Thursday, October 25, 2018

A brief history of photography (part three)

Back in the day when we had to take our photos to Boots to get developed, the only time we ever used to share photos was boring to death family and friends with our holiday snaps (like with a joint, you didn't want to share them with just anyone). Now we do it to strangers too on social media of course. I'm such a Luddite, if I want to see some good photos, I'll look in a photography book or visit an exhibition where hopefully the photos are larger than 3x3 inches. My eyes are fading too.

Previously on Barnflakes:
A brief history of photography (part two)
A brief history of photography (part one)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A Cornish evening: seals, sunset and moon

We walked the coastal walk from Hells Mouth Cafe near Gwithian, Hayle, until we reached Godrevy Point; down below is Mutton Cove, otherwise known as Seal Cove. I’ve been here plenty of times before, only ever seeing one or two seals. Tonight we were in for a treat: there were at least 30 of them frolicking on the beach or in the water, some with their babies. From a distance they looked to me like a cornucopia of slugs (actual collective noun). By this time it was almost sunset as we walked down onto Godrevy beach, spotting some more seals in the ocean. We turned back once the sun had set and saw a giant moon in the distance. Yes, the photo makes it look like a dot in the distance but it was huge, bright and detailed. So nothing like the photo, but you get the idea.


On the way to Tate St Ives there was a sign to a place which sounded like Penge (can't remember its exact name). I joked with my daughter it was the Cornish name for Penge, a horrible suburb in south east London. Ten minutes later, in the Tate St Ives bookshop, there was a guy wearing a Penge Cycle Club T-shirt. He was with his wife and two kids. He picked up the book Alan Kitching: A Life in Letterpress and said to his family he used to work with Alan Kitching, 'practitioner of letterpress typographic design and printmaking'. His family showed absolutely no interest in this interesting fact, and walked off. I was familiar with Kitching's work – I've seen it a lot in posters and magazines, and a friend of mine is always going on about him – and was about to ask the man about Kitching (and Penge, which I used to live close to) and show him more interest than his own family. But I didn't, and the moment passed.

Flickagram #3

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The top 100 albums

I actually compiled this at work a few years ago when I should have been, er, working. Lists are so much more fun than work. Five of us geeky types (yes, the same ones mentioned here and here) emailed our own lists to each other (aside from these five events, it was the most fun I had in over four years in the same office). I’ve limited myself to one album per artist, otherwise they’d be 30 Dylan albums, 10 Cohen, 5 Velvet Underground, 5 Springsteen and all Belle and Sebastian's LPs. No, there’s no REM, Oasis, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin or Radiohead. You’re lucky there’s a Beatles album in there. Also, it’s in no particular order:

Leonard Cohen Songs of Leonard Cohen
Bob Dylan Blood on the Tracks
Velvet Underground Loaded
Bruce Springsteen Born to Run
Miles Davis In a Silent Way
Gil Scott-Heron Pieces of a Man
Belle and Sebastian Tigermilk
Pulp His 'n' Hers
Blur Parklife
DJ Shadow Entroducing
Beastie Boys Paul's Boutique
Beck Odelay
Michael Jackson Thriller
Nick Drake Five Leaves Left
Moondog Moondog
Terry Riley A Rainbow in Curved Air
Glenn Gould Bach: The Goldberg Variations
Neutral Milk Hotel In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
My Bloody Valentine Loveless
The Doors L.A. Woman
Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street
Incredible String Band U
Sonic Youth Daydream Nation
Pixies Doolittle
Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks
The Beatles Revolver
The Smiths Hatful of Hollow
Arcade Fire Funeral
Terry Reid River
Massive Attack Blue Lines
Joy Division Unknown Pleasures
Various The Harder They Come (OST)
U2 The Joshua Tree
Joanna Newsom Have One On Me
Low The Great Destroyer
Grace Jones Nightclubbing
Naked City Naked City
The Congos Heart of the Congos

