Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Recent Random, Flippant Film Reviews

Hunger Games (Dir: Gary Ross / USA / 2012 / 142 mins)
The Truman Show + 1984 + Battle Royale + The Running Man = Hunger Games

Mr Turner (Dir: Mike Leigh / UK / 2014 / 150 mins)
It literally felt like watching paint dry. Incredible to think Mr Turner is just eight minutes longer than Hunger Games; it felt about two days longer. (I mentioned years ago how whilst attention spans get shorter and shorter, as we flick between YouTube videos every thirty seconds, self-indulgent film directors are making longer and longer films.) I know it's a Mike Leigh film but does that mean everyone needed to look so ugly? Or was that just how people looked in the 19th century? Maybe it was. I recently saw Still the Enemy Within, a documentary about the Miner's Strike. I know it was the 1980s, I know it was up north, but by eck, the people in the archive footage from then sure did look ugly.

Welcome to New York 
(Dir: Abel Ferrara / France & USA / 2014 / 125 mins)
Driller Killer director Ferrara has lost none of his ability to shock with this brutal but very watchable, so-called fictional portrayal of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, where the former chief of the IMF was arrested and eventually acquitted for raping a hotel maid in New York. Gerald Depardieu stars as sex addict Devereaux and Jacqueline Bisset plays his long-suffering wife, Simone. Depardieu gives a compelling if despicable performance as a larger than life hedonist whose life takes a sudden down turn when arrested.

A pre-credit sequence has Depardieu as himself talking to journalists lets us know immediately this is a fiction film. Later, in a restaurant, Depardieu says, "Give me some meat", exact lines he spoke some forty years ago in the film Loulou. Confined to a New York apartment during his trial, he amuses himself by watching French New Wave films in the cinema basement. Presumably a Truffaut film, it features a shot of Jean Pierre Léaud. Depardieu himself worked with Truffaut in 1980, when he starred in The Last Metro. Depardieu was initially reluctant to appear in it as he didn't like Truffaut's directing style, but he was eventually convinced.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Random Film Review: Loulou
Films in films

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Book cover: Area X

I've mentioned previously (probably) how album covers can get away with leaving out pertinent information such as the band name and album title, but books or DVDs rarely do. Well, here's an example of a book cover doing just that: Area X by Jeff Vandermeer. No idea what it's about, but I want it.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Versions of Covers
Book cover 'archive'

Thursday, November 13, 2014

London Libraries #2: Bishopsgate Institute

Designed by architect Charles Harrison Townsend, who also built the Whitechapel Art Gallery and the Horniman museum (two personal favourites), the Bishopsgate Institute is a beautiful Grade II* listed building combining elements of the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau. The Institute consists of events, courses and the library, which prides itself on a fine collection of books and archives mainly about the Big Smoke. In particular, the library has been a veritable hotbed of revolution specialising in books about protest, free thought and the labour movement.

Image above is the stained glass dome in the library's main reading room.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth

When an animal kills or maims a human, the animal in question is usually put down. This happens no matter what kind of animal – dog, shark, horse, lion, bull, elephant, bear. Indeed, the polar bear that killed Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple in 2011 was also killed, even though the polar bear is in serious danger of becoming extinct (and Eton schoolboys are not). It seems a little unfair; the animal can't be taken to court and tried – if animals could talk, who knows what their reasons might be. They might have felt threatened, or scared, or been hungry. Or, most likely, could probably be excused on the basis that it's their animal nature to be a killer. Or if it's a pet, surely the blame lies more with the animal's owner, and they should be tried (and probably destroyed). Other times, it's just an accident, like a clumsy elephant sitting on someone. Whatever the reason, killing the animal is pretty harsh and doesn't really solve anything.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Top ten bands

1. Velvet Underground
2. Roxy Music
3. Sex Pistols
4. The Fall
5. Beach Boys
6. My Bloody Valentine
7. Rolling Stones
8. Beastie Boys
9. The Who
10. Belle and Sebastian

Sometimes, the best bands are like the best TV series (Faulty Towers, The Office) – they don't overstay their welcome. Fawlty Towers had only one season; The Office had two. The Velvet Underground produced only three albums; The Sex Pistols only one proper. Roxy Music made eight and they are all perfect. The Stones, on the other hand (though a great singles band), have quite possibly only ever made one great album (Exile on Main Street). Queen never made a brilliant album (except Greatest Hits).

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top ten most boring bands – EVER!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The paedo files

I make no excuses whatsoever for paedophiles but when I have mentioned to people the punishment and treatment of the affliction (unfortunate sexuality? Disease? Aberration?) seems to me barbaric and draconian, their response is always 'Well what would you do if someone was interfering with your daughter?', then my response is always, of course, I would track them down and murder them. It seems to be a condition we are very reluctant to understand or try to cure, with daily Daily Mail-style executions and the fear that there is a paedo on every street corner, similar to the urban myth that you are never more than four foot away from a rat (both apparently false). Indeed, you may even know one! He (always a he) may even be your best friend or your brother!

I really don't think (say) Ian Watkins, the convicted paedophile from The Lost Prophets, woke up on a daily basis and thought to himself, 'Oh frabuous joy, I'm so glad to be sexually attracted to babies'. In comments he and his band members have made, it seems his actions were more in tune with a drug addict: the denial, the lying and manipulation are all characteristics of an addict determined to get their fix. The public reaction to it – disgust, horror – is of course understandable, but there is zero attempt at understanding or sympathy (perhaps rightly so in his case). We want paedophiles punished rather than 'cured'. Is a cure even possible (jail certainly isn't the answer)? Once upon a time we tried to 'cure' homosexuals. Cognitive therapy is a possible solution, as with most paedophiles the reason for their condition will be shaped by their upbringing and not sexual preference.

The unrelenting witch hunt that has been Operation Yewtree has spared almost no one, whether guilty or innocent (it's generally been guilty until proven innocent – in other words, the opposite of what the law is meant to be). Childhood heroes have been mercilessly chopped down – and rightly so, of course, if they are guilty, but it's been less clear sometimes if a celebrity 'just' pinched a woman's bum in the 1970s. Out of all the arrested minor celebrities arrested, most it seems were found not guilty, including Paul Gambaccini, Jim Davidson, Freddie Starr, Jimmy Tarbuck and William Roache. Dave Lee Travis, though eventually convicted, was initially found not guilty of 12 charges, until he was retried and found guilty of one.

So seeing as death (ie Jimmy Savile; you can't wake the dead but you can say what you like about them – the last I heard Savile had been indulging in necrophilia in hospital morgues; who knows, next he'll be held responsible for the Holocaust) or era (ie forty years ago) doesn't seem to pose a problem, why not dig up Eric Gill's grave (1882-1940; typographer and sculptor whose fonts and sculptures adorn such institutions as the BBC and Penguin Books), who had a long sexual relationship with his daughter and liked to watch his wife have sex with farmyard animals. Or what about Michelangelo (1568-1629), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Caravaggio (1572-1610) with their suspect and probable sexual interest in young boys? Let's gather up all their paintings and put them on a bonfire, in a similar vein to HMV stripping their shelves of Lost Prophets CDs (because they are crap would have been a more valid reason).

Whilst minor TV personalities and celebs from the 1970s are being bought out of retirement and arrested and humiliated, rock stars like David Bowie, Bill Wyman and Jimmy Page have got away scot-free with similar – and a lot more – jinks. Them, and many other rock stars, indulged in sex with minors in the 1970s but Jimmy Page's behaviour takes it to a whole other level (and presumably a Whole Lotta Love). Page, guitarist in Led Zeppelin, kidnapped a 14-year-old girl, had sex with her and held her captive for years. There's something ironic about Top of the Pops presenters from the seventies all being prosecuted for molesting girls, whilst the rock stars they were presenting on the show were getting up to a lot worse. (I've never really understood in general how rock stars are allowed to get up to all kinds of illegal shenanigans – indeed, it's positively expected for them to indulge in sex, drugs and, well, rock 'n' roll and to somehow mostly live outside the law.)

