Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Flickagram #11

My favourite bus stop in Cornwall, somewhere on the road to Helston. We thought it was part of a boat, but maybe it isn't. One of my favourite photography books is Soviet Bus Stops. There's even a Volume II. And now, I've just noticed, Soviet Metro Stations. Want!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, Exeter

I've probably mentioned before how I love quirky and obscure museums, like The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and Grant Museum of Zoology, both located in London's UCL (University College London). Also located in a university is the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, to be found on Exeter University's Streatham campus.

Bill Douglas (1984-1991) was a Scottish filmmaker no one has heard of, but his autobiographical trilogy of films made in the 1970s are extraordinary and harrowing – and like Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy, filled with enough poetry and beauty to make the poverty bearable.

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum contains the moving image memorabilia collected by Douglas and his friend Peter Jewell. It is one of the largest collections in Europe, consisting of about 50,000 items collected over 30 years, a vast cinematic array from a Lumiere cinematographe to a Marilyn Monroe soap dish. The museum also consists of Douglas's papers and is a place for research and study. A little gem well worth seeking out if you've got an hour or two to wait at Exeter St David's (about a ten minute walk from the train station).

Previously on Barnflakes
Top ten museums/galleries
H is for Horrific
My childhood just flew by 
Top ten greatest film trilogies

Monday, November 11, 2019


A post-Brexit Cornish story.

There are food shortages – mackerel and pilchard stocks are low, of course. Worst of all – Andrew Rowe, a.k.a. The Kernow King, is King of Cornwall, literally, ruling over the underground bakeries – Warrens, Rowe's, Philps – with an iron fist. He builds a wall of frozen pasties on the Cornish side of the Tamar to keep the Cornish in and the English out. What with climate change, it soon melts. When the pound becomes worthless, Cornish pasties become the official Cornish currency, and society reverts to a form of feudal system, like a collective or commune, with pasties forming the basis of bartering: two small Warrens are worth one large Rowe's or I'll fix your fence for two lamb and mint Philps pasties. The system works so well that over time, Cornish people are actually born in pasty-shaped wombs, and stamped with the creator's logo – Warrens, Rowe's or Philps – when they emerge from the pastry. The stamp determines the bearers social class. An uprising occurs when a baby is born, the protagonist of the story, not quite fitting in as others do. His name is Gregg...

I can't claim full authorship. I just had a pen and paper handy as the words flowed from my colleague 'Wing Man' (not real name).

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Cornwall’s master and slave shared gravestone

St Wendron’s churchyard in Wendron, a village near Helston, Cornwall, contains an unusual gravestone: a former slave and his master share the same grave. Miner Thomas Johns, originally from Wendron, moved to Brazil, where he bought a seven-year-old slave named Evaristo Muchovela who was originally from Mozambique. Years later Johns returned home due to ill health, but offered his slave a choice: return to Cornwall with him as a servant, or remain in Brazil as a free man. Muchovela choose the former. However, Johns died soon after returning home. Muchovela stayed in Cornwall and became an apprentice cabinet-maker. When Muchovela died seven years later, he was buried in the same grave as his former master.

The inscription reads:
Sacred to the memory of Thomas Johns of Porkellis who departed this life January 28th 1861 aged 61 Years.

God my redeemer lives
And ever from the skies
Looks down and watches my dust
Till he shall bid it rise

born in Mosambique, South Africa,
died at Redruth February 19th 1868,
Aged 38 years.
Here lie the master and the slave
side by side within one grave
distinctions lost and caste is o’er
the slave is now a slave no more

Previously on Barnflakes
Wiltshire barmaid eaten by tiger

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Kresen Kernow now open

Cornwall’s new archive research centre, Kresen Kernow, is home to the world’s largest collection of documents, books, maps and photos relating to Cornish history, holding over one million items.

The site of the derelict Redruth brewery, which had partially burnt down twice, was chosen at the location for the centre in 2012. After eventually receiving £11.7 million in funding, building and renovating started in 2016. It opened in September this year. It’s a marvellous space and a beautiful building, a perfect mix of the original structure with modern additions, sympathetically done.

If you can’t make it there, the website has an amazing amount of material, including documents, photos and books, all searchable by their various collections.

Previously on Barnflakes
Reviving Redruth (and envirions)

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Abandoned Halloween pumpkins

I’m really not sure most Britons realise that pumpkins can actually be eaten; according to The Guardian, some eight million (or 18,000 tonnes) squashes per year are binned after being carved out for Halloween.

In the States, pumpkin pie has long been a post-Halloween tradition (usually on Thanksgiving at the end of November), but the concept hasn't taken off here. Seeing as I'd stolen one from the Eden Project (I will explain), risking arrest and sore shoulders (it weighed a ton in my backpack), H said the least she could do was make a pumpkin pie with it. I've always loved the concept of pumpkin pie (probably from American movies), despise not being sure I'd ever tasted one (but somehow knowing exactly how it should taste). Anyway, two hours later, as if by magic, H produced the most gorgeous-looking pie. And it tasted it too, the added honey and cinnamon bringing out the subtle taste of the pumpkin. We had it with single cream.

So, stealing a pumpkin from the Eden Project: we visited recently and noticed hundreds of pumpkins, squashes and gourds on display for autumn and Halloween. I innocently asked a Team Member standing nearby what they were all for. For the Halloween carving, he replied. Okay, I said, what happens to them afterwards. They go in the compost, he told me. You know they can be eaten, I retorted. Yes, he said, a few are given to staff, the rest are composted.

