Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Reviving Redruth (and environs)

Redruth, Camborne and the landscape around the towns is covered with the remnants of the mining industry. Once rich in copper and tin, it was an affluent and important area which can still be seen today in the beautiful local architecture – aside from the mines themselves, in Redruth there are many fine Victorian town houses and grand commercial buildings which are Grade-II listed. Indeed, the whole area is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Although towns such as Redruth and Camborne have fallen on hard times since the decline of the mining industry, there are many success stories in the area: The Great Flat Lode is one of Cornwall’s Mineral Tramway Trails which circles the hill of Carn Brea and includes many of the preserved old mines. The project cost £6m and was managed by Cornwall council.

Krowji is a fantastic local arts centre, the largest in Cornwall, converted from a Victorian grammar school, which had an additional building built next to it in 2015. The glorious roofless Old Church in nearby St Day was Sir John Betjeman’s favourite church and has recently been saved from developers after a 30-year battle by the local community. They are going to use it as a community arts space.

The site of the former Redruth brewery – which suffered two fires, in 2011 and 2013 – is currently being transformed into Kresen Kernow, an archive centre for all things Cornish, partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and will open in 2019. It is hoped the centre will reinforce Redruth in becoming a cultural destination to attract visitors.

The old Butter Market has recently been bought by Redruth Revival, a CIC of local business people whose aim is to support the regeneration of Redruth. Though, a year after buying the market, it still looks pretty empty (the idea is to transform it with local shops and office space), it just goes to show how change, whether it be removing plastic from our beaches or preserving an old building, often comes from local, passionate folk with a vision.

Redruth now looks like many impoverished high streets in Britain, with charity shops, fast food joints and boarded up buildings dominating the town centre. The vast, homogeneous, ugly retail parks springing up outside of town centres – putting local high street businesses at risk – don’t really benefit the local area at all: 90% of all profits immediately leave the vicinity.

In Redruth town centre, funding seems to have halted half way on several projects. There seems to be no irony intended with a ‘Welcome to Redruth’  sign printing on a building site hoarding over a large, empty lot with only a decade’s worth of buddleia to show for it. And irony doesn’t even come into it – for it must be a joke, right? – when further text informs us: ’This site improvement was created… to celebrate the town’s past, present and future’.

Furthermore, on the main high street, a sign on possibly the ugliest, most dilapidated building in the town proclaims – again with no irony intended – ‘The Redruth Community have improved the look of this building to enhance the town centre.’

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like funding has been forthcoming recently, and with Brexit imminent, the future doesn’t look great (many projects in the county, including new roads, were funded by the E.U., a fact which didn’t seem to dawn on the Cornish until the day after they voted in the referendum en masse to leave).

Redruth was recently the subject of a Channel 5 documentary, part of their Rich House Poor House series. It took a poor family from Redruth, heavily in debt and living in a small, rented council house, and a wealthy family from Newquay who owned a huge house and acres of land. They swapped houses for a week to experience how the other half live (about a third of Cornish households live in some of the most deprived areas of the UK). It was pretty standard fare, but ultimately fairly moving when the wealthy couple felt so upset by the poor couple’s living conditions that they paid off their £10K+ credit card debt – without ever having met the couple. That complete strangers should help them out with such a life changing gesture is staggering when presumably friends, family or government did nothing to lighten their burden. The kindness of strangers.

(On the flip side of things, the poor couple were living in an actual house, with a fairly large garden – two things most Londoners, say, won’t ever experience. The couple were amazed at the space around them in the Newquay house, yet within a mile or so of Redruth there is free access to beautiful beaches and stunning countryside, including Tehidy woods.)

When I recently moved to the area, two buildings immediately caught my attention – the Victorian fire station in Redruth and the Fuse Factory in Tuckingmill. Both are lovely and historically important buildings in a severe state of dilapidation.

The Grade II listed fire station was built in 1860 and has lovely brickwork with elegant window arches and a turret. In September the building will be up for auction, with a guide price of £20K. It will need at least another £100K to renovate it.