Big Brother and the Holding Company Cheap Thrills
Ride Nowhere
Madonna Like a Virgin
Brian Eno/David Byrne My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Public Enemy Yo! Bum Rush the Show
Guided by Voices Bee Thousand 
White Stripes White Blood Cells
Sun Kil Moon April
Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion
The Strokes Is This It?
Blondie Parallel Lines
Talking Heads Remain in Light
David Bowie Hunky Dorey
JJ Cale Naturally
Warren Zevon Excitable Boy
Sigur Ros Ágætis Byrjun
Can Future Days
Amon Duul II Phallus Dei
Stevie Wonder Innervisions
Boogie Down Productions By All Means Necessary
Al Green I'm Still in Love With You
The Clash London Calling
Serge Gainsbourg Histoire de Melody Nelson
The Pop Group Y
Kris Kristofferson Me and Bobby McGee
Portishead Dummy
Steve Reich Music for 18 Musicians
Otis Redding Live in Europe
Billy Joel The Stranger
The Fall Live at the Witch Trials
Run DMC Raising Hell
Bonnie Prince Billy I See a Darkness
The Modern Lovers The Modern Lovers
The Flaming Lips The Soft Bulletin
Tom Waits Swordfish Trombones
The Cure Disintegration
Fleetwood Mac Rumours
Roberta Flack First Take
Pavement Slanted and Enchanted
Godspeed You! Black Emperor Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
Boards of Canada Music has the Right to Children
Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York
Hole Live Through This
Kate Bush The Kick Inside
Joni Mitchell Blue
Patti Smith Horses
Simon and Garfunkel Bridge over Troubled Water
Paul Simon Graceland
Blind Faith Blind Faith
Van Morrison Astral Weeks
A Love Supreme John Coltrane
Charles Mingus Blues and Roots
Ennio Morricone The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (OST)
Nick Cave The Boatman's Call
The Stone Roses The Stone Roses
The xx xx
Beach Boys Pet Sounds
Deerhunter Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
Scott Walker 4
Rod Stewart Every Picture Tells a Story
Roxy Music For Your Pleasure
Wings Band on the Run

Previously on Barnflakes:
The top 100 films

Flickagram #2

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The top 100 films

I was casually scrolling through Empire magazine's 100 Greatest Movies (published June 2017) and came across Avengers Assemble at No.65, Drive at No.45, Guardian’s of the Galaxy at No.34 and the Dark Knight at No.3. I knew something had gone seriously wrong with cinema. Still, this was the reader's top 100, so I imagine it's a bunch of male teenagers who don't know their Kurosawa from their Kaurismaki – which is fine; even though I can watch, say, Ozu's sublime Toyko Story for free on YouTube, there's no reason why most people would. Apparently the internet narrows people's tastes rather than expands them. So their top hundred is mainly recent American mainstream cinema, some of which is great, of course. But films are made in other countries too. Thankfully the BFI Top 100 includes a broad range of foreign and American films from the 1920s onwards.

Anyway, the Empire magazine list compelled me to do my own top hundred. Actually, I'm surprised at how mainstream/American my list is. Those who still insist on calling me pretentious, see here, in the last few weeks I have seen A Star is Born and Mamma Mia: Here we go Again (though it's one of the worst films I’ve ever seen; a vacuous, lacklustre, extremely dull prequel and sequel in which nothing is added to the original film – in fact, with all the flashbacks, all that actually happens in the present day is a storm. And a party. The central character – Meryl Streep – is killed off with no explanation whatsoever (wisely, Streep wasn’t interested in doing a sequel, though was dragged in for a scene at the end; the original writer and director also didn’t want anything to do with the sequel, so in came… Richard Curtis. Could it get any worse? No, but it does); leaving a cast of cardboard cut-outs (including Cher, technically I guess appearing in her first film with Streep since 1983’s Silkwood), two blonde leads (a young Streep, played by Lily James, in flashback and her daughter, Amanda Seyfried; I sincerely hope she works out what to do with her life now that acting and singing haven’t worked out) looking and sounding like they work in the marketing department of a B2B magazine publishers, and a ‘loving’ yet mainly absent boyfriend who looks and sounds like he works in the sales department of said B2B magazine publishers. Just horrific.) Naturally, I’ve also seen some decent stuff: the extraordinary Close-Up (Kiarostami, 1990), the moving Eagle Huntress (Bell, 2016) and the kinetic Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929).

