Sunday, April 28, 2019

Trevithick Day in Camborne, Cornwall

A terrific time was had by all – despite some early rain and wind – in Camborne yesterday (Saturday 27th April) to celebrate the life of its most famous resident, Richard Trevithick (1771-1833), pioneer of high pressure steam-power and constructor of the first steam railway locomotive in 1803. All roads in the centre of town were closed to cars to make way for a day of free entertainment, including steam engines, food stalls, a brass band and the miners and bal maidens dance (not to be confused with English Morris dancing!). The event attracts crowds of up to 30,000 and transforms Camborne with its fine sense of community spirit.

H took me off the busy main drag, down a quiet road and into Holman Park, where Rosewarne House, a Grade II* listed large granite town house stands. It was hard to believe we were still in Camborne. In the six acres of grounds were lawns, an ancient woodland with bluebells and trees in blossom.

Rosewarne House, built in the Greek Revival style during the Regency era, was meant to be having an open day. But we couldn’t see a soul or hear a sound or see any signs. We wandered round the grounds a bit, and were about to leave when I tried the front door to the house and it opened into another world.

A huge fireplace was roaring near the entrance. People were dressed in Regency attire, as if extras from Poldark. There was the sound of a live band coming from another room, and light laughter and the clinking of tea cups and saucers could be heard from afar. Almost immediately a Regency lady with a large feather in her hair asked us if we were part of the tour. We said yes and were guided around the amazing house, which had been left in a state of disrepair for some years and was now being restored back to its former glory.

We were taken up a fine staircase with an elegant wrought-iron balustrade and shown around the huge, sumptuous rooms, all with high ceilings, ample natural light and ornate plaster cornices, ceiling roses, archways and columns. I told the guide I was sold, I'll take one – the feeling of space and light and attention to detail was wonderful. The rooms were being divided into apartments but weren't for sale, the guide informed us; they would be rented as holiday homes, and the house used for events such as weddings. The house was built in the early 1800s for the Harris family, who made their money through mining. Later it was acquired by the Holman family, then became a care home before falling into disrepair. When the tour came to an end we retired to the orangery for free cream teas and the live band.

It had been a fine day: the only way to add icing to the cake (though I'd already had two Victoria sponges and a cream tea) would be some barngainsas mentioned previously, seemingly rare in these parts – but amazingly I picked up ten pretty good records for £1 each in a local charity shop, including the original limited edition yellow vinyl version of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John. Who needs Record Store Day after all?

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Notes on Extinction Rebellion

If nothing else, lovely to see areas of London car-free for a few days over Easter.

Support for Extinction Rebellion soars after Easter protests’ proclaimed yesterday's Guardian, with a total of £365,000 being pledged towards the environmental group since January this year. Compare this with the £1 billion raised for rebuilding Notre Dame within a matter of days of the blaze (and talking of blazes, is anyone bothered about the 4,000 acres of Yorkshire moorland recently destroyed by fire? Shall we have vigils and donations and tree-plantings?). It’s bizarre where people’s priorities lie.

Fictitious British news reporter Johnathan Pye sums up things pretty well in this video.

Extinction Rebellion website.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The world's top ten biggest environmental problems (and how to solve them)

The Rebel Soldier

Based on an American Civil War ballad, The Rebel Soldier is on folk singer Naomi Bedford’s forthcoming LP, Singing It All Back Home. I created the video for it, above.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Seven days of nothing
Without Joy

Verve magazine, 1937-1960

I hadn’t even heard of Verve magazine until the other day, when I was asked by Oxfam to value some early issues of the magazine which had come into the shop. I had a quick look at them and was gobsmacked by the content. I was looking at half a dozen of the early editions, from 1937-39, which had colourful covers by artists including Matisse and Bonnard. Inside were unique, beautifully-produced lithographs by the likes of Matisse, Braque, Klee and Kandinsky. These were contrasted with – say – brilliant black and white photos of nudes, medieval manuscript illuminations and texts (in French) by writers such as Hemingway, Joyce and Satre. We were talking a high-quality art journal whose content was a cornucopia of seemingly surreally random yet beautiful and striking imagery and text.

Published in an imposing size of 11x14 inches, the journal sought to showcase the works of modernist, surrealist and avant-garde artists to a wider audience. Only 38 issues were published between 1937 and 1960 and each one was obviously produced with loving care. Verve was the brainchild of Efstratios Eleftheriades, a Greek art critic and editor who moved to Paris in 1915 (actually to study law) and went under the more manageable nom de plume Tériade.