A bit later in the rainforest biome, we saw bunches of bananas fallen on the ground from the banana trees. They'd obviously been there a while, some were going soft with ants all over them; others looked fine. I picked one off the bunch and shared it around; tasted yum.

Later still, outside and up the meandering slope a bit is a lovely-looking vegetable garden, pretty substantial, with aforementioned squashes as well as many other vegetables including tomatoes, aubergines and chard. But on closer inspection I noticed a lot of the vegetables looked rotten. Again, there was a handy Team Member walking past, and I asked him about the fruit and veg. He wasn't aware of anyone ever picking them and said they would just all rot. I was stunned. But what about everything the Eden Project stands for? He shrugged his shoulders. But what about the cafes and restaurants? They're run by different companies who source their food from outside. Surely something can be done – the vegetables sold to visitors or given to charity? Yeah, you're probably right. What if I took some now? If no one's looking, go ahead. So I did – a pumpkin and some tomatoes.

I was appalled by the waste of food (when there's Zero Waste slogans plastered on their website) – but remembered previously seeing staff binning leftover sandwiches at the end of the day. I always go into the Eden Project quite excited but leave feeling depressed, like it's all for appearances, all a sham, all for profit.

Anyway, in case you're wondering about the above photo of abandoned pumpkins spotted in the local woods post-Halloween (there were lots of others too), do not fret for it's all for a good cause – squirrels love eating them, as do birds, hedgehogs, badgers and foxes. No waste.

Previously on Barnflakes
Success and failures of the Eden Project
Notes on dog poop bags
Top ten breakfasts
Five a day?
Blackberry season

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Top ten Cornish place names

1. Greensplat
2. London Apprentice
3. Sticker
4. No Man's Land
5. Come to Good
6. Indian Queens
7. Gweek
8. Minions
9. Praze-an-Beeble
10. Ventongimps 

(If I was being really immature, I could just about manage a top five of Cornish cheeky body part places. Oh, okay then:
1. Brown Willy
2. Booby's Bay
3. Cocks
4. Jolly's Bottom
5. Green Bottom

Previously on Barnflakes:
Cornwall Loves and Hates
Cock, Fany, Shag

Monday, July 29, 2019

Abandoned plane graveyard at Predannack Airfield, Cornwall

We ignored large signs saying M.O.D. DO NOT ENTER (what would we say if caught? Foreign? Dyslexic? Lost?) and, well, not exactly high tech security – we opened a farm gate and walked onto Predannack Airfield.

I’d actually tried the front entrance from a main road before and been refused entry. This time we had a beautiful walk along the coast from Mullion, on the Lizard, taking in a coffee at the cafe on the stunning Kynance Cove, already over-run with tourists – bizarrely, they all stick to the same beach, the one next to the cafe. There’s another one, far more enticing, thirty seconds away around the corner... and completely empty. As we say, often: tourists love cafes and car parks.

From the cove it’s quite a strenuous yet stunning walk along the coast until we cut inland and headed towards the airfield, seen some way away once you get on flat land. If you didn’t know it, though, you probably wouldn’t believe your eyes: those can’t be huge, rusty aeroplanes in the distance. Well, they sure are.

We walked cautiously for a minute and soon saw helicopters, planes and jets strewn across a runway. It was like we'd entered a dystopian film set or an abandoned aviation theme park. They were rusted, burnt, broken, missing bits, on their sides. Some date from the Second World War, others are more recent. Planes include an English Electric Canberra and an SA Jetstream; there are two Westland Lynxes and a Sea King helicopter. The aerodrome is still used for fire and rescue training.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Abandoned gunpowder works at Kennall Vale, Ponsanooth, Cornwall
Sound mirrors
Straight Outta Imber
Putting the War in Warminster
Tyneham ghost village

Notes on Hedluv + Passman

It seems everyone in Cornwall – even if they haven’t heard of Aphex Twin – has heard of the Redruth “Casio rap” duo Hedluv and Passman, though most are unsure if they are a proper band or a comedy act. Most agree they are crap. Me, I love them, and though an Aphex Twin tune or Fisherman’s Friend song would probably be a more appropriate national anthem for the county, I agree with Cornwall Live that M.I.C. (Made in Cornwall) is the only real contender. All together now:

From the engine houses
To the lighthouses
We've got it made in Cornwall
Like the lighthouses
Forged in serpentine
Where they work the mines
And the dress code is informal
We've got it made in Cornwall.

Like with Ant and Dec, I am unsure who is who, but one of them came into Oxfam the other week; I lugged downstairs a load of classical music LPs for him to browse through – he bought two. The manager was quite excited; it was like having someone famous come into the shop.

Flickagram #10

Notes on cars and dogs in Cornwall

Presumably there are more dogs and cars in, say, London than Cornwall, though it never feels that way. In Cornwall, being sans voiture, I can often be seen enjoying myself cycling or walking along country paths or roads. The only thing to disturb my bucolic bliss is... yup: dogs and cars. They're both everywhere. If I'm walking on a country path, I hear dogs everywhere, I see Beware of Dog signs* on walls and fences, where guard dogs suddenly jump up and bark excessively loud at me, and finally, dog owners on a walk with their canines happily running free, usually use that freedom to run after me, bark at me and jump up on me. Finally there is the curse of the dog poop bag tied up and left on beautiful country paths all over Cornwall (and other places too, presumably, to be fair).  Let it be known: I don't like dogs.

