Wednesday, October 30, 2013

2 Willow Road

What could be more perfect than walking around Hampstead on a glorious autumn Sunday morning listening to Nick Drake ('And I’m sailing downstairs to the Northern Line / Watching the shine of the shoes')? It was then I saw the brown National Trust sign proclaiming '2 Willow Road'. That's all the sign says, there's no other information. It's like a code. Those in the know know, those who don't don't care. It stirred a memory from years ago that I had wanted to go there (couldn't remember why), combined with a conversation in a pub on Friday night. I had met someone by chance who had read what I'd written about the Alton Estate (what are the odds?). Interested in architecture, we eventually got talking about Ernő Goldfinger. I told him the famous Ian Fleming-Goldfinger story: how neighbour Fleming had opposed Goldfinger's controversial plans for his house – Goldfinger had knocked down a row of Victorian houses to build his modernist vision; Fleming's revenge was to name a Bond villain after him... I know, I've mentioned this before). Anyway, on Sunday I saw the sign by chance, the cobwebs cleared and the light bulbs went off: 2 Willow Road was Goldfinger's house. To modern eyes, nothing remarkable from the outside, it's true, but inside is superb use of light and space. Apparently.

Monday, October 28, 2013

RIP Lou Reed, 1942-2013

I love Lou Reed so I'm very sad to hear this news. The Velvet Underground are probably my favourite band ever; the meeting of Reed and Cale far more exciting than (say) the meeting of Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards. I love Reed's solo stuff too; I was listening to New York just the other day, and even like his collaboration with Metallica, Lulu. Anyway, another legend gone.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Last of the Legends
Top ten male singers
Nico's top ten lovers
The Velvet Underground Live 1972 & 1993

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gravy juice

No, not a euphemism but a new concept in consuming gravy. Drinking it from a can (or carton). It occurs to me I love gravy. I mean love it. If there's any left on my plate after a nice meal, I tip the plate up and slurp down the remaining gravy. When I do so I think to myself that I could drink a lot more of this. But let me get this straight: it's not just plain Bisto, it's homemade fatty gravy with all the tastes and sensations of the meal it's been in. So really, it's like the meal, but the best part of it. So it's a drink and meal in one really. In a can. And hot (like the Japanese having hot coffee in cans in their vending machines). Sort of like a soup, but tastier and more fulfilling. And different flavours: lamb, pork, lamb, beef, chicken (with vegetarian to come, maybe).

Previously on Barnflakes
Notes on Scotch Eggs
Nothing is Invented
The New Shape
Top 10 Great Ideas

Friday, October 11, 2013

Top 5 meaningless phrases

1. Pokesdown for Boscombe
(Train announcement)
2. Cleaners Sluice
(Toilets at Heathrow Terminal 5)
3. Dry Riser Inlet
(Train station)
4. Hearing Induction Loop Available
(Hearing aid assistance in bank)
5. Too many consecutive chunk parse errors
(Computer error)

These are phrases I've either seen or heard in public or on my computer screen that make no sense to me whatsoever. But I like them. Looking up the meaning of them has actually ruined them for me. I appreciated their mystery; they struck me as rather beautiful, surreal and abstract – and may as well have been written in a foreign language. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Image of the week: Octopussy

Diving Woman and Octopi (1814) by Kataushika Hokusai, part of Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art at the British Museum, running from October 3 to January 5, 2014.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Inside album art of the day: Naked City

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Introverts vs extroverts

Blessed are the meek:
for they shall inherit the earth.

– Matthew 5:5

Susan Cain's hugely popular book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, examines the notion that we wrongly undervalue the introvert in society and champion the extrovert*.

But in the workplace, it's usually the introverts who perform better; they tend to get on with the work, whilst extroverts engage in banter most of the day. Introverts should be allowed their own private offices to be able to concentrate as they work better without interruption; whilst extroverts should be allowed to get on with their banter and loud laughter (I'm convinced laughing loudest is the key to success in the office) in the open plan office.

Management like to hire bubbly, extrovert people who are going to get on in the office place and be popular, whether they are good at their jobs or not. Usually, they're not, and most extroverts are idiots. Interviewers mostly hire staff according to body language, whether they like them, and whether they're like them.

Society favours extroverts in all stages of life, from school and socialising to work and business meetings. Cain's book aims to address the balance, favouring the introvert who tends to be a creative, passionate and deep thinking person. The meek won't inherit the earth but may inherit the office one day.

(Malcolm Gladwell has also recently got on the loser bandwagon: in his new book, David And Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits And The Art Of Battling Giants, he argues that the underdog and misfit in society is more likely to succeed because of their disability. He also believes that underdogs and misfits can be more creative. This is nothing new, of course: the idea of the 'mad', 'eccentric' artist as genius has long been typified by the likes of Vincent Van Gogh.)

*I think saying people are either introvert and extrovert is slightly simplistic as we can all have both introvert and extrovert moments. No doubt the book explores this.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The offensive office 
Notes on afflictions

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Recent Poems

My muse
Wasn't amused
She'd heard the news
And found me in a mews
Post-booze blues
Having a snooze.


That thing
Deep far below
Where the snow grows,
And the mistletoe.
Sand dunes
From billions of beads
Do not heed. 
Insects have their armour
But human limbs
Grasping gasping branches
In the rain.
Time marches on regardless
Forgetting the first kiss
That I missed.


In autumn
I travel the trains
Watching the leaves
on the trees change colour.
From green to yellow, red and brown.
But by the time I get home
All the trees are bare.

