipped all the way down, cutting my hands on the stones and covering most of myself in white chalk. I got up, brushed myself down, then suddenly the place felt a bit eerie, and I wanted to leave. I heard strange noises. The plants all looked artificial. Mist was still closing in. The couple had completely vanished.

From the pit I walked a more direct route back to town, along the road. I'd looked on my phone for anything else to see in St Austell, and found a lovely-looking waterfall in an area called Menacuddle Well, not far on the other side of town. Well, I got ridiculously lost in a run-down housing estate, even whilst using Google Maps, and wasted an hour or so. Then about a mile away from it, my phone went dead. Still, I recognised the area. I was walking along the road parallel to the cycling path I'd walked hours ago. Then I heard the waterfall again and walked off the road, down into the small woodland area completely shattered and bathed in sweat. But what a beautiful spot. Completely secluded and tranquil, it's an ancient sacred site, said to be haunted. The holy well itself is in a tiny 15th Century chapel (seen here), which abuts into a stone wall. There's also an ancient bridge and 'druid's chair', a seat carved out of stone.

I was done. I hobbled back to the train station, got the train home. Collapsed. Pie and instant mashed potato was for dinner, for sure.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Meeting Ross Poldark

We set off early and wandered around the sunny side streets of Penzance, stopping off at a friend of H’s exhibition, before having a coffee opposite the gallery at the stylish Artist Residence, a boutique hotel with a restaurant and cafe. We were the only ones in the cafe until a loud, posh guy sat nearby with a lady friend, who he ‘insisted’ on buying coffee for. We didn’t hear her voice at all, for he spoke non-stop about his busy, possibly famous life: “someone knocked on my door at 10pm last night. I thought it would just be a friend but it was my ghost writer! My ghost writer is stalking me.” We didn’t recognise him (although we would see him again much later in the day), finished our coffees and left.

H was keen to leave the concrete for some countryside, so we journeyed on to Lanyon Quoit (between Madron and Morvah), not an ancient bus shelter as I first suspected, but a single-chamber megalithic tomb, known as a dolmen.

We drove a little further and parked opposite the home of Ian Cooke, author of Mermaid to Merrymaid: Journey to the Stones. We crossed a stile and walked along a grassy path through moorland, to Nine Maidens, a circle of granite megaliths (supposedly nine girls turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath).

The day was sunny and warm, so I forgave myself for not recognising that we’d been here before, almost six years ago, on one of our first dates. That day had been gloomy, rainy and windy, the paths muddy and wet; I remembered my boots being caked in mud.

We weren’t sure of the path to Ding Dong mine (yes, actual name), visible all around due to its dramatic lofty perch on the otherwise flat moorlands, so we asked a man walking his dog. He showed us the way, and we arrived there soon after.

More difficult to find was the Bronze Age Men-an-Tol, a formation of three small standing stones, hidden in the moorland. The main one is circular with a hole in the middle, like a bagel or ringed doughnut, said to be a cure for illnesses and instant pregnancy for a woman who passes through the hole backwards seven times during full moon.

We saw the man and his dog again. The man was a local, and very chatty. The dog was his neighbours, but they never took it for walks, so he’d been doing so every day for nine years. He used to have a dog, and a wife, both now dead, but “missed the dog more than the wife”. He lived alone now. People who live on their own tend to talk a lot. We played with his dog; throwing a ball for it until I lost it in some brambles. After we told him where we lived – near Redruth, he said, “Tell me your address, I’ll send you a sympathy card and a bill for the lost ball”.

We made a brief visit to the Yew Tree gallery before heading into St Just. I’d told H about the great pizzas (for £6) at The Square cafe but we’d arrived too early for the pizza oven, so rather than wait an hour for it to open (at 3pm) we decided to settle for coffee and cake (mine was caramel flavour, amazing), and return for the pizza at 3. That was the idea, anyway.

H took me to see Carn Gloose, a Bronze Age burial mound, just outside of St Just. From there we thought we may as well walk to Cape Cornwall, the only Cape – where two bodies of water meet – in England. It’s a stunning headland with great views.

From the headland I could just see the bottom of Kenidjack valley, which I’d visited before to see the arsenic mine further up, but hadn’t been all the way down to the coast. I said to H we may as well walk there. She sighed, but agreed. It was a pretty steep, windey and precarious coastal walk to the arsenic mine. All I could think about was pizza. And beer.

The path winded its way above the valley and down to the arsenic mine, now a wonderfully peaceful area, the mine overgrown with ivy and a beautiful stream – actually Tregaseal river – running alongside it to the Atlantic. The water is clear with lush and verdant plants either side of it and the only sound to be heard is the trickling of the water.

We crossed a small bridge and walked to the coast from the other side, following the river down and seeing other parts of the arsenic mine I’d not seen before. Another steep climb up the other side of the valley and we were near another mine.

From a distance H noticed there were a lot of people. Then she exclaimed, “They’re filming Poldark!” And indeed they were. I hadn’t watched any of it before I’d moved to Cornwall, but in the last month or so we’d watched all four seasons, and we’d heard they were filming the final season at the moment.

H sprinted along the coastal path until we were stopped by security guards and BBC folk with walkie talkies. We could just make out Ross filming in the distance, with his hat and long black coat. The shot finished and we were allowed to walk past the mine, catching glimpses of the miners in costume but no Ross. H was disappointed. Let’s walk back, I said. We walked back half way, stopping to look up at the mine. Ross looked our way. Normally quite restrained in public, H let all reserve go. She jumped up and down, waved her arms, made heart palpitations, then shouted, “Ross, we love you!” Then she blew him kisses. Ross blew kisses back. I stood there. H turned red. I’d never seen her so excited. A passer-by stopped to inform us they’d have trouble with their green screen as it had two shades of green. He got technical, we didn't care, and we moved on, looking at the wonderful Botallick mines, perched on the cliff edge looking out towards the ocean.