There are, I presume, many people who suffer from the affliction but don't act on it, just as there are many lonely, frustrated heterosexual men who remain just that (and don't act on it). But I have a problem with every paedophile, when caught, always having thousands of indecent images on their computers. Surely this isn't the same for the lonely, frustrated heterosexual (do they all turn to porn/rape)? What is it about paedophiles that makes them so, well, perverse? Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman (2004; based on a play) made a brave attempt to present a sympathetic portrait of a paedophile trying to rebuild his life after a prison sentence. But this kind of portrayal and attempt at understanding is in the minority.

To me, and many I guess, it's on a par with murder as an act I just cannot fathom or understand, and not sure I want to. But to try to understand and treat it is a better answer than hatred and lengthy jail terms. Most forms of abuse stem from childhood experiences and it becomes a never-ending cycle until it can be broken.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fashion finally catches up with Barnflakes

Believe it or not, I do actually own an Anna Hindmarch bag (given to me in lieu of payment for some work I did). Her recent range of bags feature vintage (isn't everything nowadays?) breakfast cereal packs and cost about a grand. Just in case you needed reminding, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and Barnflakes provides 'breakfast for the soul' on a regular basis.

Halloween fancy dress costume tip: go as a pack of Cornflakes covered in blood and call yourself a cereal killer. I'm here all day folks.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Malta & Gozo: all things great and small

Our favourite things on Malta and Gozo were either big or small.  The smallest thing was sculpted from a cow's toenail. The largest thing the churches. We soon fell in love with the colossal churches, visiting as many as we could and using them as reference points to guide us around the islands. Nothing is bigger than the churches; they rightly overlook the towns and cities. In the museums we found the tiny, exquisite figures such as the Sleeping Lady from the Hypogeum, and the 'Venus of Malta' from Hagar Qim. Peculiar to Malta are the tiny headless, busty, fleshy women sculptures dating back some 5,000 years.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Watts in Compton*

Watts Mortuary Chapel (above) is a beautiful Grade I listed building in Compton, Surrey. Designed by artist and sculptor George Frederic Watts' wife, Mary Watts, it was built at the height of the Arts and Craft movement, between 1896 and 1898. Involving all the village residents in Watts, it's a gem of a chapel with highly decorative art nouveau and celtic influences. Aldous Hexley is buried in the chapel grounds. Near the chapel in Compton is the Watts Gallery, a charming builiding housing hundreds of Watt's paintings and sculptures. Opened in 1904, it was Britain's first gallery to be dedicated to one individual artist.

Many of Watts' symbolist paintings can be seen in the Tate gallery in London but it's his Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman's Park near St Paul's that remains his most moving testimony. Its wall of tiles tells the tales of 'ordinary' people who lost their lives saving others. Some of the tiles are designed by Willem de Morgan (including the one below) and later ones by Royal Doulton.
*My, how I struggled to come up with an amusing pun on Watts and Compton – both being rough neighbourhoods in South Central L.A., and Compton, UK, being in sleepy Surrey (and Watts being in Compton). Watts (in L.A.) is also home to the Watts tower, an amazing series of sculptures, one of the most extraordinary pieces of 'outsider art' ever created.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The agony of choice

From eating and dating to music and film, everything is about sharing nowadays. Maybe it always was, but now the sharing concept is shoved in our faces like we never realised it before. Popcorn! Great for sharing! Doritos! Great for sharing too! Picture frames! Great for sharing precious memories! The internet: all about sharing – music, photos, films, sex, unwanted opinions. There is now such a gluttony of choice. And crap. And we're meant to share it. And Like It.

I've always suffered from a crippling lack of decision making. Even a restaurant menu sends me into palpitations of procrastinations. Then I end up ordering the wrong thing – but whatever I order I'll be disappointed with. Or I'll go into a clothes shop. I want a shirt. There's too many of them. I can't decide. I only want one. But a good one, a quality one. The more choice there is seems inversely proportionate to the quality of the product. We don't need all this choice; we just need a good one of everything: partner, food, wine, film, album, shirt. Choice confuses me, stresses me out.

It's like with chocolate bars. The Kit Kat survived a thousand years with just one variety – erm, chocolate. Now there's about a dozen including orange, mint, dark, white, peanut butter and double caramel. In Japan, there have been over 200 varieties of Kit Kat – including soy sauce and ginger ale – since the year 2000.

The agony of choice seems magnified by a million on the internet. What film to watch, what person to date (with what website or app), what music to listen to, what brands to buy...

In his TED talk on the Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwrz cites his local supermarket having 175 varieties of salad dressings – is this really necessary? With so much choice on offer, we are bound to be dissatisfied with the choice we make – surely we could have made a better choice? A perfect one? We regret the choice we made and it's easy to imagine a better one. When there's more choice there are higher expectations but the end result is disappointment and low satisfaction. Schwrz argues that too much choice can induce paralysis and cause depression and even suicide (though suicide is a permanent choice to a temporary problem).

Do a decision detox if the agony of choice rings bells with you too.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wasting Time

'We'd be amazing if we learnt useful things.'
– Comment at work from Admin Assistant

During World War Two, the test to become a code breaker at Bletchley Park was completing The Times crossword and playing chess (and, okay, presumably hailing from Oxbridge). Nowadays a similar job would involve a degree in maths and years of experience. The 1960s heralded a time of apparently being able to walk into any job. The TV series Faking It demonstrated that actually anyone can do anything (apart from a handful of occupations that require years of training: lawyer, doctor, etc), with a bit of training and the right connections.

I had a drunken argument with a random man about this last Friday night: I believe from school we are stifled into accepting our role in life, and this continues into work (though we really should be told to make the most of our school days – oh, days of actually learning stuff; being able to fight someone you didn't like; endless holidays. Saying school is preparation for work is a slight fib – prison would be more a more apt description). Most jobs tend to under utilise people, belittle them, keep them in their place, put them down, crush their ambitions and possibilities.

What if your calling was playing the cello or surfing or being a photographer or a paleontologist or an installation artist but you just never got around to it (what if you were born in Iran or the Congo)? What if you never found your calling? Chances are you probably didn't and won't, and you'll settle for something mediocre: you'll be working in an office, wondering for years if there's more to life than this. Then it dawning upon you that there isn't. Those who realise their vocation from an early age are very lucky; the rest of us just stumble along blind.

We waste most of our passion, energy and time on things that are completely pointless, mostly work-related (but also TV and football-related). But imagine, say, serial killers could be more constructive as paid assassins or soldiers. Jilted ex-lovers who are good at stalking their ex-partners online could become researchers or spies. Hackers, fraudsters and con artists would do well in (legal) buisiness. I recently saw the aggression and passion of football fans on the way to a Millwall vs Leeds match. All that hate against the opposite team, if only it was used to do some good. Their chanting could be singing in a church choir instead. Something negative and aggressive could become positive and joyful. The same with the legions of office workers and their futile existences. They could actually transfer their skills and do something useful with their lives.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Four-day working week
Absolutely Famous
Aspire to be Average

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Random Film Review: Gone Girl

Dir: David Fincher | USA | 2014 | 149 mins

In 2007 Ben Affleck directed Gone Baby Gone, starring his brother Casey. His latest film is Gone Girl, to be followed by Gone Woman and finally Gone Granny Gone Gone to complete the quadrilogy.

When we got in the cinema (yes, we actually went out to see the film, good to see it packed on a Saturday night), the trailer for Gone Girl mistakenly appeared just before film, with the words 'COMING SOON' raising a titter from the audience as the film started immediately afterwards. But the credits go too fast, I'm not even sure if we're watching another trailer, then suddenly we're into the film. I never get properly into it, the premise too absurd, the two attractive leads living in a mansion which appears like an empty film set (let me guess: it's intentional), the psycho wife's actions completely over the top, over-elaborate and unbelievable (why doesn't she just kick him in the balls and be done with it?). All the discussions about misogyny mask the bigger crime of the film: it's just not exciting or convincing.

Similar films such as Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct, of variable quality though they are, at least the former film presents a believable domestic environment for Michael Douglas – loving wife and child, lingering shots of their house.

I know quite a few people who admire his films but I've never known what all the fuss about David Fincher is and aside from Seven, Fight Club and maybe Zodiac, I've actively disliked more of his films – Panic Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – than I've admired, though at the time I remember defending The Game against much abuse.

