Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Notes on Apple Notes

Recently The Guardian, that online database of breathtakingly important Apple news, published an article on how Apple has lost its sense of simplicity. This is what Steve Jobs was all about and why we all loved the brand, its products, its adverts.

The lack of simplicity has emerged in recent years with each update of its computers, phones and tablets. It now steers too close for comfort to Microsoft, where clicking on one window leads you onto another... then another; where sub menus have sub menus. I can't even just click 'no updates' anymore – I've got to go a step further and say when I want an update (Later? Tonight? Tomorrow at 8am?). As each new OS on the computers have sought to emulate the phone iOS, it's become more fiddly and annoying, with notifications popping up all over the place like it was made for children (I know, probably was. I know also, you can turn off the notifications, but it took me two years to find out how).

The Notes app on the iPhone is a good example of an app which started simple then got unnecessarily complicated. Back in the early days of iPhone, Notes was simply for writing notes – as simple as a pen and paper. Then there's two kinds of notes – Google notes and Apple notes. And folders. And synced via iCloud. Then they naturally added a pen, paintbrush and eraser. And formatting – titles, heading, body copy, colours. And then inserting photos and videos too of course. Before you know it it's bloody Microsoft Word.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Are you sure you want to log out?

Asks the website/app.

No, I reply sarcastically, I just spent five minutes trying to locate the log out button and accidentally clicked on it for no apparent reason. 

Yes, I want to log out!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Top five office moments

The interesting thing about office life is there's nothing remotely interesting about office life. In over four years in the same office I could count the interesting things that have happened on one hand. And here they are: 

1. The office Christmas party
In the lead up to Christmas there is magic in the air; people are more social; barriers come down; fun is to be had. By New Year, and back at work, the spell is broken. It was spoken about for months after but even by the Monday after the Friday office party just before Christmas, even the people who were there were unsure about who sat on whose lap, whose pocket her flicked gold chocolate coin had miraculously landed in, who put out whose cigarette with the fire extinguisher. 

In other words, details were hazy two days after the event, let alone eight months. Seemingly insignificant events assumed massive proportions. Who threw the first cherry tomato? Was Steve  really levitated? Did I really juggle with lemons? Details were hazy.

The evening did not bode well. For a start the company was down to thirteen members of staff. It had been double that six months ago. By the time bingo, musical chairs and musical statues had finished (I'd come second in the last two; story of my life), and Secret Santa's opened, it was 5:30pm, and several people went home on the dot. Nothing more was expected to happen. They'd been nibbles and a few drinks. No one was feeling very merry. There was eight of us left. We toyed with going to the pub, but with booze, food and music in the office, we decided to stay.

We all started drinking and dancing. The two MDs of the company (both women), another three women and three guys, including me. One guy was too cool to dance, he just leaned against a post, stroking his beard. It was down to me, Amy, Steve and Laura to do the moves. Suddenly, a cherry tomato comes flying my way – and hits me on the arm. And that signals the start of the food fight. Tomatoes, carrots, apples, oranges, lemons, scotch eggs, crisps, cup cakes and chicken legs all go flying around the office. I'm pretty sure I juggled with the lemons.

At some point, one of the MDs opened the floodgates by smoking a cigarette in the office. It felt very naughty and decadent indeed. So others followed suit, even Steve, who hadn't had a cigarette for years, though I'm sure it was him who then let off the fire extinguisher. By now we were all pretty drunk, and started playing the shopping list memory game, 'I went to the shops and bought...' Traditionally a children's game, we played the adult version with an assortment of sexual toys in the basket, only some of which I'd actually heard of. I did quite well nevertheless.

Next the MD suggested levitation, something I used to play at school, where a group of us would put a couple of fingers underneath someone lying down and miraculously lift them up as if they were light as a feather. After a few false starts (giggling), I was chosen to lie down. Each person put their fingers underneath me, and spoke the same lines: 'He's looking sick / Call an ambulance / He's looking very ill / Where's the ambulance?' Then, 'He's dead' and whoosh – up I went. Sort of.