It’s sad to see a lovely Grade II listed building in such a sorry state, uncared for and abandoned. It brings the tone of the town down, it shows its history and beauty aren’t respected or cared for. Most of the time it feels that councils, developers and the insatiable need for profit are the enemy of history.

Though the fire station will inevitably be bought by a developer to be converted into flats or a house, I would like to see it used for the benefit of the community. My fantasy would be for it to be a gallery, cinema, shop, cafe, letterpress workshop and design studio. Why not? The town and area has a rich artistic heritage, with small galleries in town and Krowji up the road.

Look at St Ives – once a tacky seaside resort, until the Tate gallery came along and gentrification was only a matter of time. It’s the Bilbao effect: the Spanish port town was likewise impoverished until the Guggenheim museum was built there. A similar effect has since happened in many other UK towns from Margate to Bexhill-on-Sea.

(The problem with Redruth and Camborne is, of course, they don’t have beaches. Though the media have reported the recent over-crowding of many of Cornwall’s beautiful beaches (The Guardian blame Poldark, Instagram and the summer’s heatwave), tourism just doesn’t reach towns like Redruth, Camborne and dozens of other places inland. Good in a way, of course (St Ives is a nightmare at the moment but will be empty next month), but with the mining industry long gone, the county relies heavily on tourism.)

My other favourite building in the area, the former Fuse Factory in Tuckingmill, though it has been turned down for listing status twice, is part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage site and it’s thus a sacrilege for such a complex to be in left in its abandoned state. This important site once produced William Bickford’s safety fuse, responsible for saving many miner’s lives at home and overseas. The large complex covers an array of architecture including the zig zag-roof shaped factory itself and wonderfully ornate stonework entrances.

If the fuse factory was in London, it would long ago have been converted into cool artists studios or flats, selling for half a million apiece. Whilst Tuckingmill isn’t exactly Dalston, in the current housing crisis, I wouldn’t be completely adverse to the site being tastefully converted into flats and shops – keeping as much of the original architecture as possible and including a museum (in a similar manner to Heartlands; another fairly successful local regeneration programme where an old mine was preserved and housing built on the nearby empty land, half the area feels like an unfinished building site. Regeneration should not be dictated merely by profit; building houses is not enough to create or regenerate a community. A community needs life, events, the arts and local businesses to bring money back into the area). The now-roofless fuse factory itself I’d like to see converted into an Eden Project-style greenhouse with a cafe,  and the rest of the site some independent shops, a gallery and some grassland.

Buildings are like people: they need to be cared for and loved. Old, derelict buildings remind me how the UK treats its elderly — we forget their past, their former glories, and shuffle them into an old people’s home and forget about them, not realising that they were young and useful once.

I would like to see more regeneration come through culture – it happened with the Tate in St Ives, the Eden Project near St Austell and soon, hopefully, Kresen Kernow in Redruth. As well as its beaches, Cornwall has a rich arts scene, beautiful countryside, lovely architecture and a fascinating history.

It would be a shame for Cornwall and its towns to dull themselves down, reflecting so many high streets throughout the UK. Cornwall has a soul and heritage and pride that so many other places lack, and towns like Redruth and Camborne, that have truly suffered from a decline and struggled to get back on their feet could be the centre of a new confident Cornwall striding into its future, head held high once again. Let the artists and the creatives lead the way, putting their heart and soul and talent to bring these areas back to life and the future will be bright.

An abridged version of this post was sent to the Cornish Buildings Group for inclusion in their newsletter. Two recent posts, The old fire station, Redruth, Cornwall and The Fuse Factory, Tuckingmill, formed the basis of this post.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Top ten Google Instant Autocomplete Suggestions

You know what? I’m all for algorithms predicting exactly what I want to buy or where I want to travel (it would make life easier), but as journalist Adam Curtis said in an interview I read recently, it has a long way to go: you buy a return ticket to Bulgaria as a one-off holiday, never to be repeated, and all you get afterwards is ads popping up for tickets to Bulgaria. Will they ever be able to predict that I want to watch Poldark then Godard? That I can visit Russia then Myanmar then Margate? That I can buy a lawnmower then printer inks then War and Peace?