It's the same with cars. I'll be happily cycling (or walking: I'll actually probably start off on a pavement which will completely and suddenly vanish as soon as I leave any town or village) along a quiet country road and though there might not be that much traffic, it's the sudden roaring of a car going past me – far too close – at 80mph that is somewhat terrifying. Let it be known I don't like cars either.

So, dogs and cars. As I said, there are probably plenty more in big cities, but per capita, people own more cars and dogs in Cornwall than London. And they're just so much more noticeable, perhaps because they both spoil the so-called tranquility of the countryside.

* I ignored one such sign recently on a farm, figuring just because they have a Beware of Dog sign doesn't mean they actually have a dog. There was an abandoned engine house in the corner of an overgrown field. I climbed over a fence and walked across the field. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed a large animal shape nearby and thought – okay, this is it, I am going to get attacked, no way around it. I faced my fear – it turned out to be a wild deer; we were both just as scared of each other.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Notes on dog poop bags
Top ten worst inventions
Top ten dislikes

Friday, July 19, 2019

Random Netflix review: Stranger Things 3

There was much excited anticipation for the new season of Stranger Things. But the only question on my lips was not what new characters or plot developments would emerge but what pop cultural references would be pillaged from the 1980s. Well, it's two years since the last season, and the kids have progressed to John Hughes movies and shopping malls. We are in 1985, year of The Breakfast Club and Back to the Future; the guys have discovered girls and the girls have discovered shopping.

With three separate plots running parallel with the inevitability that they will all join together in the end, it's a rather predictable and soulless if fun series (a sort of paint it by numbers; compare it, if you want, with the third season of Twin Peaks, which took the viewer places they had no idea they wanted to go, building from the first two seasons and creating something wonderfully original), again wallowing in 1980s blockbusters and bad music (the first series had far better tunes).

However, what's even more shocking than the tacky '80s music or fashions is the strong anti-commie stance and the pro-capitalist message of its numerous product placements – Coke, Burger King, Gap, Adidas and Casio are just a handful of brands seen so repeatedly in the show that it comes across just like in The Truman Show, where products are awkwardly woven into the storyline. But whereas The Truman Show uses product placement for satirical means, there is no such irony or comment on society (or movies) in Stranger Things. It really does want you to Enjoy Coke, It's The Real Thing. As more than one website has quipped, it's now Sponsored Things.

Netflix insist they receive no money for product placements, though these free placements have been valued at $15 million. The Duffer brothers have also said the products are there as part of the narrative, but more than once the products actually interfere with the narrative flow.

Cinematically, again the Duffer brothers wear their references on their sleeves – no, make that their foreheads. Alongside Back to the Future and The Breakfast Club, other films mentioned or referenced range from Dawn of the Dead, Red Dawn and Invasion of the Body Snatchers to The Terminator, The Evil Dead, Christine, Rambo, The Thing, Alien and The Karate Kid. There's even a scene where one of the characters, Robin, names three old, black and white films as her favourites in an interview for a job in a video shop (Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress, Carné's Children of Paradise – I’ve literally never heard it by that title and didn’t know what the hell it was until I realised it was Les Enfants du Paradis – and Wilder's The Apartment. All extremely unlikely, but hey, if any films mentioned in the series – all of which are more rewarding than Stranger Things – actually get watched by viewers, then it's a success).

To be fair, it's impossible to be original nowadays, though some do it with more...erm, originality. Horror director Jordan Peele* also wears his pop culture references tattooed on his forehead, citing such influences as The Shining, The Goonies, The Lost Boys and Hitchcock for his latest film, Us. I also saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Lady from Shanghai and Big, and noticed it was handy for actress Elisabeth Moss to go seamlessly from acting in The Handmaid's Tale to Us without having to change her red costume. Nevertheless, what comes across is an original, thoughtful and terrifying journey into the night (I've mentioned this before with the horror film It Follows, which transcends its John Carpenter-influenced origins).

But most stuff, especially if it comes out of Netflix, tends to be derivative. I saw I Am Your Mother recently, a Netflix sci-fi film, and virtually every scene reminded me of other, better, films (it's a curse having watched so much cinema): 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Retreat, Ex Machina, Aliens and Jurassic Park were just the obvious ones. Likewise, Spanish road movie 4L is Little Miss Sunshine meets Road Trip. Extinction is a bad and cliché-ridden District 9. The Perfect Date is sub-John Hughes garabage. You get the idea.

Earlier in the year Netflix were accused of plagiarising A Quiet Place, the hugely successful horror film, with their own version, The Silence. The plots are virtually identical – except A Quiet Place is good, and The Silence is terrible.

Netflix used to get accused a lot of showing 'mockbusters', low-budget films with similar titles or stories to proper blockbusters. They were usually made by film company The Asylum, who produce films such as Triassic World (based on: Juraissac World) and Tomb Invader (based on: Tomb Raider). Anyway, nothing wrong with a rip-off B-movie. All I have a problem with is every Netflix release calling itself A Netflix Original. Surely this should be A Netflix Unoriginal.

– 2.5 / 5

*It feels like Peele can do no wrong, but I have mixed feelings about his upcoming remake of Bernard Rose's classic horror Candyman. It reminds me slightly of the Italian director, Luca Guadagnino, who, after directing A Bigger Splash and Call Me By My Name, seemed like he could also do no wrong, until he remade the classic horror film Susperia (I was actually one of the few who enjoyed it as an intepretation rather than a remake – he tones down the original's colour palette and gives it some depth).

