Saturday, October 25, 2008

Lookalikes #1: Paul Daniels & Michael J Anderson

Poor Paul Daniels has received a fair bit of flack for his recent dreadful Tesco advert but has anyone noticed the alarming similarity between him and the 'dwarf from Twin Peaks' (Michael J. Anderson)? Paul Daniels is definitely looking a lot smaller nowadays.

What is it with Michaels and a J? There's Michael J. Fox and Michael J. Pollard too. Come to think of it, they're also both kinda small. Is there a (small) society of small Michael J actors?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Barn Cinema

An esteemed ex-colleague, hearing of my bucolic move west, had the idea for me to post photos of barn doors onto This I never got around to doing, but have just managed a visit (see photo) to the Barn cinema in Devon, which must count as a consolation of sorts. Situated in Dartington estate, which also consists of an art college, music, dance and theatre venues, grounds, gardens and a cider press, it's a lovely little repertory cinema showing largely independent, foreign, and quirky films – in other words, it's a dying breed. Dartington itself is famous for its glassworks (Dartington crystal anyone?).

Sergio Leone's dollar trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), as it became known, was showing all day Sunday. It was a lovely day – so what better way to spend it than 8 hours in a dark room (in my younger days I used to frequent all-night film showings at the Ritzy in Brixton and the Scala in King's Cross – alas, they don't do them any more). Having seen these films hundreds of times on TV, it was great finally seeing them on the big screen – what a difference it makes! It was like seeing (and hearing) them for the first time. Leone's dynamic compositions and Morricone's mesmerising score are a match made in heaven. Obviously Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef are brilliant, but I'd never consciously noticed before how Eli Wallach ('The Ugly') steals most of the scenes from under them in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – what a performance!

The locations are another star feature of the films. Last year we made a pilgrimage to where most of the trilogy were filmed, in and around Almeria, southern Spain. Prior to spaghetti westerns, most westerns were – obviously – shot in the USA. Leone (and others) changed the formula, giving a European twist to the western (though all dialogue was dubbed into English-American) and virtually re-inventing the then dying genre. Notice the white-washed buildings, the dark-skinned, dark-haired peasants, the distinctive algave plants. And notice the miles of polytunnels... hold on, they weren't there forty years ago. No, though lots of the scenery remains virtually unchanged since the 1960s, the main blot on the landscape nowadays is the polytunnels, where fruit and vegetables are grown.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Water As It Oughta

I've always thought the buying of mineral water in plastic bottles faintly ludicrous – rather like, say, the buying of bottled oxygen – when tap water is 10,000 times cheaper, tastes absolutely fine and is 99% safe. It seems almost churlish not to drink it, after all, about a third of the planet doesn't actually have access to clean drinking water – and 88% of all diseases are caused by unsafe drinking water.

Bottled water companies have always pushed the so-called 'fact' that we need to drink two litres of water a day to stay hydrated (which has never actually been scientifically proven). What they don't state is the obvious – that virtually any liquid will do the job, be it tap water, tea*, orange juice, even beer – not just over-priced bottled mineral water. And food also contains much liquid. We've been so brainwashed into using bottles of mineral water that many of us can't even get on the tube for half an hour or walk to the shops without clutching a bottle, just in case we'll die of dehydration on the spot.

We all tend to believe the imagery bottle companies foster of Amazonian waterfalls, snow-capped mountains or fresh natural springs and figure this is what goes into our bottle. Water bottle companies use terms such as 'natural', '100% pure' and 'fresh' – yet these terms are virtually meaningless – there is no law that these terms need to be substantiated. They are opinions rather than facts.

The ethics involved in the production and transportation of water bottles mean for every litre produced, two litres of water is wasted during the purification process. Bottles can stay in storage for months. They travel hundreds of miles by truck. 90% of water bottles are not recycled. The reality for a plastic bottle is not a healthy one.

Most alarmingly though, is recent evidence that the plastic the bottles are made of, Lexan polycarbonate resin, a plastic polymer, has alarming health risks including possible birth defects such as miscarriages and Down's syndrome.

Finally, there's something of a backlash – bottled water sales are down for the first time in years. It's now not totally embarrassing to insist on tap water in restaurants (bottled water has more of a mark up than wine in restaurants) – as I've always done.

I lament the passing of public water-drinking fountains, now resigned to the bygone era that includes Chopper bikes, Pac-Man and apple scrumping. They used to be a feature of every park, always well-needed after a game of football, as well as being a focal meeting point, and great fun for water fights too. Kids nowadays think water actually comes from bottles.

*See Barnflakes's now-legendary T.E.A. Theory PowerPoint presentation for more details on the restorative qualities of tea. Recent research has shown tea to be healthier than water.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

One Totnes Pound

It may not look like a traditional watermarked banknote and there's no sign of the Queen's bonce, but the Totnes Pound is legal tender in, well, the town of Totnes in Devon. Last year Totnes was the first UK town to introduce its own banknotes, and now Lewes, East Sussex has followed suit. It is hoped the venture will make the towns more independent and self-sufficient – which, in the current economic crisis seems like a great idea.

Both towns are highly community-minded and consist of local, independent shops – which, as well as being far more interesting than your usual bland high street shops, keep money in the community. At least 80% of profits from large supermarkets immediately leave the local area.

Devon seems to be one of the few forward thinking counties in England: last year Modbury made the news when it became the first UK town to ban plastic bags from its shops and introduce its own canvas bag. It's hard to imagine any big changes happening in large cities such as London until it's too late.

Read more about Totnes' Transition Initiative here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Cherry Tree

She said she liked living in Camberwell because of its abundant, open sky. The buildings are low and the streets are wide and you can see the sky. She didn’t like south-west London. She found the buildings too high and the roads too narrow. She didn't like that lack of sky.

The cherry tree looked a long way off as I stepped into her garden. I looked past the tall nettles and at the back in the left-hand corner. The cherry tree stood alone, past the nettles, like a small vision of Eden in an otherwise Hades of a concrete back garden. I saw ripe cherries on the tree and said, ‘the cherries look ripe.’ She said, ‘yes, they’re ripe. They’re just right. But I hate going out there. I always sting my legs and crunch snails. I hate the sound of snails being crushed. I’m too scared to go over there.’

There was a short silence.

I felt like a contestant on the TV series the Crystal Maze with Richard O'Brian. I was about to say I’d pick some but she said again, ‘I hate going over there’, and said it like she was expecting me to go over there.

But all I said was ‘yes’ as I still stared at the cherries in the distance like a dream and the possibility of them. I didn’t get the cherries and I didn’t get the girl. It was probably for the best.