So it comes as no surprise that Google Instant’s Autocomplete Suggestions haven’t really changed since I last posted a similar list some eight years ago. And it’s meant to be personalised and localised. Surely they must realise I don’t need to know how to floss dance. I’m a natural.

Social media is now all educational how to services, I’m told. If you can sell this top ten of how tos – presumably the top top ten in the world – then you’ve got it made.

1. How to make slime
2. How to make pancakes
3. How to train your dragon 3
4. How to lose weight
5. How to train your dragon
6. How to get rid of ants
7. How to delete instagram account
8. How to tie a tie
9. How to make money
10. How to floss dance

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Beware the Gulls

I haven't really been doing any writing since moving down to Kernow, but been drawing a lot with pen and ink, and taking many photos – some of which are on Flickr, a few are on Instagram.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Swan Lake

Swan feather floating on the water.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Revenge of the VHS tape

Like everything else retro from vinyl to the Nokia 3310, VHS tapes have been making a comeback for some time. If half the internet consists of cats, the other half consists of 1980s VHS horror film covers. Until recently VHS tapes were given to charity shops or chucked in the bin; eBay is now awash with rare 1980s horror titles and select Disney films worth hundreds of pounds (according to The Sun and BuzzFuze, anyway).

As featured on Eye on Design recently, Vault of VHS goes one step further (or back) and showcases the cases of blank VHS tapes. The cases usually contained bold graphics and gradients. For quality, my preference was always the TDK EHG (Extra High Grade) tape (which came in a plastic rather than card case), reserved for recording the likes of Godard, Truffaut and Bunuel from Channel 4 seasons of films.

Vault of VHS features American cases but the ones above are a few of my old UK case spines. I still own a fair variety of video tapes, including VHS, VHS- C, U-Matic, Video8, Hi8, Betacam and MiniDV, none of which I can actually play any more. Which I'm not at all sorry about – editing with two video machines was a painful experience; editing with 16mm film was more fun. And when iMovie, Premiere and Final Cut Pro came along, it was like a dream come true.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The top ten most valuable CDs
Homeless Movies DVD out now!

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:
YouTube Channel

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Random Film Review: Straw Dogs

Dir: Sam Peckinpah | 1971 | USA & UK | 117mins.

Many years ago, a Cornish acquittance vaguely informs me, the parish of St Buryan had sovereignty whereby the law couldn't touch you if you were in the district. Therefore the area attracted a cornucopia of criminals of the day. Nowadays, it has a reputation for white witches, and John Le Carré lives nearby. Most famously, though, Straw Dogs was shot there in 1971.

Like with Andrei Rublev, I hadn't seen Straw Dogs for at least two decades. Being one of the infamous, banned films of the 1970s, along with A Clockwork Orange, I watched a dodgy VHS copy of it in the 1990s (the uncut version would only be released on video and DVD in 2002). And the other day, I watched a dodgy YouTube copy of it. Has anything changed? Maybe not in Cornwall...

1971 is only a few years after Dustin Hoffman starred in the Graduate (1967), and he still has something of the Benjamin Braddock in him in Straw Dogs. Indeed, the scene where he finds the strangled cat in the wardrobe (still pretty shocking), reminded me of Hoffman's nervousness when fumbling with putting Mrs Robinson's coat in the wardrobe in The Graduate.

Sam Peckinpah, famous for his elegiac, beautiful westerns with their trademark slo-mo violence, here, in his first non-western feature, evokes a low budget, rough, bucolic and entirely unsentimental feel for the Cornish landscape, which feels more apt and realistic than the clichéd, tourist-friendly sunsets and turquoise crystal clear seas as seen recently in the BBC's Poldark.

Nevertheless, Straw Dogs explores similar themes to other Peckinpah westerns, as Hoffman's nerdy mathematician, David Sumner, moves into his wife's (Amy, played by Susan George) childhood home in a small village in Cornwall in order to have peace and quiet to write. The locals soon make their dislike of the American outsider known, with teasing leading to bullying and violence. Their desire for Amy is also apparent (understandable as there's only about three females in the whole village), and she flaunts her sexuality as she becomes increasingly frustrated with David's cowardice.