Previously on Barnflakes:
Random Netflix TV reviews

Friday, July 12, 2019

Boycotting buffoons

Hot on the heels of Kim Kardashian – Who Thankfully Looked Stunning On A Night Out with Kanye 17 Hours Ago – insulting an entire culture with her Kimono range, rapper-husband Kanye – who makes most of his money from sneakers, his first love – is hoping to cause similar offence with his low-cost homeless accommodation “inspired by the Star Wars slave architecture on Tatooine”.

If there was a media boycott on Kim Kardashian, Kayne West, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, they would annoy me a lot less. If you took the four buffoons, stupid at best, dangerous and offensive at worst, and banished them to an island with no form of communication to the outside world for the rest of their lives, you know what, it might even make me happy. They can all live happily ever after in Kanye's Star Wars huts.

Notes on aptronyms

It was whilst sorting through some books at Oxfam that I noticed the title Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm, was written by one Isabelle Tree, and then a book called Full Moon was by someone called Michael Light. An aptronym (or aptonym or euonym) is used to describe someone whose surname is linked to their profession, in a usually humorous way. Although the concept was initially suggested by Carl Jung, the word was apparently coined by American columnist Franklin P. Adams (featured in Alan Ruldolph's movie Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle) who simply made an anagram of the word patronym (which pertains to the part of a personal name based on the given name of one’s father or other male ancestor – such as Johnson, as in son of John), to emphasise the 'apt' part.

The term Nominative Determinism was first used in New Scientist magazine in 1994, and takes aptronyms a step further by looking at cause and effect; mostly, it figures, people are vain and obsessed with themselves. This is known as implicit egotism.

There are numerous examples of aptronyms, many of which we come into contact with everyday (on TV – usually the news – and in real life), from doctors and lawyers to meteorologists and sports personalities (which all seem to be the most popular aptronym occupations).

William Wordsworth, poet
Rem Koolhaus, architect
Russell Brain, neurologist
Usain Bolt, runner
Mark Avery, RSPB Conservation Director
Margaret Court, tennis player
Mark De Man, footballer
Igor Judge, judge
Bob Flowerdew, gardener
David Limb, doctor
Les McBurney, fireman
Sara Blizzard, TV weather presenter 

(An inaptronym is an ironic or inappropriate form of an aptronym, such as Don Black, white supremacist, and Jaime Sin, who became a cardinal in 1976, and hence known as Cardinal Sin.)

Traditionally, though, and certainly by the end of the fourteenth century, as populations increased, surnames had come into general use and people were named after either where they lived (John Woods), their patronym (Johnson, son of John) or by occupation: Carpenter, Smith, Baker, Butcher, Potter, Parker, Weaver, Mercer and Miller are all job examples. This trend eventually died out when children (usually sons) stopped following their father's trade.

There's something worryingly fatalistic about people – consciously or not – taking jobs because of their surnames, rather than named after their occupations, so it's probably time some new surnames were created to reflect current jobs. This would also mean having more than one surname in a lifetime as we rarely stick to the same job throughout our working life.

So Sarah Admin Assistant becomes Sarah Marketing Assistant and eventually moves onto Sarah Marketing Manager. When she marries she becomes Sarah UX Designer-Marketing Manager. You have to feel sorry for their unborn children.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Name that name

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Recent barngains

Western Stars, Bruce Springsteen's best album – and album cover – for years (his last four studio albums have been terrible).

As mentioned previously, barngains have been thin on the ground in these parts – with the recent exception of the new Bruce Springsteen album, Western Stars, an impulse buy in Tesco's. I was at the till with the CD, along with some other items, and when the guy serving me came to scan it, it came up as 1p. He tried it again, and again. Still 1p. He buzzed to call someone over. No one came. He let me have it for 1p.

But it was a recent trip to London where the barngains really started flowing. In my first charity shop visit, on the way out of the shop, after clumsily looking at some records in the window, my eye caught a drawing on the cover of a large book. I picked it up and it was the rather plush catalogue to the latest Bob Dylan exhibition, Mondo Scripto, which ran late in 2018 at the Halcyon Gallery in London.

I had not seen the exhibition, but agreed with most critics about it at the time, that while his songs are full of surrealism, mystery and beauty, this new series of drawings illustrating his songs were rather too prosaic and literal: a farm for Maggie's Farm, a bed for Lay Lady Lay, a hand knocking on a door for Knockin' on Heaven's Door – you get the idea.

However, the book – £45 from the gallery shop, £3 in the charity shop – is gorgeous. The drawings are amateurish but charming. Each one has a page of hand-written lyrics next to it (often re-imagined and different from the original songs, something Dylan has done all his career). The book is large and luxurious (with apparently many different drawings to the ones in the show). I was pretty happy.