We walked back to St Just. We passed the BBC production trucks and trailers where hoards of fans were waiting for a glimpse of Ross. We didn’t wait. There were also some ladies – of a certain age – waiting on the roadside, armed with paperbacks of Poldark. Ross’s Land Rover came along, stopping briefly for them. There was Ross, now Aiden Turner, wearing a beanie hat, signing a few autographs. It broke the spell for H, seeing him out of his black hat and coat.

About half a mile from St Just, another Land Rover passed by; we just caught a glimpse inside of the posh guy from the cafe in Penzance. It was 6pm. The pizza was good. It was been a great walk, finishing with Ross and pizza. On the way back, as a treat, we stopped at Sainsbury’s just outside of Penzance. There must be like two Sainsbury's in the whole of Cornwall. Tesco have a monopoly in the county. I’d always preferred Sainbury’s. I’d missed their instant mashed potatoes (Tesco’s are tasteless; Smash is just as bad).

When we go on our walking adventures, we hardly see any people for miles. Then we’ll get to a car park, shop or cafe, and there they all are. They are surprisingly absent from the beautiful, natural areas – the Kenidjack valley, the rugged coastal areas, but they’ll always be swarming around car parks, cafes and shops. They don’t like to stray far.

In the evening, whilst munching on cheese puffs, we watched a couple of episodes of Amazon’s Outlander TV series. It seemed appropriate: a woman walks in a stone circle and is magically transported back to the 18th century where she encounters a dashing, handsome warrior.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Poster for The Last Movie

In a way, I wished I’d never seen The Last Movie, the film Dennis Hopper made whilst riding high (literally) after Easy Rider. I loved the story and myth behind the film: Hopper was given $850,000 to make the picture, which he would star in, direct and have final cut. The Last Movie is a film within a film, featuring a Billy the Kid western being shot in Peru. After an accidental death on the set of the film, Kansas – a  horse wrangler and stuntman, played by Hopper – quits his job in the movies to stay on in Peru. Turns out the Hollywood shoot has inspired the locals, and they decide to make their own film, but the camera they use is made out of bamboo and the violence isn't staged, it's real, as they have no concept of film-making.

It seems Hopper’s main reason for shooting in Peru was it had then become the cocaine capital of the world. The production of the film was, according to Hopper, ‘one long sex-and-drugs orgy’, with many scenes improvised. After shooting wrapped, Hopper holed up in Taos, New Mexico, to edit the film. Around this time, directors Lawrence Schiller and LM Kit Carson (writer of Paris, Texas) rocked up to make a documentary about Hopper, called American Dreamer (also ‘lost’ for decades, then recently ‘found’ and re-released). Then cult Mexican film maker Alejandro Jodorowsky turned up, criticising Hopper’s ‘conventional’ edit of the film, encouraging him to completely re-edit the film in a non-linear, experimental style. Which Hopper duly did.

The film was finally released in 1971; it won an award at the Venice Film Festival, then played in New York for a few weeks where no one saw it, it got terrible reviews, then vanished. 'A wasteland of cinematic wreckage' Roger Ebert wrote about it at the time, but time – and not being able to see it, and a fair degree of mythologising – have been kind to The Last Movie, with critics now calling it some kind of masterpiece. I remember it being pretty hard to watch; incoherent and self-indulgent – two traits in films I normally don’t mind; so I’m quite looking forward to seeing it again – it's getting an official DVD release in November.

Supposedly being an existentialist, experimental, anti-. neo-, post-western, I was also disappointed in the rather dull original poster for the film. And the VHS cover of the film was even more bland, seeming to have nothing to do with the actual film whatsoever. So I've designed mine to feature my favourite aspect of the film – the camera made of sticks. I suddenly thought the whole stick thing reminded me of The Wicker Man, so I used similar colours to the poster of that.

On the web, alternative film posters, created by fans, have become a sub-genre in itself, with many of them capturing a film in simple, bold graphics or beautiful illustrations, where often the original poster was formulaic. They remind me of Polish film posters, produced during the communist era as an alternative to banned American publicity material, yet always stunningly surpassing the pedestrian American originals.

The Last Movie is released on DVD by Arbelos Films, on 13 November.

Coincidentally, another near-mythical film-within-a-film lost for decades is also being released in November: Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind. Welles started shooting the film in 1970, and didn’t finish until 1976. After being in limbo for forty years, it is finally being released... by Netflix on 2 November.

I don't know. Sometimes lost, forgotten, unedited or unmade films are like that for a reason. Like the impossible dreams of Jodorowsky's Dune, Kubrick's Napoleon or Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno. Films that weren't meant to be seen, but to live in the imagination of fans (or get turned into documentaries). They're always better that way.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Talking about Victorian fire stations…

Which I was: the one in Redruth (here and here), sold at auction for £59,000 the other day, way over its £20,000 estimate. It will be converted into a house (yawn; still, better than it remaining derelict). My vision for it becoming a gallery and letterpress workshop, etc, will have to wait (I'd also had the brainwave of having Poldark pole dancing dark nights, but would have to insert a fireman's pole first as it didn't have one when I looked inside the building).

But good news for a London derelict Victorian fire station – it has been converted into an art gallery. The former Peckham Road fire station had been nelgected for many years. I’d passed and noticed the boarded up fire station – next to the boarded up Kennedys Sausages factory – many times, and thought it looked lovely behind its hoardings.

In 2014 an anonymous benefactor gave the fire station to the South London Gallery (which is across the road) and it’s due to open later this month, courtesy of 6a Architects. The fire station is twice the size of the original South London Gallery, and will include a more experimental arts programme and educational space.