We finished with pushing each other around in the office chairs, went to a bar about 2am, then headed home. Naturally, I got lost about 3am or so when the night bus left me stranded in the middle of nowhere. Nevertheless, it had been a good evening.

2. The big showdown*
One was a production manager (PM), the other a freelance graphic designer (FGD). They didn't quite see eye to eye: the PM would design pages; the FGD would tinker with them for days. The showdown was like what the meeting of De Niro and Pacino in the film Heat should have been like. They were working opposite each other. It was lunchtime, the office virtually empty. Something snapped in the PM; probably it was the overpriced FGD fiddling with the Quark (yes, Quark) pages yet again. The PM started shouting at the FGD about changing the pages just before press day. The FGD had no choice but to shout back, telling him his pages were rubbish and needing changing. This goes on for a bit and by now they are both standing up. Then the FGD utters the words which might actually be straight from the film Heat: "If you want me gone, just say the word. I'm gone in five minutes. I'm out of here and you'll never see me again." Four years later, he's still there and the PM isn't.

3. The dramatic resignation*
The new magazine editor was born on exactly the same day, month and year as me – we had been on earth exactly the same time, and had had different life experiences to say the least. More worryingly, a young woman we worked with – well, her mother was also exactly the same age as us. He had issues: since leaving the army he'd been listless and lacked direction. I didn't know anything about him, except he'd only just met his nine year-old son for the first time the previous year. He'd had a turbulent affair for six months with a Spanish woman (who he said was crazy) a decade previously. Ten years later she'd called him up and said he had a nine year-old son. He'd been able to meet him once, in Spain, chaperoned by his son's mother's sister. Neither the mother or the sister approved of him, and didn't want him seeing his son again.

He worked with us for a few months. He obviously wasn't enjoying it. One day, just before home time, he was getting upset about being dictated to by PR agencies; he said he couldn't work under these conditions. The managing editor informed him it was the nature of the beast. His face turned red; he slammed a load of papers down on his desk; stood up, and declared, in that case, 'I resign'. It just came out, I wasn't sure he actually meant it. He looked surprised that the words had come out of his mouth. People don't resign like that any more; I admired it. There were only a few of us in the office, but the words had been uttered, and he had to pretty much follow through with it.

4. The crazy freelancer*
She looked like what I imagine a Marxist lesbian would look like. Very intense, she could barely look at men, and sneered when I suggested she could use the men's toilet (the women's being occupied). She slammed drawers and office stationary loudly and muttered to herself. The incident happened, again, at lunchtime; the office was almost empty. She was a freelance reporter, interviewing someone on the phone for a magazine article. At some point a couple of us sitting nearby realised she was having an argument with her interviewee, and her voice got louder and more aggressive. She had our full attention by the time she was shouting at him "You will not hang up on me! You will finish the interview! Don't you dare hang up on me!" She was gone the next day.

5. I resign
I saved the best till last didn't I?

*I know what you're thinking – the office was virtually empty in all three episodes – how was I the only person to witness all three events? Just lucky I guess.

I know I moan about office life a fair bit (see below) but seriously, taking a bunch of random people; putting them in a grey box with strip lighting (ie an office); staring at a screen all day; getting them to have to work together eight hours a day, five days a week; where passive aggressive behaviour is the order of the day; and do activities that are at best pointless, at worse painful; I don't know, it just seems like a perverse joke.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The dream of basic income for everyone
Don't become a graphic designer
Wasting time
Just a quick one
Four-day working week
Introverts vs extroverts
'In terms of' overtakes 'literally'
London Bridge Lunches
The Metros
Email étiquette
I'm literally not being funny but let me ask you a question
Aspire to be average
The Offensive Office

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Top ten unexpected musical moments in movies

The musical genre is perhaps the most underrated (how can you not love Busby Berkeley?) in cinema, but delightful, moving, beautiful, surreal, unexpected musical – whether dancing or singing or both – moments often occur in non-musical films, sometimes in quite bad films (and not exactly great songs), as the following list demonstrates. But the mix of sound and image somehow works to create something sublime.