All the five star reviews, I don't know, most films are so bad nowadays, film critics get a whiff of something vaguely Hitchcockian and it gets great reviews, even if it's decidedly average.

2.5 / 5

Monday, October 13, 2014

Kim vs Kim

There's a new Kim in town (Istanbul in this case – Carrie Mathison: be afraid). At first Kim (Mills) appears to be another clueless Kim Bauer (lying by the pool; more interested in her iPhone and iPad than one of the world's most fascinating cities; wearing skimpy outfits in a Muslim country) but suddenly she ups her game and starts chucking grenades, driving like a nutter through Istanbul's cobbled streets and rocking up in the American Embassy by crashing through the barrier in a stolen taxi. Yup, turns out Kim Mills is even more dangerous than Kim Bauer.

Taken 2 features Liam Neeson reprising his role in Taken as ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills. His daughter, Kim, and ex-wife, Leonora, join him in Istanbul for a short break after Leonora realises her new husband has left her, and possibly wants to get back with Bryan. Leonora, it turns out, is the new Kim Bauer – she gets lost, kidnapped and collapses for most of the film from a minor scratch on her neck. But Kim rises to the occasion, evades capture, hands dad a gun, destroys half of Istanbul and manages to laugh it off with mum and dad when it's all over.

Kim vs Kim? No, let's have a new spin-off series Mills & Bauer, the deadly daughters of destructive dads.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Kim Bauer vs Dana Brody

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Just a quick one

No, unfortunately not the euphemism for a quick shag, but more of the office speak that spreads like a virus. I've mentioned previously (ironically) about the fast-paced office environment, reminiscent of a doctor's waiting room, morgue or (at other times) a children's playground. The latest buzz phrase is a 'quick question' or 'quick one', ie a quick word. Nothing's about leisure; there's no: 'how about a six hour chat?' It's all about the quick one. It might not even be quick: it's probably the same length as a normal size question or chat. But the advanced warning – 'a quick one' – informs the recipient it won't take up much of their valued time. Invariably, the quick one ends up becoming a medium or even long one, but the thought is there I guess.

Also trending this month: clearing throats, squeaking chairs and clanging keyboards.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Notes on Kate Moss

The iconic blonde model turned forty this year and it feels like I've seen her on a cover of a magazine or read about her at least six times a week for the last fifty years in the Evening Standard, usually for taking drugs and/or tumbling out of a nightclub at 4am. It's hard for me to think of many people less interesting than Kate Moss. She's not nineteen anymore and her behaviour, aged forty, is just plain tedious and immature. I don't even find her very attractive, let alone beautiful. Skinny women with bodies like thirteen year-old boys just aren't my thing.

Yet I feel like I've grown up with her; we both hail from South London; both similar ages. It could be said that our similarities end there. She's a presumably rich, beautiful, famous, fashion icon. I'm not. She's yet to grow up and get a proper job and be a responsible person, even though she's married and has a child (naturally from a previous relationship). She's an appalling role model for girls. Sally Jones from Chatham would be more inspirational.

We know all about Kate Moss yet she remains slightly aloof and intangible, like Naomi Campbell. Maybe it's to do with the passivity required of being a model. She embodies the mythical sort of punk rock ethos of doing it her own bland way (except she's been rich and famous all her adult life). Like that other annoying blonde model Patsy Kensit, Moss went according to cliche and dated a succession of rock stars.

There are women like Aung San Suu Kyi, Michelle Yeoh and Martha Wainwright in the world, and, you know, just decent people, single mothers doing their best, aid workers in Africa, doctors and nurses. Then there's Kate blimming Moss, snorting coke (she'd be more controversial sipping Horlicks), stumbling out of a nightclub at 4am after attending an art gallery opening in Mayfair, and she's on page three of the Evening Standard. Every week. And she's not even interesting. What is her child doing? What's her husband up to? Do they approve? Shouldn't someone say something?

All the praise that gets heaped upon her, I just can't fathom it. She wears clothes for a living. And gets paid a lot for doing it. She has a pretty easy job that requires little skill. And did I mention she's not even very attractive or interesting?

Not to be confused with: Kate Mosse, author, also similarly bafflingly impossibly popular.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Top ten film composers

1. Ennio Morricone
2. Bernard Herrmann
3. John Williams
4. Jerry Goldsmith
5. John Barry
6. Vangelis
7. Clint Marshall
8. Goblin
9. Ry Cooder
10. John Carpenter

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top 10 movie soundtracks

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Puppetmaster

It seems extraordinary to me that Hollywood is reduced to peddling out superhero films, sequels and remakes when there's so much great raw material in 'real life' on a daily basis. People go missing, get murdered, kidnapped, chopped up; there's domestic killings, natural disasters and wars, bombs and blackmail, sex and scandal, all of which makes for exciting cinema. Gun-crazed runner without legs shoots girlfriend! Ebola outbreak! Sally Jones from Chatham goes from witch worshipper to Muslim extremist (I can already imagine the iconic film poster with Sally in her nun habit and gun and dog)!

A news story from years ago that always stayed with me is the bizarre tale of Robert Hendy-Freegard – barman, used car salesman and conman, who masqueraded as an MI5 agent. His exploits are the polar opposite of the Schwarzenegger film True Lies (though bizarrely similar to the character of Simon in the film, a car salesman who seduces Helen, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, by pretending to be a spy. Who knows, maybe Hendy-Freegard was inspired by True Lies – or vice versa). Nicknamed The Puppetmaster for his 'odyssey of deceit' (The Daily Mail's phrase), he used his devious charm to con scores of women out of £1m.

Hendy-Freegard's first-known exploits were in 1992 when he was a barman in Newport, Shropshire. He persuaded three agriculture students (two women and a man) that he was an undercover agent for MI5, investigating an IRA cell in the college. Over time, he got the students to perform humilating and degrading acts of loyalty, sever contacts with family and friends, give all their money (and their parents money) to Hendy-Freegard and move to Sheffield. One of the students became his lover and gave birth to two of his daughters. He beat her when she confronted him on his other lovers

The charming but barely literate Hendy-Freegard continued in this manner for another decade with various other victims, mainly women: he seduced his newly-married personal assistant and told her he was an MI5 agent. She had to endure sleeping rough on benches and overnight at Heathrow airport, surviving on a slice of Mars bar a day and drinking water from toilets for her loyalty tests. His lies were outrageous, his behaviour monstrous; he thought nothing of humiliating and beating women and extracting as much money as possible from them. Other victims included a lawyer (who awarded him '11 out of 10' for his bedroom skills), psychologist and company director: these were not stupid women; Hendy-Freegard was no great looker either; his powers of persuasion must have been quite something. It's incredible he got away with it for so long.

I've always thought Hendy-Freegard's exploits would make for a fascinating film, intermingling a James Bond-fantasy lifestyle with the reality of being an abusive, lying barman and car salesman, as well as the drudgery of being holed as a prisoner in Sheffield for weeks on end, conducting pointless loyalty tests, believing your every move was being monitored.

Though when he was eventually caught, in a sting operation in 2002, the law regarded his crimes as kidnapping, theft and deception; nowadays, perhaps, in this post-Josef Fritzl world, his victims would be deemed slaves (rather than prisoners). It's interesting this happened in pre-internet days, the 1990s. The internet and smart phones have made scamming, lies and deception far easier to get away with (two men were recently found guilty of duping women looking for love on match.com out of £220,000). That Hendy-Freegard did it in real life for so long to so many intelligent people is just amazing.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top 5 film concepts
The life and death of Michael X
Found Object

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Radio (Bad) Times Covers

Once upon a time I lived in a house where the Radio Times was delivered through the door every week. I used to shudder every time I caught a glimpse of its cover lying on the kitchen table or sofa, and promptly turn it over. There are plenty of ugly magazines out there on the shelves, well, most of them actually, but there's something about the Radio Times, which has a long tradition of having lovely illustrated covers (mainly in the 1930s) and even has an awards night for them (apparently without irony) that makes their ugly covers especially hard to bear. There's also a £25 hardback book, The Radio Times Cover Story (official).