(Accusations of scenes being acted or staged in the documentary Eagle Huntress (unfortunately the first item you come across when Googling the film is a BBC article asking if it is a documentary – a strange question to ask in the digital, post-Catfish era when all media is to some extent fabricated, and documentaries certainly have since the time of Robert Flaherty – Nanook of the North was made in 1922 – and Jean Rouch) fall by the wayside when compared to Close-Up, which takes the minor, true-life case of a man who impersonates Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an Iranian film-maker, and is eventually arrested. Close-Up films the trial as it happens, i.e. as a documentary, then uses all the actual people in the case (the impersonator, the family he fooled, the police, etc) and gets them to re-enact scenes which led up to the impersonator's arrest. It's probably easier just to watch the film than explain it.)

Anyway, here's the alphabetical list which, like all good lists, would change daily.

Aguirre, Wrath of God (Herzog, 1972)
Alien (Scott, 1979) 
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder, 1974) 
The American Friend (Wenders, 1977) 
Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky, 1966) 
An Angel at my Table (Campion, 1990)
Annie Hall (Allen, 1977) 
The Apartment (Wilder, 1960) 
L'Atalante (Vigo, 1934) 
Badlands (Malick, 1973) 
Belle de Jour (Bunuel, 1967) 
Blue Velvet (Lynch, 1986) 
Le Boucher (Chabrol, 1970) 
Brazil (Gilliam, 1985) 
Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo, 1966) 
Bonnie and Clyde (Penn, 1967) 
Brighton Rock (Boulting, 1948) 
Celine and Julie Go Boating (Rivette, 1974)
Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel, 1929) 
Chinatown (Polanski, 1974) 
Claire's Knee (Rohmer, 1970) 
Closely Observed Trains (Menzel, 1966)
Come and See (Klimov, 1985) 
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Lee, 2000)
Dawn of the Dead (Romero, 1978) 
Death in Venice (Visconti, 1971) 
Deep End (Skolimowski, 1970) 
The Deer Hunter (Cimino, 1978) 
Deliverance (Boorman, 1972) 
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Bunuel, 1972) 
Do the Right Thing (Lee, 1989) 
Easy Rider (Hopper, 1969) 
Elmer Gantry (Brooks, 1960) 
Les Enfants du Paradis (Carné, 1945) 
Les Enfants Terribles (Melville, 1950) 
Eraserhead (Lynch, 1977) 
Fantastic Planet (Laloux, 1973) 
Fat City (Huston, 1972) 
Five Easy Pieces (Rafelson, 1970) 
Freaks (Browning, 1932) 
The French Connection (Friedkin, 1971) 
Get Carter (Hodges, 1971) 
The Godfather Part II (Coppola, 1974) 
Gone with the Wind (Fleming, 1939)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Leone, 1966)  
Goto, Isle of Love (Borowczyk, 1969)
The Graduate (Nichols, 1967) 
The Grapes of Wrath (Ford, 1940) 
Groundhog Day (Ramis, 1993) 
Hannah and her Sisters (Allen, 1986) 
His Girl Friday (Hawks, 1940) 
If... (Anderson, 1968) 
It's a Wonderful Life (Capra, 1946) 
Kill List (Wheatley, 2011)
The Last Picture Show (Bogdanovich, 1971) 
Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1966) 
Lola (Demy, 1961) 
The Long Goodbye (Altman, 1973) 
Loulou (Pialat, 1980) 
A Matter of Life and Death (Powell/Pressburger, 1946) 
McCabe and Mrs Miller (Altman, 1971) 
Mean Streets (Scorsese, 1973) 
Mephisto (Szabó, 1981) 
Mulholland Drive (Lynch, 2001) 
Night of the Hunter (Laughton, 1955) 
Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968) 
One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman, 1975) 
Onibaba (Shindo, 1964) 
Pather Panchali (Ray, 1955) 
Peeping Tom (Powell, 1960)  
Performance (Cammell/Roeg, 1970) 
Point Blank (Boorman, 1967)  
Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960) 
Rosemary’s Baby (Polanski, 1968) 
Scorpio Rising (Anger, 1963) 
The Searchers (Ford, 1956) 
Seconds (Frankenheimer, 1966) 
The Seventh Seal (Bergman, 1957) 
The Shawshank Redemption (Darabont, 1994) 
Spirited Away (Miyazaki, 2001) 
Stalker (Tarkovsky, 1979) 
Sweet Smell of Success (Mackendrick, 1957) 
Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Hooper, 1974) 
The Thing (Carpenter, 1982) 
The Third Man (Reed, 1949) 
This is Spinal Tap (Reiner, 1984) 
Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958) 
Tree of Wooden Clogs (Olmi, 1978) 
The Truman Show (Weir, 1998) 
Trust (Hartley, 1990) 
Two-Lane Blacktop (Hellman, 1971) 
Under the Skin (Glazer, 2013) 
Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958) 
Walkabout (Roeg, 1971) 
Weekend (Godard, 1967) 
Withnail and I (Robinson, 1987)
The Wizard of Oz (Fleming, 1939)
Woman of the Dunes (Teshigahara, 1964)
Les Yeux Sans Visage (Franju, 1960)