If this sounds like a press release, fine. I'm over the moon when an old building gets a new lease of life, especially as an arts space (rather than soulless flats). I don't believe old, disused civic, commercial or religious buildings should really be turned into flats or houses; they should continue life as being of benefit to the community.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Lookalikes #41: Kamikaze and Licensed to Ill album covers

Another poor album from the once-great Eminem, Kamikaze's cover is a 'homage' to the classic 1986 Beastie Boys album Licensed to Ill, which I bought at the time on vinyl. I'm tempted to buy the Eminem on vinyl too, just to put them side by side.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Album Cover Mash-up

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Reviving Redruth (and environs)

Redruth, Camborne and the landscape around the towns is covered with the remnants of the mining industry. Once rich in copper and tin, it was an affluent and important area which can still be seen today in the beautiful local architecture – aside from the mines themselves, in Redruth there are many fine Victorian town houses and grand commercial buildings which are Grade-II listed. Indeed, the whole area is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Although towns such as Redruth and Camborne have fallen on hard times since the decline of the mining industry, there are many success stories in the area: The Great Flat Lode is one of Cornwall’s Mineral Tramway Trails which circles the hill of Carn Brea and includes many of the preserved old mines. The project cost £6m and was managed by Cornwall council.

Krowji is a fantastic local arts centre, the largest in Cornwall, converted from a Victorian grammar school, which had an additional building built next to it in 2015. The glorious roofless Old Church in nearby St Day was Sir John Betjeman’s favourite church and has recently been saved from developers after a 30-year battle by the local community. They are going to use it as a community arts space.

The site of the former Redruth brewery – which suffered two fires, in 2011 and 2013 – is currently being transformed into Kresen Kernow, an archive centre for all things Cornish, partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and will open in 2019. It is hoped the centre will reinforce Redruth in becoming a cultural destination to attract visitors.

The old Butter Market has recently been bought by Redruth Revival, a CIC of local business people whose aim is to support the regeneration of Redruth. Though, a year after buying the market, it still looks pretty empty (the idea is to transform it with local shops and office space), it just goes to show how change, whether it be removing plastic from our beaches or preserving an old building, often comes from local, passionate folk with a vision.

Redruth now looks like many impoverished high streets in Britain, with charity shops, fast food joints and boarded up buildings dominating the town centre. The vast, homogeneous, ugly retail parks springing up outside of town centres – putting local high street businesses at risk – don’t really benefit the local area at all: 90% of all profits immediately leave the vicinity.

In Redruth town centre, funding seems to have halted half way on several projects. There seems to be no irony intended with a ‘Welcome to Redruth’  sign printing on a building site hoarding over a large, empty lot with only a decade’s worth of buddleia to show for it. And irony doesn’t even come into it – for it must be a joke, right? – when further text informs us: ’This site improvement was created… to celebrate the town’s past, present and future’.

Furthermore, on the main high street, a sign on possibly the ugliest, most dilapidated building in the town proclaims – again with no irony intended – ‘The Redruth Community have improved the look of this building to enhance the town centre.’

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like funding has been forthcoming recently, and with Brexit imminent, the future doesn’t look great (many projects in the county, including new roads, were funded by the E.U., a fact which didn’t seem to dawn on the Cornish until the day after they voted in the referendum en masse to leave).

Redruth was recently the subject of a Channel 5 documentary, part of their Rich House Poor House series. It took a poor family from Redruth, heavily in debt and living in a small, rented council house, and a wealthy family from Newquay who owned a huge house and acres of land. They swapped houses for a week to experience how the other half live (about a third of Cornish households live in some of the most deprived areas of the UK). It was pretty standard fare, but ultimately fairly moving when the wealthy couple felt so upset by the poor couple’s living conditions that they paid off their £10K+ credit card debt – without ever having met the couple. That complete strangers should help them out with such a life changing gesture is staggering when presumably friends, family or government did nothing to lighten their burden. The kindness of strangers.

(On the flip side of things, the poor couple were living in an actual house, with a fairly large garden – two things most Londoners, say, won’t ever experience. The couple were amazed at the space around them in the Newquay house, yet within a mile or so of Redruth there is free access to beautiful beaches and stunning countryside, including Tehidy woods.)

When I recently moved to the area, two buildings immediately caught my attention – the Victorian fire station in Redruth and the Fuse Factory in Tuckingmill. Both are lovely and historically important buildings in a severe state of dilapidation.

The Grade II listed fire station was built in 1860 and has lovely brickwork with elegant window arches and a turret. In September the building will be up for auction, with a guide price of £20K. It will need at least another £100K to renovate it.

It’s sad to see a lovely Grade II listed building in such a sorry state, uncared for and abandoned. It brings the tone of the town down, it shows its history and beauty aren’t respected or cared for. Most of the time it feels that councils, developers and the insatiable need for profit are the enemy of history.

Though the fire station will inevitably be bought by a developer to be converted into flats or a house, I would like to see it used for the benefit of the community. My fantasy would be for it to be a gallery, cinema, shop, cafe, letterpress workshop and design studio. Why not? The town and area has a rich artistic heritage, with small galleries in town and Krowji up the road.

Look at St Ives – once a tacky seaside resort, until the Tate gallery came along and gentrification was only a matter of time. It’s the Bilbao effect: the Spanish port town was likewise impoverished until the Guggenheim museum was built there. A similar effect has since happened in many other UK towns from Margate to Bexhill-on-Sea.

(The problem with Redruth and Camborne is, of course, they don’t have beaches. Though the media have reported the recent over-crowding of many of Cornwall’s beautiful beaches (The Guardian blame Poldark, Instagram and the summer’s heatwave), tourism just doesn’t reach towns like Redruth, Camborne and dozens of other places inland. Good in a way, of course (St Ives is a nightmare at the moment but will be empty next month), but with the mining industry long gone, the county relies heavily on tourism.)

My other favourite building in the area, the former Fuse Factory in Tuckingmill, though it has been turned down for listing status twice, is part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage site and it’s thus a sacrilege for such a complex to be in left in its abandoned state. This important site once produced William Bickford’s safety fuse, responsible for saving many miner’s lives at home and overseas. The large complex covers an array of architecture including the zig zag-roof shaped factory itself and wonderfully ornate stonework entrances.