It's partly their complete lack of imagination and partly the nature of the beast: though still called Radio Times, it's mostly a TV-listings guide, and features horribly contrived, ugly TV characters on its covers. Famously, I don't own a TV (I know, I know, I could watch it online – but don't) and find it an ugly, overbright, overloud medium – facets the Radio Times echoes (when I did watch TV I admit to looking forward to the bumper Xmas edition). If you're forgiving them slightly for having to churn out a whole magazine on a weekly basis, then I direct to you Time Out magazine (also a listings guide) in the 1970s (even today it's not that bad), where designer Pierce Marchbank managed to turn out great designs every seven days.

Thankfully I'm not the only one thinking this: Mike Dempsey has a post about it in his Graphic Journey, which is mentioned in Modern Magazines are Rubbish by Martin Colyner, published in Varoom! magazine, Winter 2011/12, issue 17. Dempsey's highlights covers from RT's past, including beautiful covers by illustrators Frank Bellamy (1972), Peter Brookes (1973) and Ralph Steadman (1977). In 2012, RT went against its current grain and featured a David Hockney painting on its cover with no straplines. Oh Bliss!

Previously on Barnflakes:
Everything is four stars

Friday, September 26, 2014

In the Crystal Palace Subway

Looking like a Victorian brick version of the Alhambra, languishing and locked up underneath the A212 (Crystal Palace Parade) for decades, the Crystal Palace Subway is a beautiful hidden gem of South East London. It was made in 1865 as an underpass between the newly-opened High Level train station and the Great Exhibition (the literal Crystal Palace) which had moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham in 1852-54. The Crystal Palace burnt down in 1936 and dwindling visitors to the area meant the station, said to be England's most magnificent outside of London, fell into disuse. It was closed in 1954 and demolished in 1961. Which left the subway all on its own. In the 1970s it was used frequently by glue-sniffers, and a handful of times a 'Subway Superday' was organised by the Crystal Palace Foundation and Norwood Society. The last one was in 1994. In 1996 the Chemical Brothers filmed a video there and briefly became a venue for illegal raves. Since then it's been closed for health and safety reasons and only opened occasionally, such as for Open House this year and last.

But what a shame. It's a beautiful, almost mythical space and being there as part of Open House felt more special than seeing any office or government building that weekend. It's longing to be opened up to the public be it as a cafe, restaurant, bar, art gallery, anything at all really that puts it to use. When it was owned by the GLC, the subway was regularly opened up. Since it's been handed over to both Bromley and Southwark councils, it's in a mire of red tape and indecision.

Poor Crystal Palace, it seemed to have it all: the Great Exhibition (burnt down); beautiful train station (knocked down); subway (locked up); cinema (not in use). There are vintage shops and restaurants galore but not an M&S or Waitrose for miles. Thank God for the parks and the dinosaurs!

Friends of Crystal Palace Subway

Previously on Barnflakes:
Random Film Review: The Pleasure Garden
London through its charity shops #25: Crystal Palace
The dinosaurs of Crystal Palace

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mixing your drinks

Roger Wade: What'll you have?
Philip Marlowe: What are you drinking?
Roger Wade: What I'm drinking is called Aquavit.
Philip Marlowe: I'm drinking what you're drinking.
Roger Wade: Well God bless you. I like to hear that. People these days go, "Oh, I want a little of this. Oh, and a little of that and a twist of lemon." Balls!
– The Long Goodbye (1973)

We microwave our leftover meals without a second thought but the idea of microwaving cold tea or coffee is close to anathema. People are very specific about how they like their tea and coffee in terms of temperature, colour, strength and depth (to the extent that they provide Pantone numbers). But they'll eat basically anything. It's funny how we'll eat the same meal (ie spaghetti bolognese) but it probably won't taste exactly the same as any other time we've had it, but we'll eat it anyway. Whereas with tea and coffee, it needs to taste exactly how the drinker likes it.

I praise my friend who has his tea or coffee any which way. That is, when being asked how he likes it, he'll reply, 'Oh, just however you're making it' or 'as it comes'. He doesn't want exactly the same tea or coffee every time (and will as happily drink it when it's stone cold as when it's steaming hot). I mean, how boring would that be?

Previously on Barnflakes:
Not for all the tea in China
Lionel Rich Tea
Water as it Oughta
Tagalog for Tea
Proud to Serve

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:
The T.E.A. Theory (Powerpoint Presentation)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Notes on Harry Potter

My knowledge of Harry Potter is pretty limited – and I want it to stay that way. I've never read the books and found it hard watching the tedious films. I don't really mind that millions of people (including, it seems, adults) are hoodwinked into liking his exploits as long as I have nothing to do with it. But recent powers beyond my control have forced me into entering the world of H.P. Namely that my daughter is obsessed with him (I almost broke down in tears when she said she preferred the Harry Potter films to Star Wars).

So I've endured the films, been to Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross, bought my daughter a wand and taken her to the Harry Potter Studios (actually quite impressive). But my main gripe with Harry Potter is I've very rarely seen him do any magic, or anything at all for that matter. Harry's main problem (aside from being dull) is that his 'reputation' proceeds him. Being the chosen one, the weight of expectation upon him makes him practically impotent. In your average two and a half hour Harry Potter film, for at least the first two hours he does very little. If you're lucky in the last half hour Harry will wave his wand and a bright light will come out of it. I doubt the boy could even do a card trick.

His two side kicks, Ron and Hermione, are likewise pretty drippy. Ron dresses like a reject from the 1970s (I did actually think the films were set in the that decade) with his brown tank tops and bowl haircut. Hermione is just annoying.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Daisy Meadows Rainbow Magic Books
Eponymous Heroes 'Largely Dull'

Monday, September 22, 2014

Notes on losing friends

Many years ago I used to work in a bank with a guy named Gerald*. We spent a lot of time together in a boring job, and socialised outside of work hours in the local pub most Fridays. We worked together on and off for about a year. We were verging on being friends but always remained work colleagues. I liked him. We got drunk a lot, smoked a lot and laughed a lot. On our last day of working together we went out to the pub after work and got very drunk. At the end of the night we were going our separate ways for the last time. We shook hands and he said, whilst smiling, 'I never liked you.' I laughed. He said it again. We both laughed. He said it again. He was laughing, but he was dead serious. Then we parted. It took a while – I was pretty drunk – for it to sink in. When it did I was stunned, hurt and confused. And a decade later, well, not much has changed.

Even now, I have a tendency to lose rather than gain Facebook friends and when it happens, because it happens without a word, without a reason, without a notification, it still hurts. There's something about friendships which can be deeper than sexual relationships. Partners can come and go but a friendship should stand the test of time. It may take a few months to get over splitting up from a boyfriend or girlfriend but the split from a close friend can take years to heal, and perhaps never will. And can't be readily replaced. Most people seem to seamlessly move from one relationship to another but it's not like that with friendships. With separating from a partner, the cause is usually known and plain – though still painful, the cause, whether it's an affair or boredom or bad sex or whatever, it's a quantifiable, definite thing. But with a friend, unless you've had a specific argument over a specific issue, the cause is less concrete, and can be more hurtful. After all, the friendship is not based on looks or sex or anything superficial like that, but a deep rooted kinship. But anyway, people drift apart. That's life.

Previously on Barnflakes:
In the Golden Fleece

*Not his real name.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Leonard Cohen's Photoshop Problems

I'm excited about Leonard Cohen's new album, Popular Problems, which comes out 23 September (but stream it here now) to celebrate Cohen's 80th birthday (which is on the 21 September). I'm not excited about the album cover, once again (like 2012's Old Ideas) presumably designed by Cohen himself, and once again showcasing his rudimentary use of Photoshop and sense of design (though Dear Heather from 2004 was very nice). With an ugly font. Someone please tell him! It manages to be worse than Old Ideas, which at least had a decent photo of the man on the cover. Anyway, I try not to judge albums by their covers but just can't help it.