1. Mauvais Sang (1986) – Modern Love David Bowie
This extraordinary clip of Denis Lavant running, coughing, stumbling, dancing, cartwheeling and punching himself to the tune of David Bowie's Modern Love is one my favourite film sequences – it's certainly the reason Modern Love is my favourite David Bowie song. (Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha has a homage to the scene with Greta Gerwig dancing through NYC to the same song.)

2. Big (1988) – Heart and Soul / Chopsticks

3. Rush hour (1988) – War Edwin Starr
Best bit of the film. 

4. Ten things I hate about you (1999) – Can’t take my eyes off you Frankie Vallie
Someone singing to a loved one in public is the ultimate romantic gesture, fraught as it with complete embarrassment and humiliation. Naturally, it always comes off okay in the movies.

5. 13 going on 30 (2004) – Thriller Michael Jackson
The song was also used to great effect by the inmates of a Filipino prison.

6. Pretty in Pink (1986) – Try a Little Tenderness Otis Redding 

7. Almost Famous (2000) – Tiny Dancer Elton John

8. A Clockwork Orange (1971) – Singing in the Rain Gene Kelly

9. A Bigger Splash (2015) – Emotional Rescue Rolling Stones
Ralph Fiennes does Jagger.

10. Train wreck (2015) – Uptown Girl Billy Joel
Though this sequence is to woo back her boyfriend, it comes just after alcoholic/nymphomaniac Amy Schemer has got drunk and tried to rape a 16-year-old boy. I personally wouldn’t go anywhere near her.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top ten film musicals
Modern Love

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The dream of Basic Income for everyone

Imagine a society where every citizen gets £30,000 a year, paid for by the government, just for existing. Basic Income, also known as Unconditional Basic Income and Universal Basic Income, has been an economic theory for some time but has only recently become a feasible possibility. Jeremy Corbyn has been 'looking at' the theory, and several nations and states, including Switzerland and some cities in the Netherlands, have or will hold referendums on the topic (Switzerland recently rejected the plan but has been the first country to hold a vote for it). Ontario, Canada, is also looking to initiate a pilot project for Basic Income.

The concept is not a new one: from Thomas Paine to Richard Nixon the idea has been around, in various forms, for hundreds of years. Basically, Basic Income gives every individual a livable amount of income every year without means test or work requirement, regardless of any other income, regardless of background, sex or age.

There are some big questions around it – some economical (can it financially be done? Apparently, yes), others philosophical (what would we do with our time?). The time question is the most interesting one. Would we want to work? Well, a lot of would probably not, seeing as most of the population work in minimum wage, pointless soul-destroying jobs. Hopefully some people would still want to work (!), but the idea is they'd work fewer hours, giving them more free time and enabling others to also work part-time in their jobs, creating more work.

I literally dream of a world of Basic Income, where work and financial worry isn't the sole focus of our lives; where we're not wasting eight hours a day, five days a week doing mindless activities simply to exist; where we spend more time with our families and friends; where we have time to explore and develop other interests in life – spirituality, learning to play the violin, spending six months in Morocco painting. Being free from financial worry would enable us to pursue our dreams, and though – if that dream amounts to being a rock star, writer or painter – might not amount to fame and riches, at least we'd have the time and money to explore it. Alternatively, one could just become an alcoholic and watch YouTube videos all day and night.

"Socialism!" I hear you cry! It'll never work! Okay, let me try to sell you this one instead: Capitalism. A system where only the top 5% are the winners and the gulf between rich and poor gets wider and wider; where profit comes at the expense of everything from personal feelings to the environment; where corporations rule the world and have no accountability for whatever they do, whether it's destroy the environment or pay no taxes. Surely it'll never catch on.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Wasting Time
Four-day Working Week 
Introverts vs Extroverts
Aspire to be Average
Absolutely Famous 
The Offensive Office

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Now we are ten

Ten years ago today, this blog started simply with 'Hello' followed by 'Is anyone out there?' It proved to be one of my most popular posts, amassing four comments in the space of over nine years. It was a hard act to follow, and ten years and over 800 posts later I'm still chasing the dream. You would have noticed I've been writing less and less posts – time and inspiration are often lacking. I'll try to keep up writing at least one a month. Thanks for watching.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Top ten river films