Overheard in Oxfam
"I got the Apple Mac off my sister – she didn't want it anymore! She got a new one. The one I got has 27 functions! 27! I only know how to use two! My sister got a new one because she needed more than 27 functions!"

"Five years now, it's been five years since my daughter hung herself in the garage. She was 55. She had debts, which she could never be able to pay back. £1000. It's good to talk about these things, isn't it? My daughter never talked about what was wrong with her."

Notes on Jury Service at the Old Bailey

There was so much waiting around.
Watching Jeremy Kyle
With the sound turned down
Was enough to drive anyone to crime
(At least we’d be there on time).

Previously on Barnflakes:
Barnflakes' top 20 of the year


The usual spastics
Missing in inaction
On a bi-polar expedition
Exploring destitution

Previously on Barnflakes: 
Selected and Collected Poems: the book

Friday, April 19, 2019

Top ten breakfasts

1. Full English
2. Eggs Benedict
3. Pancakes with bacon and maple syrup
4. Continental breakfast
5. Scrambled eggs on toast
6. Porridge
7. Toast (with marmalade and Marmite)

8. Shakshuka (Tunisian; eggs in tomato sauce)
9. Boiled egg with soldiers
10. Crunchy Nut Cornflakes

Seeing as Barnflakes is a pun on a breakfast cereal, and my unofficial motto is 'Barnflakes: Breakfast for the soul', it’s hard to believe it’s taken me so long to write a top ten. Especially because I like breakfast so much I could have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And sometimes do (for as W. Somerset Maugham famously said, “To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.”)

Breakfast was always said to the the most important meal of the day*, but with a third of Britons skipping the meal altogether (despite evidence of a link between obesity and not eating it) and one academic labelling it "dangerous", breakfast's dominance may be waning.

But not for me; I wouldn't be able to leave the house without it. Usually just tea and toast but sometimes – usually at the weekend – pancakes, porridge, scrambled eggs, a boiled egg or a fry up. There's nothing like the morning smell of coffee brewing and bacon and eggs frying.

But breakfast is probably best when you're out – in a cafe or restaurant, in a hotel, preferably in a foreign country. When abroad, a good breakfast is an essential start to the day, a great way to ingratiate yourself in local customs and culture and see how and what the locals eat. Eating is as much a ritual as any religious activity, and breakfast is, I think, the most ceremonial of meals**.

Take the humble yet iconic and versatile egg. Cracking it open encompasses birth, rebirth and death. It's a vital part of a breakfast and a great source of protein. The egg can be scrambled, boiled, fried and poached, as well as being integral to French toast (a.k.a. eggy bread), pancakes, omelettes and eggs Benedict.

On holiday, tea and toast is not acceptable for breakfast. Coffee is preferred over tea. For a start, coffee feels more sophisticated and cosmopolitan (well, it did, honest, at least before Costa and Starbucks came along and the masses started guzzling down buckets of hot milk with a splash of coffee) though also it tastes better abroad but mainly because tea tastes so bad everywhere except in the UK.

A hotel buffet is okay but it's nicer to go out to a local's cafe. The hotel buffet has its advantages, of course. Mainly, it's free. Also, it's easy to find – it's usually, you know, downstairs, unlike trying to locate a cafe or restaurant in a new, foreign city (I tend to follow my misleading nose, rather than use guidebooks or apps).

It's no doubt a lot to do with the feeling of waking up in a foreign country, but there's something about the simplicity and freshness of a French or Italian or Slovenian breakfast that's so delicious, even if it's just the taste of the orange juice or the bread.

I can remember breakfasts abroad from fifteen years ago whereas most lunches and dinners are instantly forgettable (partly, perhaps, because lunch abroad is mostly a rushed baguette on the way to another gallery or church or ruin; dinner is trying not to get overcharged, which usually translates as pizza or pasta). Lovely pasteis de nata, otherwise known as Portuguese custard tarts, with coffee and orange juice, in a cafe in Lisbon. Or a terrible breakfast of a brick-hard pastry in Barcelona along Las Ramblas; the horrible German-themed buffet in Sousse, Tunisia (I never said all breakfast memories had to be good ones). But whether good or bad, breakfasts are more memorable.

I had some of my best-ever breakfasts in the United States, where I was introduced to the concept of mixing sweet and savoury, something the British have never really done. Pancakes with bacon and maple syrup is a classic example.