View some of Leonard Cohen's prints here. I quite like some of them.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hungry money

I found the money on the floor but immediately wanted to get rid of it. Found money shouldn't be kept long. Bad karma. Pass it on as soon as possible. I nearly just tore it up then and there and let the wind carry it away from me. But we were hungry. So I got us dinner. Nothing fancy, just chips in fact. And a battered sausage. We escaped the crowds and found a church wall to eat them on. A man almost immediately came and stood near us. Asked if we were here for the festival. Yes, we were. He was fiddling with his headphones, asking us questions. Too many questions. It felt like he could sense our, our – serendipity. He was trying to tap into it. He asked us where we lived – we lied. He moaned about his stomach, his job, his wife. We finished our chips and bade him farewell.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Chips Vs French Fries

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

where new here

Being short of funds and my internet connection dire (thanks, Plusnet), as well as my fondness for libraries and at heart being a Luddite, I’ve started getting DVDs and CDs (40p for a week’s hire!) from my local library. I’ve liked Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here since it was released in 2010 and had been meaning to get the remixed version by Jamie xx, We’re New Here, for a while. I’d checked the catalogue online and sure enough, my local Southwark library had a copy. Popping into the library, I looked for it on the shelves but couldn’t find it. I went to the desk. The woman at the counter asked me the title.
We’re New Here.
She types in: where new here
I tell her, no, We’re New Here, there’s an apostrophe after the e.
She types in: where, new here
No, I exclaim, W, E, apostrophe, R, E. The apostrophe is after the first E! It's the abbreviation of we are.
She types in: we,renew here
An apostrophe I say, not a comma!
She spends about a minute looking for the apostrophe key.
She types in: we’renew here
And a space after the second e, I calmly comment.
It finally reads: we’re new here
Then she says:
We're New Here is not here.
It was returned to the Canada Water branch over a year ago and never returned to this branch.
I’ll call them for you.
Ok, I say, already knowing they’ve lost it.
She calls them.
It’s not there either.
It’s lost.
The lost CD I already guessed at, the woman not requiring keyboard or English skills for a library job vaguely appalled me, but not hugely.

Previously in this library:
Public Abuse

Previously on Barnflakes:
London through its libraries #1: Peckham
More Ex-Ex Elliott
Elliott School of Rock

Friday, August 22, 2014

Top 5 TV show concepts

1. The Alternative Britain's Got Talent
I obviously despise Britain's Got Talent – partly because people on it don't have any; partly because it's so fake and tacky and ugly. I'd like to see an alternative version, where people with genuine, original talent and imagination are showcased, not just ugly people singing cover versions of crap songs. Christ.

2. Walk a Mile in My Shoes
Erm #1, a somewhat controversial concept this. Take a young child (aged 4-8, say) and see how far they get walking on their own (from a shop to home, maybe, or taking the tube), filming their responses and experiences along the way with hidden cameras. Parents watch events unfold via a mobile van.

3. A Couple Abroad
Travel show meets adventure show where each week a couple is separated at opposite ends of a foreign city (preferably chaotic, exotic and dangerous: Lagos, Jakarta, etc) and have five hours to find each other without phones, money or maps.

4. CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) Historical
Erm #2, this is from a previous post from years ago, but still holds true. And I quote:
'This will be part-documentary, part-drama, as our anal team look back at unsolved real life cases and mysteries through history and apply their state-of-the-art forensic technology to reproduce them, and try and solve them.
First episode: Michael Jackson.
Other episodes: Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Elvis Presley, Roswell, crop circles, how Gordon Brown got to be Prime Minister, etc.'

5. Big Brother Special Needs Special
Erm #3, this is also from the same previous post:
'The popularity of Big Brother Tourette's Syndrome sufferer Pete Bennett proved that disabilities can be compulsive viewing. So why stop there? Let's have Big Brother Special Needs Syndrome Special with an assortment of people with disabilities and mental health issues including Down's syndrome, autism, bi-polar, schizophrenia and cerebral palsy.'

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top 10 great ideas

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chips vs French Fries

Things prefaced with the word 'French' often sound far more sophisticated (even if they're actually not): French Toast (ie eggy bread), French Kissing (ie tongues), French Letters (ie condoms) and French Fries (ie the American name for chips. Confusingly, Kiwis and Aussies call chips crisps and chips hot chips. Kiwis call Kiwi fruit Chinese gooseberries but the rest of the world call them Kiwi fruit. Jerusalem artichokes are neither from Jerusalem nor artichokes).

The traditional British chippy is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. On a recent trip to Brighton it took us over half an hour to find one. Though I have no aversion to French fries, the skinny little things can't hold a stick up to our traditional thickly cut chips, drenched in salt and vinegar (ketchup optional; unlike with French fries where it's de rigueur) and eaten in the lashing rain and wind.

French fries are doing a similar thing to what coffee has done to the UK's taste buds: making us believe we enjoy something we don't. Tea is obviously nicer than coffee; chips are obviously better than French fries. But both tea and chips occupy the old-fashioned past of British culture we want to forget; they belong to the old generation. The old-fashioned tea room can't compete with the modern, upbeat coffee shop; the old-fashioned chippy, full of old and/or poor people, looks obsolete compared to fast food joints. Coffee and French fries have that American, on-the-go lifestyle feel to them. Due to the lower surface-to-volume ratio, chips have less fat than French fries.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The cost of camels

The man's Cheshire Cat grin got progressively wider and wider as our guesses for the price of a camel in Abu Dhabi got progressively further and further off the mark. £1000? £200? Well, actually more like £125,000. I've been offered upwards of fifty camels for various girlfriends in various North African countries – maybe I should have taken them up on their offers. But racing camels are a different breed of camel altogether – literally. Racing camels are like racing horses, and command similar prices. Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi apparently owned three rare breed black camels, highly valued in the Gulf states. We saw camels racing at the Lambeth County Show last month. They weren't very fast, one was called Bertie, but I like camels, not as noble as horses, but possessing more character, they're quite possibly a tad stupid, but steadfast, cheeky and with bags of stamina. In the butchers in Libya one finds camel meat for sale; to advertise the fact, live camels are sat around outside the premises, seemingly oblivious to the fact that dead camel heads are sitting near them with their oesophaguses in their mouths.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Today's List #1

• Spoonful of Collapsed Atoms
• Dance of the Fonts
• Barnatea
Cult of Personality
Everything is Vintage
Colonel Panic, Captain Sensible and Corporal Punishment
The Grateful Bed
These Brutish Isles
The Agony of Choice
• Bruce Springsteen and the East Street Market
• Salty Sex
• Anti-social Media
• Hapax Legomenon

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

London libraries #1: Peckham

"It is an absolute public disgrace that for the last 30 years the main bulwark and protection for children and their reading in our culture, namely the public and school library services, and particularly the spending on books, has been cut, cut and cut again until our libraries are now a brave but struggling shadow of their former selves."
– David Fickling, Publisher & Editor 

In theory, libraries are great. They've got loads of books in them and homeless people too. Now they've also got CDs, DVDs and computers. My mum worked in a library for years. A recent survey concluded that librarian is the most stressful job in the world. She used to hire me out CDs for nothing but the new system meant she (that is, I) had to pay. That's progress. Libraries aren't even about books anymore. They're about targets, profits and Polish au pair girls waiting to use the internet. Recently librarians had to complete a course – about how to judge a book by its cover (this is true).

For me, walking into a library used to feel like walking into a church. I got a feeling of serenity and sometimes awe. I liked the silence and that vast bank of information (books!) and all the people lost in their own thoughts and other peoples thoughts and words. Libraries are as old as civilisation itself.

Peckham Library was designed by Alsop & Störmer in 2000 and won the Sterling Prize for Architecture for that year. In an age when they're closing down across the country, and physical books an anachronism, the success of libraries like the Peckham one and the recently refurbished Henry Tate building in Streatham show how current, rewarding and positive libraries can be.

A recent pointless poll by American Express of the UK's top fifty 'urban gems' placed Peckham's library on the list.

Previously on Barnflakes:
London through its charity shops

Friday, August 01, 2014

The Ch-ch-ch-changes finally on DVD

Exciting news for fans of classic 1970s sci-fi children's BBC TV serials (isn't that everyone?): the BFI is finally releasing the DVD of The Changes, along with Out of the Unknown and Red Shift, a play adapted by Alan Garner and based on his novel. 