I might also have got some CDs over the next few days. In fact, there was one charity shop where I bought a lot. They must have all come from the same donator as they jumped out at me amongst the usual Robbie Williams and Adelle albums:

Flower Dance: Japanese Folk Melodies (Nonesuch Recording)
Lyle Lovett and His Large Band
Elton John – Honky Chateau (I loved the film Rocketman)
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
The Bonzo Dog Band – Cornology Vol.2 – The Outro
Bill Frisell - Have a Little Faith
Eminem – Kamikaze (for the cover)
The Cinematic Orchestra – Ma Fleur Live at the Barbican
Tom Waits – Alice
Classic Bluegrass (from Smithsonian Folkways) 
Jack DeJohnette – Made in Chicago (ECM Recording)
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (Deluxe Edition)
The Zombies – The Singles As & Bs
Mike Oldfield – Hergest Ridge (Deluxe Edition)
Roscoe Holcomb – The High Lonesome Sound 
Crosby, Stills & Nash – Crosby, Stills & Nash

All 50p-£1 each. There were lots of other good ones: Dylan, early Ry Cooder, Neil Young, Frank Zappa and King Crimson among them, but I either had them or didn’t want them. I got a bunch of other things too, in other charity shops, including a set of three Portmeirion storage jars for H in the relatively new Shooting Star Children's Hospices Charity Shop in Northcote Road, where the woman serving me, from Malibu, L.A., wrapped them up nicer and with more care than I wrap up birthday and Christmas presents.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Two leaks (in a week)
London through its charity shops #8: 'round Clapham Junction

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:
BARNGAINS is a select list of rated barngains from 2007 to the present day.  

Sunday, June 16, 2019

My daughter's top ten films, aged 13

1. Ocean's 8* (Gary Ross**, 2018)
2. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki & Kirk Wise, 2003)
3. The Hunger Games (Gary Ross**, 2012)
4. A Dog's Purpose (Lasse Hallström***, 2017)
5. Howl's Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2005)
6. Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow, 2015)
7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence, 2013)
8. My Neighbour Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)
9. Instant Family (Sean Anders, 2018)
10. Ponyo (Hayao Miyazaki, 2010)

*Hmm, Ocean's 8 was going to be in a list I never posted for Worst 10 films of 2018. It would have looked like this:
1. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
2. Ocean's 8
3. Black Panther
4. Bohemian Rhapsody
5. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Two forms of punctuation in a three word title can only be bad)
6. Avengers: Infinity War (I agree with director László Nemes (Son of Saul and Sunset) about superhero movies)
7. Pacific Rim: Uprising
8. You Were Never Really Here (As much as I admire Lyne Ramsey, this didn't work for me)
9. Fifty Shades Freed
10. The Darkest Minds

**Mr Ross, now in his sixties, is hopefully best well known for directing the brilliant Pleasantville. And writing Big.

***Surprising he wasn't asked to direct Mamma Mia – Hallström directed most of ABBA's videos in the 1970s and 1980s as well as ABBA: the Movie in 1977. He's made a few decent films – My Life As A Dog (1985), What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) and Chocolat (2000) among them but sentimentality was always his weakness.

Anyway, I'm glad she still loves Studio Ghibli films (numbers 2, 5, 8 and 10), I think they're brilliant too.

Previously on Barnflakes:
My daughter's top ten films (aged 12) 
My daughter's top ten films (aged 11)
My daughter's top ten films (aged 10)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Tunnel of green

If I told my daughter about the train journey, she’d sound excited and want to do it. And maybe we would in a few weeks time, then after a minute on the train she’d say, dad, this is so boring. It was the same with the record cleaner; I’d built it up to be the most exciting thing ever, which I still think it is, but after cleaning one side of one record she’d said, dad, this is so boring.

The train journey was from Truro to Falmouth Town. Admittedly it doesn’t exactly have the same exotic ring about it as the train journey through the jungle we did from Cusco to Machu Picchu in Peru, but it wasn’t far off.

The rattly old train hurtles south towards the coast. For most of the 20-minute journey we are surrounded by lush, verdant foliage. The bushes and trees are alive and moving as the train whooshes past them. The foliage is alive, obviously, but more than that, it seems to jump out of the way of the train. The plants, trees and bushes seem to enjoy the train speeding past, blowing them out of the way. It's like they're waving with their leaves. Most of the journey is like this, with the foliage really near to the train and the banks really high, so really the journey feels like a tunnel of green.

Except for the flowers. There's part of the journey where it's all about the flowers. Foxgloves, mainly, but also, maybe, rosebay willowherb or clematis, I wouldn't really know, or care. But their pinks and purples are overwhelming. Some of the foxgloves are giant, as big as the ones at Trebah Gardens that have a plaque by them for being so big, but these are just on the side of the railway line, blowing their trumpets in the wind the whizzing train creates. They don't seem natural, the blurs of pink and purple, but like candyfloss and sweets from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, perhaps.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Where we are now

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Two leaks (in a week)

Leaks are all the rage – in politics, technology, business, sport, film, music – if anyone is anyone, they're leaking (or being leaked) something, somewhere. The internet, like a church roof, is full of leaks. Being cloaked in secrecy, is it quite exciting when the something in question actually leaks. I've bought – legally – two musical leaks this week. It's hard to know anymore if leaks are genuine or simply PR ('Google leaks its own phone').

The first 'album' I bought was Radiohead's MiniDiscs (Hacked), over 16 hours worth of unheard Radiohead music recorded during the OK Computer sessions between 1995 and 1998. What happened was a hacker nicked Thom Yorke's MiniDisc archive and threatened to leak it online unless he was paid $150,000. Yorke thought fuck it, the material 'isn't v interesting' (his words), so released it all himself on Bandcamp for fans to buy for £18 (you know, to be exact, if it sounds like £18 for 18 hours, it's actually a bit less than 18 hours – 16 according to some articles online; and if it sounds like £18, it's actually £21.60 after VAT).