It's too difficult choosing just one hundred. Here's a bunch which didn't quite make the list, though come back tomorrow – they might be in there: Crumb, Blade Runner, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Matrix, Housekeeping, Aliens, Black Narcissus, A Canterbury Tale, Carnival of Souls, Le Samourai, Silent Running, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Planet of the Apes, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Day for Night, Journey to Italy, Repulsion, 12 Monkeys, Dimensions of Dialogue, Grease, The Lady Vanishes, The Holy Mountain, Jules et Jim, Bill Douglas Childhood Trilogy, Out of the Past, Gummo, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Alice of the Cities, Uzak, Tampopo, Babette's Feast, Elvira Madigan, Mr Vampire, Jeux Interdits, Sunset Boulevard, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Conformist, In a Lonely Place, The Warrior (2001), Couscous, Timbuktu, Bad Company, Kiss Me Deadly, Star Wars, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Rocky, LA Confidential, 8½, Rashoman, Phase IV, Alphaville, Les Amants du Pont Neuf...

Previously on Barnflakes:
My childhood just flew by
858 films in two years 
Top ten greatest film trilogies 
Top ten films about film-making 
Top 10 film directors

Flickagram #1

I've made my dislike of Instagram – what Constant Dullaart calls “an appreciation system based on popularity over quality, and social skills over talent” (in other words, life, right?) – known in these pages (like here, here and here). Even so, I quite like the square photo format, so I'm publishing them here instead, where I won't be bothered by a lack of likes. More to the point, it's a bit of visual filler in between my sometimes infrequent post writing.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Barnflakes on Instagram
Notes on...
Top ten most boring Instagram subjects
Photo opportunity 

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:

Elsewhere on the web:
What next for photography in the age of Instagram? in the Guardian.

Music in my mind

I stumbled out of bed
I got ready for the struggle
I smoked a cigarette
And I tightened up my gut
I said this can’t be me
Must be my double

– Leonard Cohen, I Can't Forget

Annoyingly, every morning I wake up there's a song in my head that won't go away until I play it. Then it goes away, eventually. It's different every day; the last week was like this:

Monday: Grace Jones – La Vie en rose
No, not Lady Gaga’s recent version in A Star is Born; no, not Edith Piaf’s version of it, though she wrote it; Grace Jones' 1977 version is the definitive version for me. And the one I heard in the shower and had to sing.
Tuesday: Bob Dylan – True Love Tends to Forget
Wednesday: Simon and Garfunkel – I am a Rock
Thursday: Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive
Friday: Dire Straits – Romeo and Juliet
Saturday: Bob Dylan – Black Jack Davey
Sunday: Leonard Cohen – I Can't Forget

Introducing the all-new Adobe DooBee

Unleash your creativity with the all-new Adobe DooBee, the app you can smoke. Ideal for sharing too, so don't bogart that DooBee, dude. Pass the DooBee and set your creativity free.