Read the BFI announcement here.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Children of the 1970s, which looks at The Owl Service, Penda's Fen, The Changes and Children of the Stones. Penda's Fen is still begging for a DVD release.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Random Film Review: The Pleasure Garden

Dir: James Broughton | UK | 1953 | 37min

This short, black and white 'poetic ode to desire' is a real curio, filmed entirely in the terraces of Crystal Palace Park by American filmmaker and poet James Broughton. The film itself is a light souffle and very dated, interesting for featuring Hattie Jacques, John Le Mesurier and Lindsay Anderson, who would later direct the classic If... (1968) starring Malcolm McDowell. The Pleasure Garden has Le Mesurier as Colonel Pall K. Gargoyle enforcing his strict moral code, banning any kind of fun in the park by placing signs all around. Pleasure is eventually restored by Mrs Albion, a fairy godmother of sorts, played by Hattie Jacques, who banishes the Colonel from the park.

The real interest in the film, for me, lies in the location of the film: the terraces of Crystal Palace Park in 1953 is overgrown and littered with abandoned statues, many of which have now vanished from the park. Of the 77 original sculptures now only a handful remain, most of which are headless. Of the original dozen sphinxes, now only six remain, and they are in a state of dilapidation. Also, various fountains, urns, plinths, the Crystal Colonnade and the bandstand have either been demolished, lost, stolen or sold. In 1957 lots of the statues were auctioned off. It's a real shame; many of the statues and features survived the Crystal Palace fire and can clearly be seen in good condition in the 1953 film, some hundred years after the disaster, but in the years since the park has fallen into disrepair and neglect.

Fantastic research here of the original statues.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Deep excavations
London through its charity shops #25: Crystal Palace
The dinosaurs of Crystal Palace

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Top ten girls names in songs

1. Virginia Plain – Roxy Music
2. Suzanne – Leonard Cohen
3. Angie – Rolling Stones
4. Layla – Derek and the Dominos
5. Lola* – The Kinks
6. Roxanne – The Police
7. Sara – Bob Dylan
8. Caroline Says II – Velvet Underground
9. Caroline, No – The Beach Boys
10. Cecilia – Simon and Garfunkel

*Erm, actually a man.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Near coincidences

I have a friend who tries to impress with stories of almost seeing famous people. I tend to needle him about this – but I am almost impressed; after all, he was standing in the space where Bryan Ferry stood just a few minutes before; at a party where Madonna left early. I appreciate the almost in life probably more than the actual. (He has a similar technique with architecture. Always notices the charm in an old building and makes a mental note of taking a photo of it but by the time he actually goes back to take the photo, the old building has gone, vanished. A glass and steel office block / Pret A Manger / ugly luxury apartment block [delete as applicable] is usually in its place.)

I'm the same with near coincidences; the only thing about them is no one knows if they've actually occurred. This is a minor point; the possibilities of near, missed coincidences is endless, though completely pointless even contemplating.

It could be an old friend you haven't seen for twenty years; let's say he's Australian. One year he visits your home country, the UK. He doesn't get in touch because he lost your details years ago; maybe he doesn't even know your surname (maybe he doesn't want to get in touch; let's imagine it's the days before Facebook). Anyway. So. You brush past each other at Waterloo Station and don't even notice. And never do. Never will.

Or it could be someone you've lived with for years; turns out you have a mutual friend you'll never know about. Or you were both at the same wedding in 2003 (you didn't meet until 2011). Or you were both in Shoreditch one sunny day in June 1997. Whatever.

There are probably hundreds of such near coincidences with everyone we know; it's just impossible to find out all of them, and mostly irrelevant too. I found out some with an ex-work colleague recently: we both went to the same art college at the same time, lived in the same seaside town at the same time; a film-maker friend of his was born in a small town I used to live near – his mother has recently moved there... and so on.

Actual coincidences are often amazing and head-spinning but near or missed coincidences are overlooked as they're not known about. But they're out there all the time. Nearly.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Life In Art

I really don't have a problem with (say) Tracey Emin not being able to paint or draw. So what? When she declares that there's no separation between her life and her art, she reveals herself to be a true artist. So, if she can do it, why can't all of us?

It occurs to me I will probably never have enough room to display all my stuff. And it occurs to me I want to display My Life Of Crap. I want it out there. In public. Maybe just for a week or two (I'm not that much of an egotist). I'd been to see the Chris Marker exhibition at the Whitechapel gallery. He'd died recently and I thought the exhibition was like a celebration of his life, with his films, photos, travel guides but also letters, notebooks, sketches. This is how I want my stuff displayed in a similarly sized gallery. A huge space to display my life's work: paintings, drawings, sculptures*, films, photographs, sure, but also newspaper clippings, books and magazines, records and CDs, posters, clothes, toys, bric-a-brac. But I actually want to be alive when this happens, and curate it. Everything will be for sale (there would be barngains galore).

The idea of preserving an artist's or writer's room exactly as it was, ie Charles Dickens' or Thomas Hardy's study or Lawrence of Arabia's house, is how we should all be remembered. I've written about this before; that a gravestone is essentially a boring, impersonal reminder of a person's life, and far more intimate and relevant would be a recreation of the dead person's living room or bedroom with all their stuff. This is us now, right? Our stuff? (Even if it's digital stuff, it's still stuff.)

*Someone will have to recreate the giant plug switch I made out of leaves and grass and the huge cardboard light switch, the mini cinemas, palace of mirrors, etc.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Head in the Clouds
The Museum of Everyone

Monday, July 21, 2014

Top ten rain songs

1. Singin' in the Rain Gene Kelly
2. Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head BJ Thomas
3. I Can't Stand the Rain Tina Turner
4. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall Bob Dylan
5. Here Comes the Rain Again Eurythmics
6. Purple Rain Prince
7. Hey Mr Rain Velvet Underground
8. It's Raining Men Gerri Halliwell
9. Why Does it Always Rain On Me? Travis
10. Rain The Beatles

(FYI: This is post #700)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Heron tower fish tank

If you're ever find yourself taking part in an obscure London pub quiz and there's a question along the lines of 'What London office block employs three full-time divers to clean its fish tank?' you will now be able to answer without hesitation: The Heron Tower in Bishopsgate. Yup, it's true. The lobby of the building contains a 70,000-litre fresh water aquarium containing hundreds of tropical fish. Opened since 2011, the tank is Britain's largest privately owned aquarium. The three permanently on-site divers are employed to clean the tank twice a week. We didn't find out if they were pen pushers the rest of the week, only donning underwater gear for cleaning duties.

Elsewhere in Bishopsgate:
St Ethelburga's

Friday, July 18, 2014

St Ethelburga's

 © Copyright Robin Sones and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Following my previous post about peace and war museums, yesterday evening I found myself in St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. Formerly St Ethelburga's church, it was almost completely destroyed by the 1993 IRA bomb which caused extensive damage around Bishopsgate. Some 500 tonnes of glass were broken in the explosion and damage amounted to some £1bn. Mercifully, the bomb was detonated on a Saturday; only one person was killed and 44 injured. The church was only seven metres away from the truck bomb.

It  was reconstructed as a peace and reconciliation centre after the bomb and is now an oasis of peace, relaxation and beauty in the city. Dwarfed by the office buildings around it, the centre consists of projects, events and services focusing on 'transforming conflict and division into new relationships and peaceful communities', set in a lovely environment consisting of the rebuilt church, a yurt and secret garden.


Previously on Barnflakes:
More horses

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Imperial Peace Museum

The Imperial War Museum reopens its doors this week after a £40m transformation. It strikes me as rather distasteful, the idea of a war museum, and whilst war (and porn for that matter) are responsible for some positive things, such as advances in technology and science, it still seems bizarre that war is celebrated in such an unashamedly bold way.

I have actually been to a peace museum (the only one of its kind in the UK, in Bradford), which I think is a great idea, but it was rather underwhelming and underfunded (there's more money in war). It explores the 'often untold stories of peace, peacemakers, social reform and peace movements'. But I guess, peace just isn't as exciting as war. Guns and bombs and fighter planes are cool (though pointless death isn't). What does peace have to offer? Peace pipes?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Overheard #9

'How many opinions make a fact?'
'They're both boring but at least she's a woman.'
'Designers do it at high resolution.'
'He's a Libyan living in oblivion.'
'Do me a flavour.'
'Girls don't play
If you don't pay.'