If the fuse factory was in London, it would long ago have been converted into cool artists studios or flats, selling for half a million apiece. Whilst Tuckingmill isn’t exactly Dalston, in the current housing crisis, I wouldn’t be completely adverse to the site being tastefully converted into flats and shops – keeping as much of the original architecture as possible and including a museum (in a similar manner to Heartlands; another fairly successful local regeneration programme where an old mine was preserved and housing built on the nearby empty land, half the area feels like an unfinished building site. Regeneration should not be dictated merely by profit; building houses is not enough to create or regenerate a community. A community needs life, events, the arts and local businesses to bring money back into the area). The now-roofless fuse factory itself I’d like to see converted into an Eden Project-style greenhouse with a cafe,  and the rest of the site some independent shops, a gallery and some grassland.

Buildings are like people: they need to be cared for and loved. Old, derelict buildings remind me how the UK treats its elderly — we forget their past, their former glories, and shuffle them into an old people’s home and forget about them, not realising that they were young and useful once.

I would like to see more regeneration come through culture – it happened with the Tate in St Ives, the Eden Project near St Austell and soon, hopefully, Kresen Kernow in Redruth. As well as its beaches, Cornwall has a rich arts scene, beautiful countryside, lovely architecture and a fascinating history.

It would be a shame for Cornwall and its towns to dull themselves down, reflecting so many high streets throughout the UK. Cornwall has a soul and heritage and pride that so many other places lack, and towns like Redruth and Camborne, that have truly suffered from a decline and struggled to get back on their feet could be the centre of a new confident Cornwall striding into its future, head held high once again. Let the artists and the creatives lead the way, putting their heart and soul and talent to bring these areas back to life and the future will be bright.

An abridged version of this post was sent to the Cornish Buildings Group for inclusion in their newsletter. Two recent posts, The old fire station, Redruth, Cornwall and The Fuse Factory, Tuckingmill, formed the basis of this post.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Top ten Google Instant Autocomplete Suggestions

You know what? I’m all for algorithms predicting exactly what I want to buy or where I want to travel (it would make life easier), but as journalist Adam Curtis said in an interview I read recently, it has a long way to go: you buy a return ticket to Bulgaria as a one-off holiday, never to be repeated, and all you get afterwards is ads popping up for tickets to Bulgaria. Will they ever be able to predict that I want to watch Poldark then Godard? That I can visit Russia then Myanmar then Margate? That I can buy a lawnmower then printer inks then War and Peace?

So it comes as no surprise that Google Instant’s Autocomplete Suggestions haven’t really changed since I last posted a similar list some eight years ago. And it’s meant to be personalised and localised. Surely they must realise I don’t need to know how to floss dance. I’m a natural.

Social media is now all educational how to services, I’m told. If you can sell this top ten of how tos – presumably the top top ten in the world – then you’ve got it made.

1. How to make slime
2. How to make pancakes
3. How to train your dragon 3
4. How to lose weight
5. How to train your dragon
6. How to get rid of ants
7. How to delete instagram account
8. How to tie a tie
9. How to make money
10. How to floss dance

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Beware the Gulls

I haven't really been doing any writing since moving down to Kernow, but been drawing a lot with pen and ink, and taking many photos – some of which are on Flickr, a few are on Instagram.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Swan Lake

Swan feather floating on the water.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Revenge of the VHS tape

Like everything else retro from vinyl to the Nokia 3310, VHS tapes have been making a comeback for some time. If half the internet consists of cats, the other half consists of 1980s VHS horror film covers. Until recently VHS tapes were given to charity shops or chucked in the bin; eBay is now awash with rare 1980s horror titles and select Disney films worth hundreds of pounds (according to The Sun and BuzzFuze, anyway).

As featured on Eye on Design recently, Vault of VHS goes one step further (or back) and showcases the cases of blank VHS tapes. The cases usually contained bold graphics and gradients. For quality, my preference was always the TDK EHG (Extra High Grade) tape (which came in a plastic rather than card case), reserved for recording the likes of Godard, Truffaut and Bunuel from Channel 4 seasons of films.

Vault of VHS features American cases but the ones above are a few of my old UK case spines. I still own a fair variety of video tapes, including VHS, VHS- C, U-Matic, Video8, Hi8, Betacam and MiniDV, none of which I can actually play any more. Which I'm not at all sorry about – editing with two video machines was a painful experience; editing with 16mm film was more fun. And when iMovie, Premiere and Final Cut Pro came along, it was like a dream come true.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The top ten most valuable CDs
Homeless Movies DVD out now!

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:
YouTube Channel

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Random Film Review: Straw Dogs

Dir: Sam Peckinpah | 1971 | USA & UK | 117mins.

Many years ago, a Cornish acquittance vaguely informs me, the parish of St Buryan had sovereignty whereby the law couldn't touch you if you were in the district. Therefore the area attracted a cornucopia of criminals of the day. Nowadays, it has a reputation for white witches, and John Le Carré lives nearby. Most famously, though, Straw Dogs was shot there in 1971.

Like with Andrei Rublev, I hadn't seen Straw Dogs for at least two decades. Being one of the infamous, banned films of the 1970s, along with A Clockwork Orange, I watched a dodgy VHS copy of it in the 1990s (the uncut version would only be released on video and DVD in 2002). And the other day, I watched a dodgy YouTube copy of it. Has anything changed? Maybe not in Cornwall...

1971 is only a few years after Dustin Hoffman starred in the Graduate (1967), and he still has something of the Benjamin Braddock in him in Straw Dogs. Indeed, the scene where he finds the strangled cat in the wardrobe (still pretty shocking), reminded me of Hoffman's nervousness when fumbling with putting Mrs Robinson's coat in the wardrobe in The Graduate.

Sam Peckinpah, famous for his elegiac, beautiful westerns with their trademark slo-mo violence, here, in his first non-western feature, evokes a low budget, rough, bucolic and entirely unsentimental feel for the Cornish landscape, which feels more apt and realistic than the clichéd, tourist-friendly sunsets and turquoise crystal clear seas as seen recently in the BBC's Poldark.