Notes on Mitie

You know how when you don’t notice something, then you do, then you see it all the time, wherever you go? Mitie is such a case. I’d never noticed or heard of it until recently. Now it’s everywhere, that horrible generic split circle logo and meaningless name (standing for Management Incentive Through Investment Equity), I notice it on vans wherever they go. It feels like I'm in a conspiracy thriller and they’re stalking me. The vans are either parked on every street, or driving along side me. I see their posters in hospitals. Men wearing their T-shirts. It seems like they do everything, everywhere, yet what they actually do is meaningless to me: facilities management, consultancy, project management and a range of specialist services that connect people with innovation and technology; helping our clients go beyond FM to the Connected Workspace. I'm sure they do stuff, but it just sounds so vague and pointless.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Notes on YouTube comments

If Google is the biggest search engine in the world, YouTube is number two, and though it’s meant for videos, it’s also the biggest music streaming site in the world – something I’ve always found a bit strange seeing as you have to have something on the video screen to accompany the music. Why not just do away with it? Of course, it's free to listen to/watch, which is why it will always be more popular than Apple Music or Spotify, but most of the [full album] uploads by individuals are presumably illegal, so it's luck whether they stay up there or get taken down. (I'm guessing YouTube Music, which no one has ever heard of, is at attempt to get people to pay for their music, and do away with the video screen; much as I love homemade videos accompanying Bob Dylan bootlegs, it's probably for the best. There's something annoying about that video screen – even if it's just a shot of the album cover, I'll end up watching it for far too long, just because, I guess, I associate the screen with the sound in a YouTube context, as in a video or a film.)

I used to dismiss comments on the internet in general, and on YouTube in particular, as nonsense; badly-written, moronic and meaningless. However, with my music collection being in storage, I've found myself listening to albums more on YouTube and sometimes reading through the comments. I've found them amusing and insightful, sometimes poetical and once in a while surprisingly moving and personal. There's nothing really to compare with the emotional power of music, how hearing a certain tune can transport you back to a very specific time and place in your life.

In fact, I've found the comments on YouTube more meaningful than most of the self-obsessed drivel on, say, Facebook, which consists mainly of bragging. Commenting on a specific piece of music, people seem open and emotional; and perhaps the anonymity (whether they use their actual name or not, it's unlikely to be read by all their friends) helps with being open and genuine than they otherwise would. Of course, many comments are funny or flippant or stupid or garbage. This is democracy, right? My favourite ones are the stories and memories, usually drug-related, that people have chosen to share.

This is just a few choice ones I’ve come across out of, obviously, billions. I don't know why I've picked mainly jazz albums; probably because I'm pretentious – but I do like jazz. 

Stockhausen: Song of the Youths

"If I die and then hear this music I'll know I went to the wrong place."

"What the hell. I am scared to go to sleep now!"

Brian Eno - Thursday Afternoon

"I backpacked around South-East Asia for 5 months this past summer. I remember taking mushrooms for the first time in the mountainous fields of Vang Vieng, Laos. There was a mountain there that seemed to attract my attention throughout my entire trip . During the 8 hour long trip from daylight to nighttime, that mountain kept luring me in to its grassy fields as if it were pulling a string connected to my body. When I listen to this song and close my eyes, I can feel the rays of light shining brightly on my face and the rustling of leaves and the children playing in the fields and the galloping of horses nearby. And when I lay down on the grass near that mountain, mother nature manifested itself into a beautiful creature and took me by my arms and danced with me - away into that beautiful mountain. The distant yet audible humms throughout this song remind me of the mountains calling. I will never forget the serenity and tranquility of living as one with the present."

"Listening while my baby naps beside me."

"greetings my fellow sufferers of anxiety and panic attacks"

"i like the part that goes bloop"

"This sounds like transformers having sex or something"

Bob Dylan - Tangled Up In Blue

"Those eyes, can't get past his eyes. I'd tie the laces of his shoes."

"To those of you who are fixated with what's on Dylan's face , if you encountered Van Gogh on the street....would you bother him about his ear?  Try just listening to the music."

Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks

"i can't stand this music sometimes, it's so good it's like a mirror reminding me of the shortness of life, the beauty of the moment, but the tension from knowing that half the beauty is unreachable, or at best, fleeting. Months listening to richter, slept through the sleep premier, and always the same, a feeling life is capable of so much framed by a more uncomfortable feeling we can never accomplish all we set out to do. Thank you for posting, and thank you Max Richter"

"I just came here to offer a weapon"

Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92

"Friday nights in 92/92, getting the 18.36 Thameslink from Farringdon to Leatherhead with this on my Walkman. Beautiful."

"Apparently he wrote "I" when he was 14. I was a complete and utter retard at that age."

