Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Hidden, ancient forest uncovered after storms on the beach at Portreath, Cornwall

Recent storms have again uncovered the hidden remains of an ancient woodland said to be between 4,000-6,000 years old on the beach at Portreath in Cornwall. Heavy storms cause the sands to shift, a phenomenon that only occurs once every few years, exposing the trunks of the trees. Waterlogged wood tends not to rot as it has no oxygen. The wood had previously been visible after storms in 2014 and 2016. It takes a few days for the waves to push the sands back to normal and the trunks to vanish for another few years.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Lifetime subscription

Time to read: depends how fast you are at reading.
Main thrust of argument: I hate Netflix and Spotify because they both completely devalue films, TV and music, making it all a never-ending stream of shit. After not very long it all becomes an absolutely meaningless waste of time.

Forgive me for sounding like a broken record but, to recap: first we bought records, then 8-track, then cassettes, then CDs, then MiniDisc, then remastered box sets with bonus and live tracks, then mp3s. Now some of us buy records (actually, the facts are slightly misleading, even though vinyl seems to be everywhere, in the UK, 23m people still buy CDs compared to 4.3m purchasing their tautological vinyl records – streaming accounts for about 114m albums) which will probably be a completely pointless limited edition on red, blue or green coloured vinyl. But most of us now stream the music from Spotify or Apple. So it’s possible to have bought the same album on up to about a dozen different formats, only to end up not owning it but only subscribing or renting it.

We do this with films and TV too, And computer software. Nothing is ours anymore. If it was once ours –  on LP, Betamax, VHS, cassette, CD or DVD – we probably gave it to a charity shop years ago or, if young enough, have never, ever bought any removeable media. With other streaming services, such as Disney+, Apple TV, HBO Max and BritBox (literally can’t think of anything worse in the whole world), entering the arena, Netflix will lose some of its most popular programmes and films (as the likes of Disney and HBO take back their content from the steaming giant), and we may find ourselves having to join half a dozen streaming services to watch what we used to watch just on Netflix. It may be that soon we will all be trudging round the charity shops buying back our DVDs and CDs.

Naturally, I don’t pay for any streaming services. I disagree with everything about them. However, I have just finished my free three month Spotify trial (three months is ages! Yes, long enough for them to figure you won’t be able to live without it. Ha, I dropped them like hot potatoes). Saying that, it was a good experience.

How else could I go from King Krule to Prefab Sprout to Grouper to Roxy Music to John Zorn to Mazzy Star to Circa Waves to The Avalanches to Michael O'Shea to CAN to Julia Holter to Bardo Pond to Against All Logic to SQURL to Michelle Gurevich to Janet Jackson to Destroyer to David Thomas Broughton to XTC to Tame Impala to Meredith Monk to Billie Eilish to Gang of Four to Nico to The Fall. And that’s just in a day. There is no way I would have the physical space, let alone be able to afford, the amount of music I listened to if I were buying it on CD or LP. Basically I listened to hundreds of albums I couldn’t have done otherwise.

The main difference between Spotify and Netflix, of course, is Spotify has just about every song and album you can think of, and Netflix has about eight films you want to watch (Amazon Prime has even less – any film you actually want to watch will never be on Prime; you'll have to pay an extra £4.99 to rent it for the evening; possibly £10 to 'own' it on Amazon's cloud), and even that's going to decrease, and a trillion shitty series which all start with the kiss of death: A Netflix Original.

A million times better than Netflix or Amazon Prime was LoveFilm (RIP), also a subscription service, but one where DVDs were sent in the post. I know, what an antiquated thought in these streaming days, but, and to me it’s a huge but, they had just about every film available on DVD (yes, that means foreign films too). As the Guardian said at the time, when Amazon bought the company, then closed it in 2017 (I know, right, not as long ago as you thought), LoveFilm – the hint is in its name, really; Netflix may as well be called NetWatchAnyOldShitFlix – they catered "for people with specific tastes, who are into Korean horror or screwball comedies from the 1930s and 40s, for people who will carefully write down the names of films when they read a good review, or whose first response to a film they loved is to watch everything else that director ever did". I still, after all these years, think streaming is for morons (the highest-rated movies on Amazon Prime are mostly two-star reviews in The Guardian). It’s the difference between having a nice meal in a restaurant or stuffing your face with junk food. It's the difference between quality and quantity.

(The use of the humble letterbox hasn't entirely vanished. If sending letters and cards – or DVDs (though not video games, apparently – a colleague tells me video game rental services are popular) –  by post is pretty obsolete, the internet has a thousand other subscription services to shove through your door, from vegetable and beauty boxes to toilet paper and coffee.)

I still don't trust algorithms – or rather, I wish they were better. I've mentioned before how you buy a one-off holiday, then all you get for the next month is online ads for holidays to the place you've just been. The whole if you liked that, you'll love this thing, is a dreadful bore, leading to us all watching or listening to very similar TV and music (the internet in general is said to narrow tastes, from politics to porn). Netflix and Spotify end up serving a non-stop stream of similar material. Music becomes part of the background. When you get to the end of an album, it doesn’t stop, it just continues playing similar music it thinks you’ll like (to be fair, you can probably turn this off in preferences). With Netflix, the programmes which are popular have more seasons made which are identical to the first one (locations and a few characters may change).