Nevertheless, Straw Dogs explores similar themes to other Peckinpah westerns, as Hoffman's nerdy mathematician, David Sumner, moves into his wife's (Amy, played by Susan George) childhood home in a small village in Cornwall in order to have peace and quiet to write. The locals soon make their dislike of the American outsider known, with teasing leading to bullying and violence. Their desire for Amy is also apparent (understandable as there's only about three females in the whole village), and she flaunts her sexuality as she becomes increasingly frustrated with David's cowardice.

The problematic rape scene, where Amy is seen to enjoy the experience (at least the first rape anyway, which is with a former boyfriend), isn't that different to the climax of series two of Poldark, where Ross overcomes Elizabeth, who eventually succumbs to his rough advances. Indeed, the tide seems to have turned for Straw Dogs. Once cited – along with A Clockwork Orange and Dirty Harry – as the epitome of 1970s violence in the cinema, it now has Little White Lies calling it a feminist film.

The violence and rape scene have in the past overshadowed many of the film's qualities, such as the depiction of domestic tensions of the newly-married couple, and Dustin Hoffman playing a record of bagpipes very loudly when the vicar comes round for tea. Carry on Cornwall, anyone? Indeed, it takes an hour for Peckinpah's trademark slo-mo violence to kick in; there is much to enjoy before then. 

– 4/5

(The rather pointless 2011 remake of Straw Dogs – relocated to the States – at least contains a crazy performance by James Woods and a beautifully atmospheric misty morning hunting scene. Interesting to note, though, how the object of man's sexual desire has changed in the decades between the two films. In the 1970s, it was Susan George's busty and saucy Amy; in the 2011 remake, it was cold-as-ice stick insect model and actress Kate Bosworth. What can I say? Busty and saucy has always done it for me.)

Other films shot or set in Cornwall:
Jamaica Inn and Rebecca (two early Hitchcock films set in Cornwall)
The Plague of Zombies (classic Hammer Horror flick)
Archipelago (filmed on Tresco on the Isles of Scilly)
The Witches (the big hotel is in Newquay)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Fuse Factory, Tuckingmill

After the fire station in Redruth, Bickfords Fuse Works in Tuckingmill is my next favourite derelict building in the area. I think it’s right that the mines remain in their derelict state, but as with the fire station, it’s criminal that such an important (William Bickford's safety fuse, created in 1831, saved many miner's lives in Cornwall and worldwide) and beautiful building remains in such a perilous condition. The old factory covers such a large area of land that in the current ‘housing crisis’, I’d rather see the area converted into flats than remain derelict. But I’m adding some flourishes, naturally. The actual factory, pictured above, whose frontage I believe is a protected structure (though it has been twice turned down for listing status), is without roof and an empty shell inside (apart from a decade’s worth of buddleia). I would like to see it with a glass roof with Eden Project-type plants and flowers inside. And a cafe. The rest of the site to be low-rise flats with trees and greenery around them, with as many of the original buildings (or at least their frontages) protected as possible. Other buildings on the site contain wonderfully ornate stonework.

Read more about it here on Cornish Mine Images, a comprehensive guide to Cornish mining with lovely black and white photos.

Monday, August 13, 2018

My daughter's top ten films, aged 12

It's not my fault: San Andreas in at No. 10

1. The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012, USA)
2. The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey, 2017, USA)
3. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977, USA)
4. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (Ol Parker, 2018, UK/USA)
5. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (JA Bayona, 2018, USA)
6. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
(Tim Burton, 2016, USA)
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
(David Yates, 2011, UK/USA)
8. A Dog's Purpose (Lasse Hallström, 2017, USA)
9. The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980, USA)
10. San Andreas (Brad Peyton, 2015, USA)

Previously on Barnflakes:
My daughter's top ten films (aged 11)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The old fire station, Redruth, Cornwall

Naturally, on moving to Cornwall, I was instantly attracted to the old derelict buildings in the local area – mines and mills, farmhouses and fishermen houses. In particular, though, there was one old building in Redruth which caught my attention (and needs a lot of attention) – the old Victorian fire station. I instantly fell in love with the Grade II listed building; its shape, its turret, its elegant doorways... but I couldn't find anything about it online. Recently, however, it's come on the market, and will be auctioned next month. Starting price is £20K (a barngain, you all shout. Yes, but you haven't been inside it. At a conservative estimate I'd say it will need £200K worth of renovation).

I know it's a derelict wreck. But. My dream for it is a part-community arts centre, consisting of design studio and letterpress workshop, gallery, cinema, cafe and shop.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Spilling the beans

Spilt coffee on the steps of Goldsmiths University, London.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Water in the films of Andrei Tarkovsky

Water in the films of Tarkovsky (other motifs in his films include fire, dogs and horses) always looks so lush and inviting (when it doesn't include falling masonry). Characters in his films rarely change to bathe – they usually go into the water fully-clothed. His water is often subterranean and where it shouldn’t be; an abandoned building, a leaking ceiling (sometimes in a dream or fantasy sequence). Whatever its context, I always want to be in it. The camera lingers on it, zooms into it, characters stare at it, verdant underwater plants dance in it. Only the animated films of Studio Ghibli come close to showing the beauty of water.

From top to bottom: two from Stalker; Andrei Rublev; Mirror; Nostalgia; The Sacrifice; two from Solaris

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Random film review: Andrei Rublev

Iconic: a still from Andrei Rublev

Dir: Andrei Tarkovsky | Soviet Union | 1966 | 183 mins.

There's a running joke between my daughter, partner and myself that when we're deciding on a film to watch of an evening, I always say how about a four-hour Russian black and white movie? They always sigh, and say no. The four-hour Russian black and white film I'm always referring to is Andrei Rublev (actually just over three hours long but I exaggerate for effect). I first watched it aged 18 as an art student, and watched it again recently.