1. L'Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934) 
2. Aguirre, Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972) 
3. Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982) 
4. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972) 
5. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) 
6. Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, 2015) 
7. The African Queen (John Huston, 1951) 
8. Anaconda (Luis Llosa, 1997) 
9. A River Runs Through It (Robert Redford, 1992) 
10. The River Wild (Curtis Hanson, 1994)

Monday, August 08, 2016

Celebrating Cornwall's mining heritage

 The 12 metre tall Man Engine has just finished its two week, 130 mile journey through the mining counties of Cornwall and West Devon. Slightly reminiscent of Ted Hughes' Iron Man, the mechanical puppet is to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the mines receiving recognition as a World Heritage Site from UNESCO. That some old mines in south England have the same status as the Taj Mahal, Borobudur and Angkor Wat may seem surprising but aside from their historical importance, the mines are a beautiful sight to behold.

We visited ones around Carn Brae, walking some of the Great Flat Lode trail, a seven mile journey along the old tramway routes that miners used to use. On a beautiful day, the paths were virtually empty (most people at the beach, we surmised), and the mines are tumbling down and overgrown with ivy and flowers; it felt like stumbling across the ancient abandoned kingdoms of Cambodia or Peru. The mines look like Gothic ruined abbeys, churches and castles. I swear I heard the clippety clop of horses approaching us on the path – but it was empty; just the echo of history was all I heard.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Travel first class on Southern trains

First class... before and after
Even though they've cut 341 trains a day; even though their trains never, ever run on time; even though trains are cancelled without warning or explanation; even though the staff often go on strike, though they rarely turn up anyway; even though the trains are overcrowded and creak and crawl along the track, stopping at a red signal every few minutes; even though it's the worst performing train company in the country, even after all this, it's reassuring to know the class system still exists in England, and for twice the price of a regular fare one can purchase a first class ticket for Southern trains and the only discernible difference seriously seems to be the (removable) First Class white piece of cloth on the back of the seat. However, if anyone actually buys a first class ticket, they can rest assured no riff-raff will be next to them – Southern has actually fined people for standing in the first class carriage when the train has been so crowded that there's been nowhere else to stand. Tomorrow, a fresh week of industrial action – can't wait!

Saturday, August 06, 2016

In search of Emmett Grogan

"Mr Grogan writes so clearly that he almost convinces us the whole story could be true."
– The New Yorker

"This book is true."
–Emmett Grogan

"The best and only authentic book written on the sixties underground."
– Dennis Hopper

According to his autobiography, Ringolevio, A Life Played for Keeps, by the age of 21, Emmett Grogan (born Kenny Wisdom) had fought in a gang fight with the largest gang in New York (The Chaplains); spent time in jail; become a heroin addict, a burglar and a robber; watched as he and his mates kill a heroin addict with battery acid (it looks like heroin and leaves no trace); attended a posh prep school on Park Avenue, Manhattan, where he excels at basketball and goes to weekly parties with the rich kids and their parents for the sole reason to scope out the houses to rob them – which he does very successfully, waiting for the owners to go on vacation then looting them all of money and jewellery. Whilst doing this, he stays at a posh hotel and hangs out at Birdland listening to the likes of Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Dizzy Gillespie. But when local gangsters get wind of his selling the stolen jewellery he becomes a wanted man.

He flees the States with $40,000 in his pocket; first to Amsterdam (on the boat across has an affair with a model), then Paris, where the tensions between the Algerians and the French are high – a bomb explodes just outside his hotel room. Meeting two men in a cafe, he drives with them across the Alps into Geneva, Switzerland then Italy, where he climbs mountains, learns to speak fluent Italian and helps build a church. He spends eight months in Heidelberg partying and spends a large chunk of his money; goes to Italy, witnessing the funeral of "Lucky" Luciano; then Rome, where he gets set up by a dealer called Squint Laszlo and spends seven months in jail (he's 17 by now). He swears revenge on Laszlo, tracks him down to the States, watches his house for a month, kills him with a shotgun, expertly making it look like an accident (they'd been a lot of recent mishaps with local residents killing themselves whilst cleaning their guns).