If you know me, you'll know I've probably never played a Radiohead album all the way through, so the only concept more depressing than having to download 1.8Gb of Radiohead material that didn't even make it onto a record was having to listen to it. So I didn't bother. But I did buy it. All proceeds are to go to Extinction Rebellion, so a pretty good cause (Thom Yorke feeling guilty for taking so many flights – he apparently had a build-up of liquid in his ears from doing so – quip a thousand cynical Guardian readers in the comments section of the article about the decision to release the material). We're still not quite getting this whole climate change thing when some depressing leaked music gets more press than the future of the planet. (Today, there are actually online reviews of the 16+ hours – yes, that would mean the poor sods had to listen to it all night.)

The second album I bought was Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) by British producer Jai Paul. It got 8.9 on Pitchfork recently so I thought I'd give it a try. The story is, the collection of demos was leaked in 2013 and sold illegally through Bandcamp. Jai Paul was so upset about this that for the next six years he underwent therapy and couldn't produce or even finish his unfinished demos. Only now is he able to officially release his unfinished demos. The Fader say: 'one of the great records of the decade'. Pitchfork say: 'the sound of borders breaking'. Anyway, I bought it through Paul's website, where you can pay what you want for the album. So I paid 1p. Well, I felt burnt after Radiohead.

What can I say? I've been watching the barnstorming and incendiary performances of Bob Dylan in the new Netflix documentary Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, as well as listening to the 14-CD set The 1975 Recordings. They make Jai Paul and Radiohead sound like dull, miserable kids playing on their laptops in their bedrooms.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Community Reflections Private View

The catchily-titled Community Reflections on Health and Wellbeing Through Smartphone Photography (no, not a contradiction) has actually been a great and fun photography course I've been attending for the past few months, visiting a church, Art Deco swimming pool, woods, mine and, best of all, Feadon Farm animal sanctuary, where I got weed on by a squirrel, whacked on the arm by an angry owl's wing and kissed three times on the nose by a fox. These things don't happen to me every day. Our group is having a private view on Wednesday 12th June at Heartlands in Pool, after which the exhibition is on until Saturday 7th July, so plenty of time to visit.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Beauty and the Brutalist exhibition
Beauty and the Brutalist private view

Cornwall loves and hates

St Ives is all high fives
St Just is justified
Padstow has a warm glow
And Porthleven is heaven.
St Agnes is ace
Penzance gives penance
The lizard is lush,
The Roseland Peninsula is singular
Sing a hymn to Newlyn
And all hail Hayle!  

But Camborne is stillborn
And Pool is uncool
Redruth is rough
Newquay should be nuked
St Austell is like borstal
Truro is tedious
Helston is hell
Lostwithiel has lost the wherewithal
Falmouth has a foul mouth
Penryn is a place to sin
But Bodmin takes it on the chin.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Wiltshire loves and hates

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Top ten Keanu Reeves films

1. Point Break (Bigelow, 1991)
2. My Own Private Idaho (Van Sant, 1991)
3. The Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999)
4. Speed (de Bont, 1994)
5. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (Herek, 1989)
6. A Scanner Darkly (Linklater, 2006)
7. River's Edge (Hunter, 1986)
8. Thumbsucker (Mills, 2005)
9. Dangerous Liasons (Frears, 1988)
10. Parenthood (Howard, 1989)

We recently had trouble watching the whole of Siberia, a 2018 Netflix film starring a wooden Reeves as a dodgy diamond trader ("Fatally, the script requires Reeves to do some serious acting", quipped the Guardian). You'd think after thirty years of doing the same job, he'd get the hang of it by now.

On paper, Reeves seems more interesting than he is on screen: born in Beirut with a mother from Essex and a Hawaiian father, Reeves is actually Canadian. I read once he didn't own anything and lived out of hotels. His wife gave birth to a stillborn baby in 1999 then died just over a year later in a car accident. It's thought he's Buddhist (though he's not). Then there was that sad meme which went viral a few years ago. No one's entirely sure if he's deep or dumb or both, but everyone likes him. Adam Driver looks like a long lost cousin of Keanu's – but at least he can act.

I’m torn about writing top tens for actors – do you rate the film or the performance or a combination of both? I'm going for both. Hence I'm leaving out the "critical approved" John Wick films, The Devil's Advocate, Constantine and the two other Matrix films – all of which are terrible. Recently he seems to be doing a Liam Neeson and typecasting himself as an action hero in his later years (Neeson was 56 when he did the first Taken movie; Reeves is in his mid-50s now.)

To misquote a line about Orson Welles and Citizen Kane: Point Break is the best action film ever, and it's not even Bigelow's best (that would be Near Dark, surely?).

Top ten Canadian musicians

1. Leonard Cohen
2. Glenn Gould
3. Joni Mitchell
4. Neil Young
5. The Band
6. Godspeed You! Black Emperor
7. Jane Siberry
8. Arcade Fire 
9. Peaches
10. k.d. lang

Do say: Where's The Weeknd, Feist, Owen Pallett, Daniel Lanois, Ron Sexsmith and Barenaked Ladies?
Don't say: Where's Rush, Justin Bieber, Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne, Drake, Michael Buble and Alanis Morissette?

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top 10 Australian bands

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Pencil patterns

Soon to be... enamel pin badges!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Trevithick Day in Camborne, Cornwall

A terrific time was had by all – despite some early rain and wind – in Camborne yesterday (Saturday 27th April) to celebrate the life of its most famous resident, Richard Trevithick (1771-1833), pioneer of high pressure steam-power and constructor of the first steam railway locomotive in 1803. All roads in the centre of town were closed to cars to make way for a day of free entertainment, including steam engines, food stalls, a brass band and the miners and bal maidens dance (not to be confused with English Morris dancing!). The event attracts crowds of up to 30,000 and transforms Camborne with its fine sense of community spirit.