Maybe it's the black and white combined with the brutally realistic depiction of medieval Russia but I look on the film as a virtual documentary on the life of the icon painter Andrei Rublev (circa. 1360-1430) though at least 90% of it is presumably made up, seeing as little is known of his actual life. Nevertheless, it feels a truthful, spiritual, and profoundly moving experience watching the film as we follow the monk Rublev (played by Tarkovsky regular Anatoly Solonitsyn) wandering the harsh Russian landscape looking for work as an icon painter and encountering naked pagan rituals, brutal Tatar raids, famine, war and, finally, the casting of a giant bell, where Rublev breaks his vow of silence and desires to return to painting (he'd had years of self-doubt, questioning the role of the artist in society and the point of art amid so much war and bloodshed). The epilogue is the only colour segment of the film, where we see close-ups of Rublev's paintings.

However, not a lot of actual painting is seen during the film (so, no, it's not like watching paint dry). In fact, the guy doesn't even so much as pick up a paintbrush in over three hours (though there's one scene when Rublev is seen sketching an icon). For those looking for the clues to his genius, there is none. It's more like an anti-biopic. After two hours he goes on a vowel of silence. Then gives up painting altogether. In old age he becomes an extra in his own biopic (doesn't that happen to us all eventually? We just become an extra in our own life?).

When I went to Russia a few years ago, aside from the churches and brutalist Soviet architecture, the main thing I wanted to see was Rublev's paintings in the flesh. And they were stunning and beautiful, the colours still fresh and bold. The film had haunted me for many years, and it felt a profound experience to see the paintings, which no doubt I wouldn't have heard of if it wasn't for the film, over twenty years after first watching it.

– 5/5 

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top ten films about painters
Andrei Tarkovsky's top ten films
Top ten foreign sci-fi movies

Random film review: I, Daniel Blake

Dir: Ken Loach | UK | 2016 | 100 mins.

England on celluloid is one of extremes: it's either Richard Curtis or Ken Loach. Real life is somewhere in between for most of us, hopefully. But a few lives are like a Richard Curtis film, far more, most likely, are like a Ken Loach film.

First off, I, Daniel Blake is an important and moving film, charting as it does the benefits hell of Geordie Daniel Blake, who is unable to claim Employment and Support Allowance following a heart attack. His doctor has found him unfit to work but a five minute Work Capability Assessment deems him fit and able, so he has to make a claim for Jobseeker's Allowance. This means he has to actively search for work and provide evidence, but he has to turn work down on the advice of his doctor.

Caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare of benefit bureaucracy, what comes across is the seemingly intentional dehumanisation and humiliation of people caught in the benefits system, where through no fault of ones own – accident, loss, illness, redundancy – a person has to turn to the state for help and is treated like a number. What saves the film from being totally depressing is the spirit and humour of Daniel Blake (played by comedian Dave Johns) and his friendship with Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mum of two from London, recently arrived in Newcastle.

I'm glad Ken Loach is making films, but too often find him didactic, his characters mere pawns to express his view on society. It seems hard to believe that, Blake, a man in his 50s with a decent job (carpenter) would never have used a computer or the internet before (though I realise we still live in a country where some people can't read or write). Hence we have a scene in the library where Blake puts his mouse against the computer screen to move the cursor, having never seen or used such a device in his life. Other elements verge on cinematic cliché – Katie turning to escort work, for example, rather than looking for work in a bar or shop.

At the risk of sounding facetious, the film sometimes came across as a DIY manual – how to heat your home with bubble wrap, tea lights and a flower pot, for example, and I was thinking (after a bit of internet training, natch) Blake should launch a YouTube channel of instructional videos. Seriously though, he could at least have set up a small carpentry business; it's a great skill to have, and very much in demand. If he did small projects (like his treasured mobiles, the only thing in his flat he wouldn't sell), it wouldn't have affected his heart. 

After it ended, I did imagine a Hollywood remake: Blake takes an Uzi into the job centre and guns everyone down, blows the building up and runs off to Mexico to live with Katie. But it's a Loach film, and there was no happy ending.

– 4/5

Be good to your fiends


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Top ten missed vinyl barngains

 One that got away... Popol Vuh's soundtrack to Herzog's classic 1972 film Aguirre, Wrath of God (though it only contains two tracks from the actual film)

Missed, lost chances and regrets swirl around in my head, whether it be job opportunities, friends, lovers, photos, books or records. I have no explanation for why I didn't buy these records, most of which were under a tenner, and all of which I now of course desperately want.

1. Bob Dylan – The 50th Anniversary Collection 1963 
(6 LP set)
This is the only one I will probably never have the chance to buy again, seeing as it was released in a limited edition of 100 (snuck out by Sony/Legacy to prevent the recordings entering the public domain) and now sells for about £500. I can't remember why I was in Sister Ray early one Saturday morning in November 2013 but I saw it there. For £30. Seemed expensive at the time.

2. Popol Vuh – Aguirre (pictured above)
This one isn't worth a huge amount – about £40 – but the original pressing seems fairly rare. I'd seen it for £5 at a record stall at a car boot sale a few years back. I held it in my hands, put it back. Went back to the stall half an hour later – it was still there – again, held it in my hands, ummed and ahhed, but didn't buy it.

(Recently my mum returned from the V&A with a bunch of greetings cards – including one with the Indian painting of the lotuses on the cover of Aguirre – which even my daughter recognised immediately, as I'd been going on about it so much. For years. Sigh.)

3. Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers 
The one with the famous Andy Warhol crotch shot cover with an actual zipper on the original LP,  I saw this at the record stall in Barnes Fair. Quite rare for the cover to be in perfect condition (with an intact zipper, so to speak) but the vinyl had a large scratch on it so I passed. £4.

4. Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet
£2 in a charity shop in Richmond, this one wasn't in very good condition.

5. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited / 
Bringing it all Back Home
Two classic Dylan albums in great condition at a car boot sale for £3 each. Don't ask.

6. Every single Steeleye Span album
I love Steeleye Span but don't have any of their albums. About a dozen or so had turned up in a charity shop, as well as solo stuff by Maddy Prior. They were all in perfect condition, and £2 each. I wasn't sure which ones to buy – aside from all of them – so opted for none. But I did get Liege & Leaf by Fairport Convention.