Whilst in New Orleans, I remember trying grits, biscuits and gravy ('soft dough biscuits covered in either sawmill or meat gravy, made from the drippings of cooked pork sausage, white flour, milk, and often bits of sausage, bacon, ground beef, or other meat'), mainly because I'd heard about the classic southern dish from American films and novels (probably the likes of Steinbeck, Kerouac and Bukowski). Coffee in the States is just like in the movies: waitresses come by and fill it up for free.

It's worth remembering that most of the planet probably eats rice for breakfast; and after six months in South East Asia I never got used to eating rice three times a day.

Of course in recent years breakfasts have gone healthy and hipster. And while fruit, nuts, granola, chia seeds, yogurts and smoothies are okay if you're at the buffet waiting for your full English to be cooked, I generally don’t approve of really healthy stuff for breakfast, though I'm better than I was: my breakfast used to consist of four cigarettes and a mug of tea (food came later).

*Like the myth that Coca-Cola invented Santa Claus or the big con with mineral water companies telling us we need to drink two litres of water a day (I would literally drown if I drank that much), there's a possibility that breakfast cereal makers conjured up the maxim of breakfast being the most important meal of the day.

**An exception to this was when I was in Morocco, eating in the evening after Ramadam and it involved, yup, the cracking of a hard-boiled egg (mentioned here). Egg, bread, soup: tasted incredible after a day of not being able to eat.

Previously on Barnflakes:  
Not for all the tea in China

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Abandoned gunpowder works at Kennall Vale, Ponsanooth, Cornwall

It’s always strangely beautiful and reassuring to see nature reclaim itself back from civilisation. In post-apocalyptic sci-fi films such as I am Legend with Will Smith or a real life example like Chernobyl, it's exciting to see how nature doesn't hang around – once man is gone, nature moves back in pretty pronto.

In Cornwall this is evident in the many abandoned mines. The gunpowder works at Kennall Vale were built in 1812 for producing dynamite for mining (rather than military purposes), but became abandoned in the early 1900s.

Tucked away in a lush and verdant wooded valley five miles from Redruth, the numerous ruins – including granite mills and rusty machinery – are covered in ivy and moss. The fast-flowing Kennall river runs through it, with many charming waterfalls tumbling down the hills into it. The whole area feels like an enchanted fairy tale film set, its humid environment perfect for moss and ferns. It's also a fine place for spotting intriguing birds such as dippers. Indeed, the only sounds you hear in the valley are that of birdsong and the rushing of the river.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notes on being me

Several years ago I went to an interview of photographer William Eggleston. After the interview I thought he would sign books. I’d bought along his classic 1976 William Eggleston’s Guide and made my way down to the stage, along with several others. At the last second he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t sign any. However, he had done a signing a day or two before, and my friend R had got four of his books signed. I was mildly frustrated and, naturally, it stayed with me.

R contacted me early last week to let me know Eggleston was doing another book signing at the end of the week in London. Here I was, in Cornwall, with all my books in London at my parents, including two by William Eggleston. There was only one option – ask the parents. My dad kindly agreed to go and get a book signed for me. Except he didn't know where my Eggleston books were – and neither did I. He looked and found The Democratic Forest. Great, but not the one I wanted signed. I wanted William Eggleston's Guide signed. Dad couldn't find it. Mum couldn't find it. They sent me photos of my piles of books. I couldn't see it either. I let it go. Dad got The Democratic Forest signed. I was happy.

That was William Eggleston. Next was Bob Dylan.

Saturday was Record Store Day. Getting mugs to queue up all night outside record shops to buy already-released records you'd normally only spend a pound or two on in a charity shop – A-ha, Queen, Elton John, Abba etc – but producing them in limited numbers on – say – pink or yellow or red vinyl and then charging £30 for said records, well, it's genius from a marketing perspective and record companies surely can't believe they're raking in money from what was a dead market – not just vinyl but all removable media (just wait for CD Store Day and VHS Store Day – there's already a Cassette Store Day) – until a few years ago. (I'm being slightly ungracious – RSD often features exclusive live albums or alternate versions of classic albums and has helped spearhead the vinyl revival, but a lot of RSD is re-releasing crappy old albums with the dubious distinction of being "the first vinyl release since the last one". And picture discs.)