H took me off the busy main drag, down a quiet road and into Holman Park, where Rosewarne House, a Grade II* listed large granite town house stands. It was hard to believe we were still in Camborne. In the six acres of grounds were lawns, an ancient woodland with bluebells and trees in blossom.

Rosewarne House, built in the Greek Revival style during the Regency era, was meant to be having an open day. But we couldn’t see a soul or hear a sound or see any signs. We wandered round the grounds a bit, and were about to leave when I tried the front door to the house and it opened into another world.

A huge fireplace was roaring near the entrance. People were dressed in Regency attire, as if extras from Poldark. There was the sound of a live band coming from another room, and light laughter and the clinking of tea cups and saucers could be heard from afar. Almost immediately a Regency lady with a large feather in her hair asked us if we were part of the tour. We said yes and were guided around the amazing house, which had been left in a state of disrepair for some years and was now being restored back to its former glory.

We were taken up a fine staircase with an elegant wrought-iron balustrade and shown around the huge, sumptuous rooms, all with high ceilings, ample natural light and ornate plaster cornices, ceiling roses, archways and columns. I told the guide I was sold, I'll take one – the feeling of space and light and attention to detail was wonderful. The rooms were being divided into apartments but weren't for sale, the guide informed us; they would be rented as holiday homes, and the house used for events such as weddings. The house was built in the early 1800s for the Harris family, who made their money through mining. Later it was acquired by the Holman family, then became a care home before falling into disrepair. When the tour came to an end we retired to the orangery for free cream teas and the live band.

It had been a fine day: the only way to add icing to the cake (though I'd already had two Victoria sponges and a cream tea) would be some barngainsas mentioned previously, seemingly rare in these parts – but amazingly I picked up ten pretty good records for £1 each in a local charity shop, including the original limited edition yellow vinyl version of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John. Who needs Record Store Day after all?

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Notes on Extinction Rebellion

If nothing else, lovely to see areas of London car-free for a few days over Easter.

Support for Extinction Rebellion soars after Easter protests’ proclaimed yesterday's Guardian, with a total of £365,000 being pledged towards the environmental group since January this year. Compare this with the £1 billion raised for rebuilding Notre Dame within a matter of days of the blaze (and talking of blazes, is anyone bothered about the 4,000 acres of Yorkshire moorland recently destroyed by fire? Shall we have vigils and donations and tree-plantings?). It’s bizarre where people’s priorities lie.

Fictitious British news reporter Johnathan Pye sums up things pretty well in this video.

Extinction Rebellion website.

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

The Rebel Soldier

Based on an American Civil War ballad, The Rebel Soldier is on folk singer Naomi Bedford’s forthcoming LP, Singing It All Back Home. I created the video for it, above.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Seven days of nothing
Without Joy

Verve magazine, 1937-1960

I hadn’t even heard of Verve magazine until the other day, when I was asked by Oxfam to value some early issues of the magazine which had come into the shop. I had a quick look at them and was gobsmacked by the content. I was looking at half a dozen of the early editions, from 1937-39, which had colourful covers by artists including Matisse and Bonnard. Inside were unique, beautifully-produced lithographs by the likes of Matisse, Braque, Klee and Kandinsky. These were contrasted with – say – brilliant black and white photos of nudes, medieval manuscript illuminations and texts (in French) by writers such as Hemingway, Joyce and Satre. We were talking a high-quality art journal whose content was a cornucopia of seemingly surreally random yet beautiful and striking imagery and text.

Published in an imposing size of 11x14 inches, the journal sought to showcase the works of modernist, surrealist and avant-garde artists to a wider audience. Only 38 issues were published between 1937 and 1960 and each one was obviously produced with loving care. Verve was the brainchild of Efstratios Eleftheriades, a Greek art critic and editor who moved to Paris in 1915 (actually to study law) and went under the more manageable nom de plume Tériade.

Overheard in Oxfam
"I got the Apple Mac off my sister – she didn't want it anymore! She got a new one. The one I got has 27 functions! 27! I only know how to use two! My sister got a new one because she needed more than 27 functions!"

"Five years now, it's been five years since my daughter hung herself in the garage. She was 55. She had debts, which she could never be able to pay back. £1000. It's good to talk about these things, isn't it? My daughter never talked about what was wrong with her."

Notes on Jury Service at the Old Bailey

There was so much waiting around.
Watching Jeremy Kyle
With the sound turned down
Was enough to drive anyone to crime
(At least we’d be there on time).

Previously on Barnflakes:
Barnflakes' top 20 of the year


The usual spastics
Missing in inaction
On a bi-polar expedition
Exploring destitution

Previously on Barnflakes: 
Selected and Collected Poems: the book

Friday, April 19, 2019

Top ten breakfasts

1. Full English
2. Eggs Benedict
3. Pancakes with bacon and maple syrup
4. Continental breakfast
5. Scrambled eggs on toast
6. Porridge
7. Toast (with marmalade and Marmite)

8. Shakshuka (Tunisian; eggs in tomato sauce)
9. Boiled egg with soldiers
10. Crunchy Nut Cornflakes

Seeing as Barnflakes is a pun on a breakfast cereal, and my unofficial motto is 'Barnflakes: Breakfast for the soul', it’s hard to believe it’s taken me so long to write a top ten. Especially because I like breakfast so much I could have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And sometimes do (for as W. Somerset Maugham famously said, “To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.”)