7. Crates of classic rock LPs including Led Zeppelin, 
David Bowie etc.
A van pulled up at the Chiswick car boot sale and unloaded about twenty crates of vinyl. Middle-aged men swarmed around them. I had a good look, they were all £2 each, but I felt a bit overwhelmed. There were multiple copies of, say, the first Led Zeppelin album, with different coloured covers. I couldn't remember which the valuable pressings were, so didn't buy anything.

8. Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica
Classic experimental album that is very painful to listen to. I've probably heard the whole album once. Nevertheless, seeing the first pressing, double LP in mint condition in a charity shop was tempting. But not for £20. I went back a few times, waiting for it to be reduced in price. The third time I went, all the vinyl was half price, but Trout Mask Replica was gone. There was other stuff left – including Safe as Milk for £5. I should have got it. But didn't.

9. The Beatles – White Album
Never much liked the Beatles anyway*. £6 a bit steep. Mentioned previously.

10. Crazy Horse – Crazy Horse
The debut album of Neil Young's backing band for £1 in a Crystal Palace charity shop seems a no-brainer but it was a bit tatty.

I very rarely make this mistake any more (i.e. if it's a pound or two, I'll  take a chance – go crazy – and buy it), and the amount of barngains I have bought runs to hundreds, so I'm grateful for what I've managed to find – but these missed ones nag at me like a sore tooth for some reason.


*I remember reading in Nick Hornby's 31 Songs how he wasn't a big Dylan fan but realised he owned about a dozen of his albums anyway. I'm the same with the Beatles (and David Bowie) – I wouldn't call myself a fan of either, but find I own, on vinyl and CD, virtually every album they ever released (as well as some rarieties).

I'm also not a fan of James Corden – but found myself watching his recent Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney. It was surprisingly moving as Macca visits his old haunts in Liverpool, then does a surprise gig in a pub he used to drink in as a lad.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Missed Photos
Letting the barngains go
Recent barngain LPs
Recent barngains
The month's musical barngains
Top 10 greatest missed  barngains
Top 10 most valuable CDs (Consistently one of my post popular posts for some reason)

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Corn + Wall = Cornwall

50 Shades of Ray / Catching some Rays

Just two (for the price of one) concepts from the 28-page book that is It's A Shame About Ray.

Here's what people are already saying about it:

"U r a fucking genius!!!!!!"
– Christian

"Makes me want to meet the legend"
– Mel

"You must have a lot of time on your hands"
– Caspar

"Brilliant work"
– Narinder

"No comment"
– Ray

Top ten London buildings

1. Natural History Museum, SW7*
2. Michelin House, SW3* (pictured)
3. Battersea Power Station, SW8*
4. Horniman Museum, SE23
5. Space House, WC2
6. Gala Bingo Hall, SW17*
7. Peckham Library, SE15
8. Crossness Pumping Station, SE2
9. Southgate Tube Station, N14
10. St Pancras railway station, N1C

*What can I say? South west is best.

Inspirational demotivational business slogans

Previously on Barnflakes:
Aspire to be average
Don't just be yourself
Dream job is an oxymoron; T-1000 came up with 'Nightmare job is a tautology' but it's just the flip side of the coin – I would have thought of it eventually.
Top five office moments

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:
The BARNACLES page has been updated and 'redesigned' (i.e. font made bigger), with choice bon mots now added regularly.

A brief* history of photography (part two)

At the risk of sounding pretentious (though I never thought there was anything wrong with that), I feel photography's always been in my blood. My grandfather, who I never met, was a keen photographer and amateur filmmaker; he worked for Kodak and experimented with 16mm colour film before it was available to the public. My uncle, who sadly passed away recently (I helped write his obituary in the Guardian), was a successful food photographer in the 1970s (I remember the surprise of seeing a poster of his in Athena whilst at school and thinking 'He's famous'!) and made adverts in the 1980s. My dad barely ever takes a picture, but my brother and I have always taken them. I would say it was travelling, like with many people, which got both of us into photography. We take similar photos too – of doorways, pavements and faded posters, for example.

Photography was always there in my travels – even if I wasn't the one taking the photos. For example, whilst in a belly dancing club in Cairo in the mid-1990s, my girlfriend at the time and I met two photographers taking pictures of the dancers, and of my girlfriend too when she got up on stage to have a go at belly dancing. They were using a Rolleiflex film camera and promised to post us prints but never did.

Said girlfriend was anti-photography, as I have been too at various times, so I didn't take many photos in Egypt (but obviously, the ones I did are great, such as this and this) or Morocco or most of SE Asia (I took about ten rolls of 36 photos in six months; I might take that in a week now with my iPhone); unique photo opportunities, perhaps, in my travelling days – hitching rides on the back of trucks full of Berbers and goats in the Sahara desert; narrowly missing massacres and revolutions (stuck in Jakarta with dengue fever during the riots and revolution for the fall of Soherto in May 1998, I was surrounded by photo journalists and used to hang out with them in the bars around Jalan Jaksa. I hardly took any photos – I was trying to make a video with a cheap camcorder until it got stolen by a prostitute – see my book Gullible Travels if you're interested). I curse myself now for not buying an SLR and taking lots of photos; it was a different world back then. The things I saw I'll never see again.

But I always felt I was a photographer, just one who didn't necessarily take photos (like Isabelle Huppert in Hal Hartley's film Amateur – the nymphomaniac who doesn't have sex), hence I'm doing a book of Missed Photos (there's something about the photos I didn't take that are always better than the ones I did). Didn't the Japanese used to say – which always seemed to me a bit ironic for them – cameras are an intrusion as they see into the window of the soul? Back then, it felt like I was living life, and photos were just an impingement on life (I always thought photography, like writing, a lonely existence; that's why I think I went into film, a collaborative process).