The problematic rape scene, where Amy is seen to enjoy the experience (at least the first rape anyway, which is with a former boyfriend), isn't that different to the climax of series two of Poldark, where Ross overcomes Elizabeth, who eventually succumbs to his rough advances. Indeed, the tide seems to have turned for Straw Dogs. Once cited – along with A Clockwork Orange and Dirty Harry – as the epitome of 1970s violence in the cinema, it now has Little White Lies calling it a feminist film.

The violence and rape scene have in the past overshadowed many of the film's qualities, such as the depiction of domestic tensions of the newly-married couple, and Dustin Hoffman playing a record of bagpipes very loudly when the vicar comes round for tea. Carry on Cornwall, anyone? Indeed, it takes an hour for Peckinpah's trademark slo-mo violence to kick in; there is much to enjoy before then. 

– 4/5

(The rather pointless 2011 remake of Straw Dogs – relocated to the States – at least contains a crazy performance by James Woods and a beautifully atmospheric misty morning hunting scene. Interesting to note, though, how the object of man's sexual desire has changed in the decades between the two films. In the 1970s, it was Susan George's busty and saucy Amy; in the 2011 remake, it was cold-as-ice stick insect model and actress Kate Bosworth. What can I say? Busty and saucy has always done it for me.)

Other films shot or set in Cornwall:
Jamaica Inn and Rebecca (two early Hitchcock films set in Cornwall)
The Plague of Zombies (classic Hammer Horror flick)
Archipelago (filmed on Tresco on the Isles of Scilly)
The Witches (the big hotel is in Newquay)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Fuse Factory, Tuckingmill

After the fire station in Redruth, Bickfords Fuse Works in Tuckingmill is my next favourite derelict building in the area. I think it’s right that the mines remain in their derelict state, but as with the fire station, it’s criminal that such an important (William Bickford's safety fuse, created in 1831, saved many miner's lives in Cornwall and worldwide) and beautiful building remains in such a perilous condition. The old factory covers such a large area of land that in the current ‘housing crisis’, I’d rather see the area converted into flats than remain derelict. But I’m adding some flourishes, naturally. The actual factory, pictured above, whose frontage I believe is a protected structure (though it has been twice turned down for listing status), is without roof and an empty shell inside (apart from a decade’s worth of buddleia). I would like to see it with a glass roof with Eden Project-type plants and flowers inside. And a cafe. The rest of the site to be low-rise flats with trees and greenery around them, with as many of the original buildings (or at least their frontages) protected as possible. Other buildings on the site contain wonderfully ornate stonework.

Read more about it here on Cornish Mine Images, a comprehensive guide to Cornish mining with lovely black and white photos.

Monday, August 13, 2018

My daughter's top ten films, aged 12

It's not my fault: San Andreas in at No. 10

1. The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012, USA)
2. The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey, 2017, USA)
3. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977, USA)
4. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (Ol Parker, 2018, UK/USA)
5. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (JA Bayona, 2018, USA)
6. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
(Tim Burton, 2016, USA)
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
(David Yates, 2011, UK/USA)
8. A Dog's Purpose (Lasse Hallström, 2017, USA)
9. The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980, USA)
10. San Andreas (Brad Peyton, 2015, USA)

Previously on Barnflakes:
My daughter's top ten films (aged 11)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The old fire station, Redruth, Cornwall

Naturally, on moving to Cornwall, I was instantly attracted to the old derelict buildings in the local area – mines and mills, farmhouses and fishermen houses. In particular, though, there was one old building in Redruth which caught my attention (and needs a lot of attention) – the old Victorian fire station. I instantly fell in love with the Grade II listed building; its shape, its turret, its elegant doorways... but I couldn't find anything about it online. Recently, however, it's come on the market, and will be auctioned next month. Starting price is £20K (a barngain, you all shout. Yes, but you haven't been inside it. At a conservative estimate I'd say it will need £200K worth of renovation).

I know it's a derelict wreck. But. My dream for it is a part-community arts centre, consisting of design studio and letterpress workshop, gallery, cinema, cafe and shop.