Breakfast was always said to the the most important meal of the day*, but with a third of Britons skipping the meal altogether (despite evidence of a link between obesity and not eating it) and one academic labelling it "dangerous", breakfast's dominance may be waning.

But not for me; I wouldn't be able to leave the house without it. Usually just tea and toast but sometimes – usually at the weekend – pancakes, porridge, scrambled eggs, a boiled egg or a fry up. There's nothing like the morning smell of coffee brewing and bacon and eggs frying.

But breakfast is probably best when you're out – in a cafe or restaurant, in a hotel, preferably in a foreign country. When abroad, a good breakfast is an essential start to the day, a great way to ingratiate yourself in local customs and culture and see how and what the locals eat. Eating is as much a ritual as any religious activity, and breakfast is, I think, the most ceremonial of meals**.

Take the humble yet iconic and versatile egg. Cracking it open encompasses birth, rebirth and death. It's a vital part of a breakfast and a great source of protein. The egg can be scrambled, boiled, fried and poached, as well as being integral to French toast (a.k.a. eggy bread), pancakes, omelettes and eggs Benedict.

On holiday, tea and toast is not acceptable for breakfast. Coffee is preferred over tea. For a start, coffee feels more sophisticated and cosmopolitan (well, it did, honest, at least before Costa and Starbucks came along and the masses started guzzling down buckets of hot milk with a splash of coffee) though also it tastes better abroad but mainly because tea tastes so bad everywhere except in the UK.

A hotel buffet is okay but it's nicer to go out to a local's cafe. The hotel buffet has its advantages, of course. Mainly, it's free. Also, it's easy to find – it's usually, you know, downstairs, unlike trying to locate a cafe or restaurant in a new, foreign city (I tend to follow my misleading nose, rather than use guidebooks or apps).

It's no doubt a lot to do with the feeling of waking up in a foreign country, but there's something about the simplicity and freshness of a French or Italian or Slovenian breakfast that's so delicious, even if it's just the taste of the orange juice or the bread.

I can remember breakfasts abroad from fifteen years ago whereas most lunches and dinners are instantly forgettable (partly, perhaps, because lunch abroad is mostly a rushed baguette on the way to another gallery or church or ruin; dinner is trying not to get overcharged, which usually translates as pizza or pasta). Lovely pasteis de nata, otherwise known as Portuguese custard tarts, with coffee and orange juice, in a cafe in Lisbon. Or a terrible breakfast of a brick-hard pastry in Barcelona along Las Ramblas; the horrible German-themed buffet in Sousse, Tunisia (I never said all breakfast memories had to be good ones). But whether good or bad, breakfasts are more memorable.

I had some of my best-ever breakfasts in the United States, where I was introduced to the concept of mixing sweet and savoury, something the British have never really done. Pancakes with bacon and maple syrup is a classic example.

Whilst in New Orleans, I remember trying grits, biscuits and gravy ('soft dough biscuits covered in either sawmill or meat gravy, made from the drippings of cooked pork sausage, white flour, milk, and often bits of sausage, bacon, ground beef, or other meat'), mainly because I'd heard about the classic southern dish from American films and novels (probably the likes of Steinbeck, Kerouac and Bukowski). Coffee in the States is just like in the movies: waitresses come by and fill it up for free.

It's worth remembering that most of the planet probably eats rice for breakfast; and after six months in South East Asia I never got used to eating rice three times a day.

Of course in recent years breakfasts have gone healthy and hipster. And while fruit, nuts, granola, chia seeds, yogurts and smoothies are okay if you're at the buffet waiting for your full English to be cooked, I generally don’t approve of really healthy stuff for breakfast, though I'm better than I was: my breakfast used to consist of four cigarettes and a mug of tea (food came later).

*Like the myth that Coca-Cola invented Santa Claus or the big con with mineral water companies telling us we need to drink two litres of water a day (I would literally drown if I drank that much), there's a possibility that breakfast cereal makers conjured up the maxim of breakfast being the most important meal of the day.

**An exception to this was when I was in Morocco, eating in the evening after Ramadam and it involved, yup, the cracking of a hard-boiled egg (mentioned here). Egg, bread, soup: tasted incredible after a day of not being able to eat.

Previously on Barnflakes:  
Not for all the tea in China

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Abandoned gunpowder works at Kennall Vale, Ponsanooth, Cornwall

It’s always strangely beautiful and reassuring to see nature reclaim itself back from civilisation. In post-apocalyptic sci-fi films such as I am Legend with Will Smith or a real life example like Chernobyl, it's exciting to see how nature doesn't hang around – once man is gone, nature moves back in pretty pronto.

In Cornwall this is evident in the many abandoned mines. The gunpowder works at Kennall Vale were built in 1812 for producing dynamite for mining (rather than military purposes), but became abandoned in the early 1900s.

Tucked away in a lush and verdant wooded valley five miles from Redruth, the numerous ruins – including granite mills and rusty machinery – are covered in ivy and moss. The fast-flowing Kennall river runs through it, with many charming waterfalls tumbling down the hills into it. The whole area feels like an enchanted fairy tale film set, its humid environment perfect for moss and ferns. It's also a fine place for spotting intriguing birds such as dippers. Indeed, the only sounds you hear in the valley are that of birdsong and the rushing of the river.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notes on being me

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

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

That was William Eggleston. Next was Bob Dylan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solution: Nothing, really. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solution: Become vegetarian.

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

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

Solution: Socialism! Or something like it.

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

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

Solution: Stop producing and buying crap. Use less.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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