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 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