Previous poems here.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Singles vs couples

People get pretty wrapped up with each other in relationships (especially in the beginning). Some people move seamlessly from one relationship to another (I mentioned this years ago; like with not leaving a job before getting another, these kind of people have a partner (I hate the term 'partner' – though it applies a bond of sorts, it has such a corporate, unloving feel to it. Still, it's not as bad as 'my other half') in the wings before they ditch the last one); others have been in the same one for years. I know plenty of people, all they've ever wanted was to be in a relationship; as soon as they got laid, they got stuck with that person for life. I'm very happy for them. But I'm bemused by both: how to stay in one relationship, and how to go from one to the other.

Either way, do we want to end up like our parents, bickering and boring and loveless? Apparently so.

'They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.  
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,  
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.'
– This be the Verse, Philip Larkin

Gotta love a bit of Larkin. I'm all for couples, but they are largely dull. They stay in, watch TV, have sex, eventually turn into one person and lose their individuality. My perennially single friends do loads of things, they're more adventurous and outgoing. But they probably only make an effort to do stuff because they're lonely. Having said that, one of the best things about being in a relationship, almost alongside regular sex, is having someone to go on holiday with. I'm told there's nothing worse than walking around Lisbon on your own in the rain.

It's easy to see how beautiful people get together, but I've always wondered how ugly people get together. How do they become attracted to each other? Maybe they just like each other and have great personalities. I suppose we all realise our limitations fairly early on and have to make do with what we can get. Maybe it's actually easier being ugly and meeting someone similar. But attraction is in the eye of the beholder, and most of us look roughly the same anyway: you know, two eyes, nose, arms, legs, etc.

(I don't really mean this. Ugly is a strong word; hardly anyone is actually ugly. If they are, it comes out in their personality, not their looks. I mentioned a few years ago my rather suspect theory about films and women, good ones and bad ones all having something redeeming, like a fleeting beauty, a gesture, an earlobe, a smile, whatever. I also remember Godard's maxim: a film is a girl and a gun. And Hitchcock's dream: boy meets girl.)

But even with beautiful people, one person is always more attractive than the other. The less attractive of the two is always paranoid the other will go off with someone more attractive. When one of the couple is a lot less attractive than the other, one thinks how ever did they end up with each other? Who knows, eh? That's the complex and mysterious chemical mix that makes up attraction. Or maybe it's just his money.

(We were in a pub in Camden. There was a couple that fascinated us: he was a tacky, roguish Italian skinhead in a shell suit with a gold chain, she was a beautiful classy woman in a polka dot dress and high heels. We couldn't understand it. Together, they looked like they were off to a fancy dress party. My boon companion suggested a drugs connection; I don't know, I suspected great sex.)

But what about love, you ask? Well, there's this (for example):

'somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands'
– somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond, EE Cummings
(Dodgy spacing and punctuation intentional)

The Larkin and the Cummings are my two favourite poems, ever. I first heard the EE Cummings in the Woody Allen film Hannah and her Sisters, where Michael Caine clumsily reads it out to Barbara Hershey, who he has an affair with.

Anyway, I'm not bitter or cynical in case you're wondering. I believe in love.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Notes on Jobs and Girlfriends 
Women vs films

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Notes on William Morris

Woody Allen's comedy fantasy Midnight in Paris has Owen Wilson (in the only film of his I admit to liking) as a frustrated screenwriter yearning for the past in Paris whilst staying in the city with his fiancé. Wilson longs for the Paris of the 1920s with the cool writers and artists of the time – Cocteau, Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Modigliani et al (Allen's Husbands and Wives has the old-fashioned, romantic Liam Neeson wishing he'd been born in the 1800s). Sure enough, one night, a mysterious old Peugeot transports Wilson to this exact time and he adores it – and ends up falling in love with Picasso's mistress Adriana. Turns out Adriana is also unhappy living in her era, the 1920s, and yearns for the 1890s of the Belle Epoque. They are magically transported to this era via a horse and carriage. They get chatting to Cezanne, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec in the Moulin Rouge… and, yep, these guys are equally unhappy with their era and yearn for the age of the Renaissance as the pinnacle of human achievement. In short, the film is about nostalgia and how it creates an artificial yearning for a past that never really existed in the first place, but has been mythologised to make it look so.

I mentioned appropriation recently, and William Morris. Morris was equally disenfranchised with his own time, the Victorian era. He didn't like what he perceived as the clutter and tackiness of the time, and harked back to the medieval era. He yearned for quality and simplicity in all aspects of life. A true Renaissance man, Morris was a textile designer, writer, poet, publisher, translator, conservationist and socialist often at odds with the society of his time. Associated with the Arts and Crafts movement and Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Morris was perhaps most famous in his time for his flourishing wallpaper and textile business, Morris & Co.

I recently paid a visit to the William Morris gallery in Walthamstow, north-east London, where Morris was born. The museum recently won the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2013 and it's easy to see why. The museum tells the story of Morris' varied life and career through original designs, wallpaper, furniture, stained glass, books, ceramics and many other treasures. It's all housed in a magnificent, Grade II* listed Georgian house, set in Lloyd Park. William lived in the house for eight years as a young man (the house he was born in has been demolished). It's a stunning, fascinating museum and well worth a visit.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

No entry signs revamped

A graffiti artist has recently been doctoring no entry signs in Putney and Battersea in London and, er, St Austell, Cornwall. The top two are from Isreali Road, Putney. The bottom picture I took in France last year.