As mentioned in part one, I learnt how to use an SLR at 'A' Levels, then forgot how; I learnt at art college, then forgot how; I learnt at film school, then forgot how. The first 'proper' camera I bought was a Lomo (it felt proper to me). I loved my Lomo – shooting from the hip was their motto. I worked with a guy called Ken who was annoyingly good at whatever he tried his hand at, including Lomo photography. He took amazing photos with his, and had one published in a magazine, but he had no real interest in photography. I took okay ones, such as this and this.

My Lomo got stolen (also mentioned in part one); in fact I've had about half a dozen cameras stolen from me over the years. I should take heed. Like when my skateboard broke in half (a lovely Mark Gonzales board by Santa Cruz), I knew it was time to quit. I was crap skater (but liked the lifestyle).

Eventually the internet came. I went off photography again in the early internet age, and didn't take any good pics for years. It's like men who think they have a reasonably-sized dick until they come across porn on the internet, and they think 'What the fuck? Is that for real?' (or indeed women who think their boyfriend is pretty well-endowed...). Whatever talent you think you have – genital size, photography, writing, graphic design, illustration... there's a million other people who are bigger, better and more popular than you. Comparisons are inevitable if fruitless at best, destructive at worst.

I enjoy many things – chess, tennis, films, music, writing, photography, travel, for example – but not being brilliant at anything (or even just gaining the respect of my peers or being popular on social media; encouragement from my daughter and girlfriend don't count – that's unfair; of course they do, they're my biggest fans who keep me going – but you know what I mean... they may be biased) is, well, extremely frustrating. Unfortunately, lack of ambition and self-confidence aren't a good combination and don't really help.

With the internet, there's so much talent, sure, but also so much rubbish (or worse still, so much average stuff). A friend told me recently it’s the worst time ever to want to become a photographer – everyone’s a photographer; every day millions of photos are being uploaded. Exactly, I replied, there’s more crap than ever before.

(But Instagram, ah, Instagram. It doesn't even matter what your photos are like. It's about being popular. If you're a popular person, your photos are popular. It reminds me of being at school. The internet is one big popularity contest. Is it just me – yes, I know it is – but the popular photos and blog posts are just inundated with complements: 'amazing photo!', 'great post!', etc – if I ever get any comments, they're mainly piss-takes.)

In a recent interview, Joel Meyerowitz, famous street photographer of the 1960s, declared contemporary street photography dead – the streets are filled with people glued to their phones, he said. I think street photography is the hardest but most exciting genre of photography: you never know what you're going to come across. I love the idea of being a flaneur, wondering the city armed with a camera (which I've been doing on – but mainly off – for 25 years all over the world). Walking down any street, you may stumble across a great photo with a click of the shutter (such as this – which, you know, I love, but think in this day and age, with most people pretty visually astute, maybe six out of ten people walking past it would have taken a shot of it with their phone, and come up with a similar result. The main difference being they probably don't work for Magnum).

(This is what gets me about most office work – you know exactly what you're going to do, every single day. There's no surprises, no eureka moments – but photography, and street photography in particular, you can be walking around the most boring neighbourhood, but if your wits are about you, you may happen upon something beautiful and unexpected.)

The truth is, I've lived most of my life in my head (have I mentioned this before? Oh yes, here somewhere). I read biographies and autobiographies all the time – of film-makers, artists, mathematicians (Alan Turing, if you're wondering), travellers, musicians – from Miles Davis and Malcolm Lowry to Bruce Chatwin and Alan Lomax. What I'm always looking for, in a way, is a clue to how they did it, how they succeeded, and, in a way I suppose, where I went wrong in life. Just as in the film Life of a Leader (excellent, though almost too opaque even for me; the soundtrack the most accessible thing about it, which is saying something for latter-day Scott Walker) looks at the childhood and possible clues as to what ingredients go towards making a fascist dictator (presumably Hitler). So I endlessly pore over clues to what maketh the man (yes, usually a man) a successful artist in his field (Malcolm Gladwell says it's 10,000 hours of practise but I'm not so sure). In other words, to put it another way, why do I feel such a failure (in this area of my life)?

(What can I say? I have friends working in film, advertising, music and fashion; I know people who have published books and directed films; some are earning over £100K a year... I'm genuinely happy for them, if that's what they want. Most of them don't have time to spend their money, let alone spend time with their partners and children. A lot of these so-called glamorous jobs are actually fairly dull; either a lot of waiting around, or not ever leaving the Mac screen. I've worked in most of these fields and though I've been paid well, I've not had any job satisfaction at all. I'll always go my own way, plough my own furrow.)

It might be that I spend more watching my old videos on YouTube, looking at my photos on Flickr and Instagram and reading old blog posts more than anyone else does. I look at other people's work a lot too, and spend time thinking about photography and film, but get disheartened by the sheer volume and talent of it all – and then the comparison thing comes back. I love my films, designs, photos and writing. This is the crux of my failure – no one else agrees with me! At the risk of sounding pretentious again, I try to be creative every single day. I'm not saying it's good or bad, but this is what I've always done, and always will. It's what keeps me going.

Living in my head, I sometimes fantasise that my writing/films/photography/design will be 'discovered' (isn't that how it works? The good stuff rises to the top?) and I'll gain recognition in one of the fields. And make some money! Doing what I like doing! But I'll be aged 82, maybe, sitting in an old people's home, imagining the same thing – I’ll be thinking a Hollywood exec will read a treatment of a film I've written and buy the rights to it; a gallery will call to request an exhibition of my photos; a company will call to use a photo of mine for a billboard campaign; my videos will get millions of hits on YouTube... you get the idea. But meanwhile...

It feels like everything's passed me by. All my interests and passions – films, photography, graphic design, car boot sales, charity shops, old records, books and magazines, art history, travel, my paintings, doodles and writing, my impeccable taste – I just thought it would all lead somewhere. I often think I just want to chuck it all up into the air and have it all land in a different position so I can find a way forward. And get rich and famous.

*Turned out to be slightly longer than brief, and perhaps more personal than I envisaged. Luckily no one reads my long blog posts. Thanks for listening if you made it this far.

Previously on Barnflakes:
A brief history of photography (part one)