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Standard Man

If I say my relationship with the man who hands out copies of the Evening Standard often feels transcendental, I am not exaggerating by very much. It's a simple, unwritten relationship: every evening he yells out the word 'Standard', every evening I take the folded copy which he hands to me. Even though I don't particularly like the newspaper (especially since they cancelled their daily chess puzzle when it became free) there's something reassuring about taking the newspaper from him. It suggests a coda to the working day but it's more than that. It's a transaction, an agreement which I find very satifying, more satisfying than other relationships in my life, perhaps because it's so simple, reliable and clear cut.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book cover: Travels with my Aunt

Illustration by Stephen Russ (1919-1983) for the first UK edition of Graham Greene's 'fun' comedy, Travels with my Aunt (1969 for Bodley Head). Russ is probably best known for his work with Penguin books, including many of the experimental designs for the Penguin Poets series throughout the 1960s and the redesign of the flaming phoenix emblem for the cover of the then-infamous Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1960:

Browse Barnflakes' book cover section here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The life and death of Michael X

Not be be confused with Malcolm X.
– Wikipedia

Born in 1933 to an absent Portuguese father from St Kitts and a black Obeah-practicing mother from Barbados, Michael de Freitas emigrated from Trinidad to the UK in his early twenties and moved to West London in the 1960s, where he became a gambler, pimp and hustler, eventually working as an 'enforcer' for the notorious slum landlord Peter Rachman. He became immersed in the Black Power movement and, inspired by Malcolm X, de Freitas renamed himself Michael X and became a self-styled black revolutionary and civil rights activist. He was eventually exposed as a charlatan, but not before he'd hoodwinked John Lennon and Yoko Ono (among others) into giving him funds for his Black House commune on Holloway Road in North London. On the run from the UK for extortion, he was eventually hung for murder in Trinidad in 1971. A fascinating, complex character living in interesting times, de Freitas mixed with high and low life which included gangsters and pimps, artists and the aristocracy.

In the story of Michael X, there's something of the film Six Degrees of Separation (from the play by John Guare), starring Will Smith in one of his better film roles, a con artist (inspired by David Hampton) who poses as Sydney Poitier's father and infiltrates rich society in New York, hoodwinking them into accepting him and loaning him money.

The character of Michael X has appeared as a bit player in films and TV series about other, more famous people. But his story deserves centre stage: The life and death of Michael X would make a great film (or at least a BBC dramatisation). Perversely, perhaps, or at least as a contrast, I'd like to see the film of his life interspersed with a dramatisation of a book he'd been working on – a romantic novel, bizarrely, about a black man who wins the admiration of Lena Boyd-Richardson, a white English woman.

Previously on Barnflakes:
My top 5 unrealised film projects

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Remote control for life

As a child, long before it was invented, I used to fantasise about a time when I could watch the TV I wanted to, when I wanted to, by fast forwarding past the boring stuff and only watching the fun stuff. Sure enough, the technology eventually caught up with me (or at least I think it has – erm, can you do it on Sky or Freeview?). The only thing now is I don't own a TV and haven't watched it for years. Still, the idea always appealed to me*. Aside from creating endless paradoxes, what if we could do this in real life?

There are pluses and cons. The pluses are numerous: we fast forward through the root canal at the dentist, the painful break ups, the humiliations and embarrassments, the hours waiting for buses and trains, the tedious weeks and years spent in the office. But the cons are, well, we also miss out all that – and so the sum total of our life left, our life of fun, equals about six hours and nineteen minutes in total. Ideally, with the remote control, we can play the fun times over and over with the remote control, but even that gets boring and besides, isn't that what Mel Gibson does in Lethal Weapon and Michael Douglas in Falling Down (to name just two), staring at photos or replaying old home movies. It's what psychos do when they have only the past to live for.

So the linear life is probably worth living, with its ups with the downs. But if life is linear, how come time plays such games with our lives – when young, summer holidays last an eternity, and as adults, weekends go by in the blink of an eye whilst a working day lasts about sixteen years. When we get older, our biological clock slows down, giving the impression of time going quicker.

I wouldn't do anything different if I could replay my life again. There would be no way I'd take advantage of my youth more than I did; it was lived as it was. I don't look back or look forward.

*Naturally, as mentioned recently, once I know I can do something, there's very little incentive for me actually doing it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

How to work a four day week

Following on from a recent post regarding the four day working week, is it actually possible to have a full time job but just work a four day week every week for a year using annual leave (the word holiday sounds too frivilous to use nowadays in the serious office environment; after all, it won't be a holiday per se; you'll have your phone on the beach and check work emails every day), Bank Holidays (an official term so the word is permitted), and the odd sickie? In short, probably not, but let's give it a try anyway.

Let's say you get 25 days annual leave a year (I'm feeling generous) – that's automatically half a year of four days, but still a way to go. There are eight Bank Holidays, including Easter, Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year (let's be equally generous and pretend Christmas Day and Boxing Day fall on different weeks), so that's 33 weeks in total taken care of. But still leaves 19. Hmm, now it gets tricky. You could probably get away with five days of paid sick leave. Let's chuck in the odd funeral and hope your company believes in compassionate leave. At best, that makes ten weeks remaining. Hmm, very tricky now. The only option is just not turning up for work one day a week (for ten weeks) and hope nobody notices.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The nation's favourites

I love a cheese sandwich, me, but if I were to choose my favourite bread and cheese to make one, would it consist of Cathedral City ('The Nation's Favourite Cheese Brand') cheddar and Warburtons ('Britain's Favourite Bakery') bread? No, it certainly wouldn't (it would be from an organic bakery, naturally (or at least Waitrose). The bread would be thick and crusty, not limp and pappy; the cheese would be rich and creamy, not bland and tasteless). I hadn't even heard of either brand until a few years ago, now suddenly they're our 'favourites'. There's something so arrogant and bold about the claims, but if true, surely based on a combination of blandness and cheapness rather than quality.

Where did these claims originate and are they verifiable? I can't be bothered to find out, but I bet it's like one of those anti-ageing cream ads where it says in huge writing 70% of women say the product works, then there's an asterisk and you look at the bottom of the ad to the small print and it says their survey consisted of asking twenty women in the street, and probably gave them a few free tubs of cream if they said it worked.

(I also noticed the other day that Q magazine is the self-proclaimed World's Greatest Music Magazine. It's another bold-yet-difficult-to-pin-down-exactly-where-they-got-it-from claim. Err, have they not heard of Mojo? Wire? Rolling Stone? Uncut? (All much better than Q.) I use Q magazine like I use the Radio Times, ie what they like, I hate, and vice versa.)

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Book of untaken photos

It's perhaps once a day I take a great photo in my head. My daughter has a way of capturing memories in her mind like a photo but this is more literal. I see things that I know would make smashing photos. And even though I have a phone camera and can and do sometimes actually take photos, they're never ever anything like what I imagine in my head. I sometimes blame the camera, naturally, but more often it's because I'm not a great photographer (well, only occasionally). I'd like to take more photos of people, but don't have the guts. What I need, ideally, is a professional photographer to shadow me all day, every day, and for me to tell him (or her) the photo I have in mind, and for them to take the photo. And it will be a great, award-winning photo (on a daily basis). (In movies, it would be the equivalent of me being the director and telling the Director of Photography exactly what I want. Then them having to catch it instantly.)

Alternatively, I was thinking of publishing a photo book of photos I've not taken. So there would be descriptions of the photos but no actual photographs.

Such as:

Great photo of sunset here, Kuta, Bali, 23/6/2011, 7:45pm.

Or, slightly more poetic:

Jagged mountains stab the low clouds, a lone blue house nestled at the
base of a mountain punctuates the harsh but beautiful landscape...

Actually, landscape photography is the most difficult to get right, especially with cheap cameras having infinity focussing, the result is usually flat and dull. Anyway, that's the concept of the book: a book of photo descriptions but no photos. A type of travel book.

Here's a recent one:

We were driving along a coastal road in Cork, Ireland. Ahead was a warning sign of a deer, black on yellow; the road signs in Ireland are quite elegant and charming. The sign was on the side of the road, behind it was dense green foliage, including explosions of purple rhododendrons. There was something about the lighting, the colours, the bend in the road that would have made it a great photo. But there was no way of taking it, then it was gone.