Miles Davis - In a Silent Way - 1969

"I'm old enough to remember when this and Bitch's Brew first came out. A lot of people didn't like it, especially Jazz fans. But that's the difference between a pioneer and a follower. Miles had such status, and street creds, that he didn't have to worry about who did or didn't like it. I used to live across the street from him, and I could see him coming and going on 77th and West End Ave. . He was a jazz man who dressed like Jimi Hendrix, and marched to his own genius drummer. He never allowed himself to get stale. As soon as his fans thought they knew him, he would metamorph into something new. That my friends, is the definition of a true artist (think Picasso}."

"who else is listening to this between 2 and 5 a.m.?"

John Coltrane My Favorite Things (1961) [Full album]

"I want a girl that's into this."

"Those commercials really tie this album together."

"When I think the world is ending, I come here....."

"I think this record could bring peace to the middle east."

Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto - Getz/Gilberto (1963)

"I still have my vinyl copy that I bought back in 1963 when I was 19, and living on a 50' sports-fisherman in Nassau in the Bahamas. We would play that album every day as the sun began its descent into the sea. Many friends in Nassau got to hear Antonio Carlos Jobim for the first time. Wonderful music brings back wonderful memories. Many thanks for the posting"

ST GERMAIN - Boulevard

"I bought this album 15 years ago when i was much younger. When i bought that album i also bought myself a new big glass pipe the same day. I hadn`t smoked for days. I was happy because delicious cheeba dropped that day.  When i arrived at home i threw on the CD and then i was hitting my new bong and BOOM this new pipe hit me so hard that i was close to a circulatory collapse. I staggered from my couch to my bed and laid me down.  I was superstoned and heard the whole album. Wow i was totally flashed by this music. This was like a LSD-Trip. I remember how that album and my new bong in combination send my outter space that day. Love this album."

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue - Full Album

"Rain outside, hot bath, a book and Miles davis. Life is good"

"Listening to this makes me wanna write comedies about a neurotic guy with glasses in New York."

 John Coltrane - A Love Supreme [Full Album] (1965)

"this something else than music is much more than that every time i hear this i cry at some point i really cant help it if i where to listen one final piece of music before my death it would be this one and also in my funeral "

"do not pray..except to this album!"

"This album got me sober, thank you Coltrane."

Thelonious Monk - Monk's Dream (Full Album)

"The great thing about life is, no matter how long it's taken you to come to someone like Monk your days thereafter can only get better - I'm looking forward to exploring more of his legacy.
You keep thinking he's gonna fall down the stairs, but he recovers like Chaplin on roller skates."

Monday, October 01, 2018

The China clay pits around St Austell

I arrived at St Austell train station around midday; looked around a nice record shop, Museum Vinyl, in the historic Market House, and, naturally, a few charity shops. Again, another Cornish town not exactly inspiring, with its best buildings boarded up and derelict, but with stunning countryside all around. Again, naturally, the beautiful countryside was devoid of people on a glorious Saturday afternoon whilst the ugly, homogeneous high street was heaving.

Enthusiasm having waned slightly on the copper and tin mine front (and no doubt having bored friends and family by dragging them around to see them), I moved onto the China clay pits with ease, like a breath of fresh air.

I arrived at the China Clay Trail about half a mile out of town, and walked along a flat cycling track for a while, passing old rusted remnants of the mining industry hidden in the trees and foliage. Some of it I explored. The track ran parallel to a road down below and what sounded like a river and waterfall, though I couldn't see them for the trees along the path (more of which later). Some time later I arrived at the Wheal Martyn Clay Works Museum for a coffee and Kit Kat break (I was in an extravagant mood, having not needed – by which I mean the ticket office was closed, the ticket machine was broken and no one on the train asked to see my ticket – to buy a train ticket, plus finding a fiver on the pavement).