Well, guess what? I'm one of the mugs. Not content with owning Bob Dylan's classic Blood on the Tracks album on vinyl and CD, as well as the recent More Blood, More Tracks, the 6 CD Deluxe Edition of the Bootleg Series, Record Store Day was releasing the Original Test Pressing for the very first time (naturally I already own it on a bootleg mp3 – oh, and on cassette) which I was rather keen on (Variety called it the 'holy grail' of RSD releases). To be fair, I've never bought a single record from Record Store Day before (unless it's almost a year after the previous RSD and a record shop is selling their unsold stock half price – which happened with Heart of the Congos, the Lee 'Scratch' Perry mix from the 2017 RSD, which I got for £10 some time in 2018, despite it going for circa. £150 on eBay).

I thought I had it sorted. I'd asked my ex to get it from her local, excellent (despite, in the past, staff not being exactly knowledgeable about music) record shop in a small town in Wiltshire – all she'd have to do was walk down the road to buy the record for me. Turned out she was off to Paris that weekend. I asked her to change her flight (no lie); she wouldn't budge.

Why couldn't I go and buy a copy myself, I hear you cry. Well, I could but it would take me an hour to get to any record shop in Cornwall. I went to Falmouth on Friday to a participating cafe/record shop, Jam, and asked if I could buy a copy a day before as I wouldn't be able to make it there in time on the Saturday. The owner looked at me as if I'd blasphemed in church. It goes against everything RSD stands for, she told me, in no uncertain terms. I asked her how many copies of the record she had. Four, and they'd go immediately, she said. Cost? £25.

She did mention that Drift in Totnes would probably have a lot more copies. Then a lightbulb went off in my dim brain: my brother lives there. Which I told the woman. Ah well then, sorted, she said, you don't even have to get out of bed early, but your brother does. Getting him to do that might be difficult, I quipped: he has a new girlfriend. Ah, said the woman.

Anyway, it was a possibility. I texted him. He was on holiday too, but on his way back Saturday afternoon. I told him I was off to the Truro record shop first thing in the morning to get it, and I'd let him know. By 9am Saturday morning I am standing at the end of a queue thirty deep in Truro's Pannier Market, which is where Music Nostalgia is. The man in front of me is after the alternate mix of A-ha's debut album, Hunting High and Low. Which he gets. I do not get the Dylan. Sold out instantly, the owner tells me.

I tell my brother. He's almost in Exeter. He asks me if there's a record shop there. Of course! Rooster Records, been there a few times. He 'rushes' (after having a coffee first) to Rooster Records – they've sold out too. He phones Drift – they have copies left – and asks if he can reserve one. He's told no. I phone Drift and ask if I can reserve a copy for my brother to pick up. I'm told no, in no uncertain terms: you have to be there in person to buy the record. They have a 'pinch' of the records left. I tell brother to leg it there. After Exeter charity shops, lunch and more coffee and a late train he is in Totnes by late afternoon.

Whilst brother was running around South West England record shops, what was I doing? Having a leisurely stroll around Tregothnan House, which has the largest historic garden in Cornwall, and now contains Britain's first tea plantation, producing tea to buy in the shop which reportedly contains only 15% Cornish tea and works out costing about 50p a tea bag. Tregothnan House and gardens has been owned by the Boscawen family since the 1300s. They also own – and holiday-let to rich Londoners – property all over Cornwall. Aside from a brief ransack during the English Civil War (1642–1651), the estate has remained untouched. It beggars belief why this country hasn't had a proper revolution. Anyway, lovely garden and it was only £10 on the charity open weekend (otherwise it's £65 for a private garden visit). Then we went to Merther to see its abandoned church. It has no roof and a forest growing inside it. The squirrels and ravens were surprised to see me.

Meanwhile brother is speeding up his pace in Totnes. Then, with the shop in sight, he thinks about running and imagines having to wrestle the last copy from the hands of the punk who'd just bought it, drag him outside and 'do a De Niro on him' (his words).

Luckily time was on his side and after all the pseudo rush the shop still had half a dozen copies left after my bro bought one for me. I don't know when I'm going to see it or play it, but I've got it. The Eggleston and the Dylan – couldn't have done them without a lot of family help. Much love and appreciation.

• William Eggleston, 2¼ exhibition at David Zwirner
• Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks Test Pressing, Record Store Day Edition, Reviewed

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top ten records I would have bought in Totnes if I had any money
South London record shops
Weekend Barngains 
Top ten photographers