Previously on Barnflakes:
A Brief History of Photography

Friday, June 06, 2014

'In terms of' overtakes 'literally'

In the fast moving, exciting, hectic office environment, clichéd office jargon doesn't hang around for long and fester (actually, it spreads like wild fire or a virus and then hangs around for years). Last year, literally, everyone was saying the word 'literally' in every sentence. That was so last year. This year, everyone is saying 'in terms of'. Every. Single. Sentence. Literally. It can be 'in terms of' anything at all ('in terms of... design / sales / Tuesday / opportunity / lunch / information / time*), literally, and it literally means absolutely nothing. And started off quite amusing (I wondered if it was a running conspiratorial joke), then got very annoying. People in the office have no idea whatsoever why they've suddenly started saying it. It's just happened. And then spread. At first there was one person, a sales guy, who started saying it. The following week, another person joined him. Then another. And another. And another. In terms of 'in terms of', everyone's at it. Literally.

*Actual 'in terms of' heard today

Previously on Barnflakes:
Four day working week
I'm literally not being funny but let me ask you a question
Email etiquetté
The offensive office

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The cherry orchard

How many fruit trees make an orchard? To be classified as a serial killer three murders is the minimum, but it takes just two trees to make an orchard. Like the National Gallery's recent once-in-a-lifetime display of two Van Gogh sunflower paintings side by side, this is similarly a rare opporutity to see my daughter's three cherry tree paintings – each painted at least a year apart – side by side. And they're just as beautiful as Van Gogh's.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Martha's Robot Paintings
The Cherry Tree

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Blight of the plastic bag

It's difficult to say exactly why plastic carrier bags are probably my biggest bugbear in life. Perhaps it's something to do with their average usage being 20 minutes whilst they take 1,000 years to decompose. Maybe it has something to do with observing workers at lunchtime buying a single sandwich, having it put in a plastic bag, getting back to their desk and immediately binning the bag (average use: two minutes; and then imagining the same scenario in every office all over the world and silently shuddering). Maybe it has to do with the island in the Pacific ocean twice the size of Texas made entirely of plastic debris (known as the Great Pacific garbage patch). Or supermarkets just not caring at all; for them it's free advertising*. They litter our city, countryside and beaches (seventy of them littering every mile, apparently**). Or just that they're so ugly (and I hate the rustling sound of them!).

Anyway, if charging five pence per bag (the law to be introduced next year in the UK) doesn't exactly sound like a huge victory, it should be remembered that the scheme has worked in Ireland for some years, where the five pence charge resulted in a three-quarter drop in usage. It highlights nicely the utter selfishness of humankind, only willing to assist in saving the planet when it affects their purse.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Don't blame us

*Did I imagine this? A few months ago I saw someone walking with a French Connection carrier bag with the words BAG 30% ADVERTISING 70% written boldly across it. I thought to myself 'how true' but can't find any evidence of it online now. You'll have to take my word for it.

**It's not often that I agree with the Daily Mail, but all my facts are taken from an article in this very publication. They say they have been campaigning for the last six years to get plastic bags banned. Well, good on them, though if their readership actually took any notice of the articles and reduced their bag usage, it would probably solve half the problem in one fell swoop.

Watch Ramin Bahrani's wonderful short film Plastic Bag, with a voice over by Werner Herzog.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Where we are now

The train had come to a standstill. On either side of the tracks there was rich vegetation and foliage. We were in London, apparently, but it could be anywhere at all. I was imagining exploring these track side areas on foot, losing myself in their green abundance, maybe making a wooden hut and going wild, living on pigeons and foxes. It seemed an attractive possibility. The bushes and trees on the sides of the train tracks carried on and on and felt calming and contemplative. There was even, maybe around Peckham Rye, a small area of reeds blowing in the wind.

'Where are we now?' She asked.
I had no idea but said, 'Between The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath and the Evening Standard'. To our left was a woman leafing through a heavily annotated copy of the Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath; to our right was a pile of discarded Evening Standard newspapers.

As long as I have my music with me I could stare out of a train window forever and ever. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Four-day working week

Nothing comes close to that feeling of warm balmy Mediterranean evenings near the coast, humid but with a faint cool breeze, crickets chirping in the distance, small green geckos scattering on the hot ground, the sun setting slowly, a warm glow to everyone, loved ones holding hands, the laughter of children, the smell of suntan lotion and the scent of flowers.

This scene is perhaps, if I'm lucky, one week of a year in my life. The rest of the time it's staring at a computer screen all day in a grey office surrounded by people I don't want to be with or listen to. My loved ones are hundreds of miles away. My thoughts are usually hundreds of miles away (they only have my body and my time).

Two hundred and forty four days a year are spent in the grey office in order to spend a week (at most) in the balmy Mediterranean country with loved ones (just as eight hours a day are spent with completely apathetic ones in order to spend three hours – completely knackered – in the evening with loved ones). In years to come, the five-day working week will be looked on in the same way as we now look at slavery and public hanging  – ie as a violation of human rights.

The recent flurry of Bank Holiday Mondays and Easter break has us getting used to the concept of the four day week. If I was running for Prime Minister, I would simply call my party The 4-day Week Party and immediately get voted in as PM. It's pretty much that simple (I'd keep most other policies the same; we don't give a shit about them anyway. Well, saying that, I'd do my best to ban cars, modern R&B, football and carrier bags): but my main policy, my only policy, would be to introduce the four-day working week. All we do is live for the weekend and holidays – Monday to Friday feels like prison, with weekends let off for good behaviour. Polls have shown the average office worker only spends three days a week actually working – the other two days are spend in banter, browsing the internet etc, so let's stop wasting pointless time and actually try to get our lives back.

The Guardian agrees.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Introverts vs extroverts
The offensive office

Monday, May 12, 2014

London through its charity shops #26: Streatham SW16 & SW2

Streatham, or St Reatham as some wannabes are pronouncing it (apparently – I've never actually heard anyone say it this way in earnest) is on the up. You can tell by the house prices and quality of the charity shops: they're mostly great, plentiful and vaguely overpriced. Streatham's okay; it has a nice common, an ice rink, bowling alley and the newly opened Streatham Tate library, so named after its builder and benefactor, Henry Tate, founder of the Tate galleries, and former local resident.

Streatham's charity shops are all along the long and wide, boulevard-like (even on a Saturday afternoon it felt relatively empty due to its size) Streatham High Road. Streatham is big: it's spread over the boroughs Lambeth and Wandsworth and has three train stations (more than some cities have!): Streatham, Streatham Common and Streatham Hill.

Streatham Hill is the nearest station for the charity shops. I started with Give A Little  – 'a non profit charity shop with a difference'. I wasn't entirely sure what the difference was, but it's a lovely little shop with an ethnic feel and chilled out reggae music playing. It's clean and well looked after with quality items. Plenty of clothes and lots of CDs and DVDs only £1. I continued walking south towards Streatham Common. Trinity Hospice is very spacious and pleasant with wooden floor boards. Mostly clothes with some books and CDs.

PAWS (just off the High Road) is small and cramped but pretty cool, with plenty of clothes, posters, CDs, records and bric-a-brac. British Heart Foundation have a lovely Books and Music shop. Old jazz was playing; there were stacks of well-ordered records, CDs, books, DVDs and comics. I was in heaven. By contrast, Rffr charity shop was a shambles, but I like that too. Lots of VHS tapes. Next is a large Oxfam which stocks shabby furniture, electricals, books, music, DVDs, bric-a-brac and clothes.

Another Trinity Hospice is small but well ordered; lots of men's shirts, stacks of CDS and some records and books. Another Oxfam too, this one small but impeccable, apart from the records, which would have been great (The Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Patti Smith etc) if they weren't mouldy. On the corner is a decent Cancer Research, good to see some toys actually – charity shops seem to be largely neglecting them nowadays. Next is an excellent, and large and spacious British Heart Foundation. All Aboard – Working for Charity was closed. Probably for the best, by now I was seriously starting to flag. Finally, a nice assortment of clothes in Shelter. A section of new stuff too, which never really appeals to me, as well as a few books and CDs.

By my count, that's twelve charity shops. Is this a record for a single road?

I wasn't really in the buying mood, so no barngains today. Besides, I've just moved into a rabbit hutch and am trying not to fill it with crap.