Emmett goes back to Italy and in Rome he watches films and reads the beat writers. He meets a girl, attends film school and immerses himself in New Wave cinema, Pasolini, Fellini. Adapts TS Eliot's Wasteland into a screenplay. Makes and acts in a few films, one of which wins a prize at a film festival but then is expelled from film school when one of the judges recognises him from when he was arrested and tried in Rome previously. Reads Joyce – goes to Dublin. Gets a job at the Guinness brewery, hangs out with the IRA, blows up a few buildings. Goes to London; writes pornography books for a while until, again, gangsters are after him for muscling in on their turf (his partner in writing had just been hospitalised).

(When he's not doing these things, he's either beating the shit out of someone, drinking Cutty Sark, taking drugs, getting busted by the cops, having casual sex (most notably in the back seat of a limousine with four beautiful black chicks and a lot of cocaine, whilst being driven through the Newark riots of 1967) or reading Beat writers.)

At 21, Emmett Grogan returns to the States for good, where he immediately gets drafted into the Vietnam war. In army training, where, naturally, he excels, Grogan deliberately gets himself discharged by popping a load of pills and aiming a bazooka at his fellow soldiers, and subsequently spends time in the psychiatric ward before being set free.

Grogan finds himself in San Francisco in the mid-1960s and becomes immersed in the counter culture, founding the Diggers, the anti-establishment anarchist group who distributed free food, put on improvised street theatre and organised free concerts with the like of The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin. Entirely distrustful of the whole flower power movement, he becomes a kind of outlaw figure and legend, equally admired and despised. His reputation spreads, and Grogan gives talks in London, New York and San Francisco; he coins the phrase "Today is the first day of the rest of your life"; hangs out with The Black Panthers, Timothy Leary, The Hell's Angels, Michael X, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Bob Dylan; organises the Rolling Stones' Altamont free concert (whilst in police custody). He kidnaps Governor George Romney and his wife, Lenore, in a large truck in San Francisco, managing to lose the FBI and the police. One of the most moving sequences in the book occurs when he leaves San Francisco briefly to learn how to hunt deer with an American Indian in a forest in New Mexico.

This was all before he was thirty; by thirty-five he would be dead of a heroin overdose. Whether or not it's all true or not is a moot point; it's a terrific read. Whether or not there even existed a man called Emmett Grogan is also fairly moot (my boon companion think he's fictional, and in the book there are several allusions to Emmett Grogan being a myth – he shuns all publicity, refuses interviews, the photos that exist of him are not him but an actor. He basically works like a dog, stealing food and setting up 'free' shops to help the poor and needy (an about-turn for someone who used to beat the shit out of people, and murdered a few too). There's not that much information about him online.

The 500-page autobiography, written in crystal clear, detailed prose in the third person, where, confusingly, for the first half of the book he is Kenny Wisdom before changing his name to Emmett Grogan, is part polemic and part unbelievable adventure story. Why is there not a film made of this  man's life?

If writing an autobiography by the age of thirty seems a little vain, well, Kenneth Branagh, merely an actor, wrote his first one by the same age, and Jordan, a model, has so far ghostwritten* four, the first of which was the biggest selling autobiography sold at WH Smith** in a single week.

*I don't mind ghost-written autobiographies at all – unless they're a writer, there's no reason to suppose any celebrity should be able to write a book of their life. However, Jordan has also ghostwritten three novels, which is slightly beside the point for a novelist.

**I've been meaning to write a post about WH Smith for years, but it'll just consist of this: it's crap. It's always been crap. It's like jack of all trades, master of none. Its greetings cards are tacky, magazines and books bland and mainstream, chocolate overpriced, toys and stationary limited... Bring back Borders! Did I actually dream Borders? It was like my favourite shop ever, yet no one I mention it to have even heard of it.