Like the Mineral Tramway Trails, the 37.5 mile network of paths exploring Cornwall's tin and copper mining heritage, the Clay Trails around St Austell are a series of walks traversing the China clay history of the area, taking in pits, dams, peaks, historic mines and lovely scenery and wildlife, with large parts of the area feeling like a martian landscape. The surreal and towering white-peaked clay tips, which are large hills made up from the mining waste, are known affectionately if ironically as the Cornish Alps. Some part of me, briefly, wanted to make a model of them out of Sainsbury's instant mashed potato, similar to Richard Dreyfuss doing the same with Devils Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Similarly surreal and incongruous, the dams and lakes in the discarded pits are a gorgeous, luminous turquoise colour, making them look as inviting as a beach in the Maldives – though they are full of chemicals left over from the China Clay mining. Combined with the lush vegetation which has sprouted up all around the pits (actually a lot of it purposely planted, a local horticulturalist told me), there's an otherworldly, almost Jurassic-era feel to the area.

I started walking one of the clay trails proper, from the museum to the Eden Project. I didn't make it all the way to the Eden Project, partly because I was already shattered, but mostly because I found the two things I'd wanted to see about halfway along the four mile trail: Baal pit, and opposite, the Great Treverbyn Tip.

Baal pit (pictured above) is a massive disused China Clay pit, partially flooded with the turquoise lakes, and teeming with wildlife. It has a fence all around it, and I asked a local dog walker if it was okay to go through the fence. She was guarded at first, asking me why I was here, but after I told her I was just here to take photos and look around, she said it was okay to go over the fence. Then she told me about the proposed 'eco village' plans for the pit. I thought it sounded a good idea – I imagined a giant dome, Eden Project-style, covering the entire pit, the poisonous lakes transformed into safe swimming pools with beaches, and people living in pod-like eco homes with palm trees and mangoes growing in the tropical environment. Eh, anyway, it's just going to be a bunch of houses and offices.

The lady was very opposed to the eco village, and said it would completely destroy the area, which had become a nature reserve, with plants, trees and many species of birds, some endangered, flourishing. I went through the fence and explored the pit. It was certainly a beautiful, peaceful area. I stood looking over one of the lakes, watching a flock of birds flying over it.

An elderly couple had also climbed over the fence and came walking my way. We greeted each other, and I checked with them too if it was okay to be walking beyond the fence – it felt like I’d stumbled onto the set of Stalker – and they said it was okay, just to say i hadn’t seen them and they hadn’t seen me. They walked back towards the fence, only to reappear again five minutes later. I tried engaging them in conversation. The man had been a miner in this very pit. He'd worked there every day, seven days a week, for a decade, up to its closure in the early 1990s.  I told them how beautiful and peaceful it was. Try to imagine it as working mine, with the pit completely white, the woman told me. Hard to imagine, I said. In the 1970s an episode of Dr Who exploited what would have been a far more alien landscape than what it is now. The couple were also opposed to the eco village. I knew why. I've been all for regeneration in recent posts (here, here and here) but that's been for abandoned buildings, not flourishing nature reserves.

Mist was closing in. The couple went on their way, joking as they went, ‘I hope you know your way back’; ‘No!’ I replied in earnest; but they merely chuckled and went on their way (the opposite way they’d come). I took some more photos then attempted to follow their route back, which cut across the pit, avoiding having to walk all the way around it again.

I followed them down a steep hill of rubble, not sure how they’d managed it, then slipped all the way down, cutting my hands on the stones and covering most of myself in white chalk. I got up, brushed myself down, then suddenly the place felt a bit eerie, and I wanted to leave. I heard strange noises. The plants all looked artificial. Mist was still closing in. The couple had completely vanished.

From the pit I walked a more direct route back to town, along the road. I'd looked on my phone for anything else to see in St Austell, and found a lovely-looking waterfall in an area called Menacuddle Well, not far on the other side of town. Well, I got ridiculously lost in a run-down housing estate, even whilst using Google Maps, and wasted an hour or so. Then about a mile away from it, my phone went dead. Still, I recognised the area. I was walking along the road parallel to the cycling path I'd walked hours ago. Then I heard the waterfall again and walked off the road, down into the small woodland area completely shattered and bathed in sweat. But what a beautiful spot. Completely secluded and tranquil, it's an ancient sacred site, said to be haunted. The holy well itself is in a tiny 15th Century chapel (seen here), which abuts into a stone wall. There's also an ancient bridge and 'druid's chair', a seat carved out of stone.

I was done. I hobbled back to the train station, got the train home. Collapsed. Pie and instant mashed potato was for dinner, for sure.