I like my films and music to consist of making some effort. Going to the cinema (Parasite was great!). Reading about an album, ordering the record and waiting for it to arrive in the post, or going to a record shop. Unwrapping it, holding it, reading the sleeve notes. Maybe even listening to it (I'm not even joking when I say that – like a sucker, pun intended, I ordered the limited edition, transparent vinyl – red had sold out – version of the soundtrack to the classic lesbian vampire film, Daughters of Darkness. It is gorgeous, and I have no chance of playing it in the near future – my record player is in storage).

Previously on Barnflakes
Top ten Studio Ghibli films
Incidental sounds from Netflix's Power
Random Netflix review: Stranger Things 3
Revenge of the VHS tape 
Amazon Prime / Netflix mash-ups
Random Netflix TV reviews

Saturday, February 22, 2020

All Hayle The Bucket of Blood

The Bucket of Blood is a pub in Phillack, a village in Hayle, Cornwall. Said to have been built in the 18th century, the pub is now Grade II listed. According to legend, the pub got its charming name several centuries ago when the landlord went to get some water from the local well. His bucket came up full of the blood from the mutilated, murdered body of a smuggler thrown down the well. Variations of the story include the bucket containing the head of a local revenue officer. The most boring explanation, and probably most likely, is the water would have been red from the effects of tin mining; many streams and rivers (such as, er, the red river) in the county still are a rusty orange colour. The pub is also, of course, haunted.

Not to be confused with: A Bucket of Blood, a 1959 horror comedy directed by Roger Corman and starring Dick Miller.

Previously on Barnflakes
Back to the Cat's Back
The Seedy Tree

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Notes on Brian Rice

Not to be confused with Brian Rice, the footballer.

From geometric patterns to archaeological and aboriginal influences, the abstract art of Brian Rice is a joy of shapes and colours. The retrospective at the Royal Albert Memorial Mueum in Exeter surveys Rice's art over the last sixty years.

Born in Somerset in 1936, Rice studied at Yeovil School of Art before moving to London in time for the swinging sixties, hanging out with the likes of the Rolling Stones and David Hockney. Eventually finding London not for him, he bought a farm in Dorset and became a farmer, all but abandoning art. Inspired by local archeology and the marks of prehistoric man, by the 1990s he had returned to painting and printmaking.

A lovely (and free) exhibition in a great little gallery and museum.

Brian Rice: 60 years of Paintings and Prints is on at the ramm (Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery) until 3 May.

Previously on Barnflakes
The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, Exeter

Friday, February 14, 2020

Letters of complaint

It's now something of a habit that whenever I meet up with my daughter, I manage to embarrass her by complaining to someone, usually a waitrer or waitress, about the quality of something in a cafe, restuarant or some other public place. Last time it was a breakfast menu which said "an array of pastries", which my daughter ordered, to be presented with a single pastry. I complained to the Italian/Russian waitress, who exclaimed, "Oh! No one has ever complained about that before!" Everyone in the room looked at us. Daughter looked down at her plate, embarrassed. I probably turned red too. Well, I said, it says an array, which implies many, and there's only one. It's not going to fill anyone up. She got two more pastries (she still wasn't full and had be bought another breakfast half an hour later – elsewhere). Life went on. It's good to complain. As the world gets worse, I'm doing it more. Well, we're asked for our feedback constantly nowadays. Here's three recent emails.

Hi Planning and Forest for Cornwall

Let me introduce you to each other!

I live in the Redruth/Carn Brea area. Whenever I go for a walk around the mining trails, I see some more land has been fenced up, boarded up or destroyed. This time it was the trees. Along the mining path that runs roughly parallel between Dudnance Lane and Carn Brea (couldn't find its exact name, if it has one), I noticed hundreds of trees had been chopped down, the small woodlands I'd noticed before which were abundant with trees were now threadbare (some of this, which I've also noticed elsewhere in the county, was due to new telegraph poles being installed – but really, the area all around them looks like a ton of napalm has been dropped. Surely this much destruction is unwarranted, or how about putting the telegraph poles elsewhere?).

Your Forest for Cornwall project is deeply flawed. You can't go around chopping down mature trees, expecting newly planted ones to take their place. It takes 100 years for a woodland to reach maturity.

From the saplings I've seen (specifically, along Kerrier Way), they have not been cared for since being planted. They are being suffocated in their horrible plastic tubes. Most look battered or dead. Trees did fine for billions of years without plastic tubes. The so-called mycorrhizal networks will presumably not operate with your roadside saplings (without similar, more mature trees nearby).

Wanton destruction in the name of car parks has occurred opposite Heartlands next to a hideous new supermarket, where another small woodland was destroyed, on the college grounds. Was the local populace consulted on the supermarket, or with McDonald's, KFC, Subway and other horrible outlets I will never visit, you just want to send the already-obese locals into an even earlier grave? If even these kinds of companies supported the local economy, but did you know at least 60% of profit from places like this (Costa, McDonald's etc) immediately leave the local area? Aside from the fact that places like McDonald's are contributing to the destruction of the rain forests.

Anyway, I diverge (the above is for the Planning department, but one day you will realise IT IS ALL CONNECTED).


Now, let me explain about your so-called Climate Emergency:
I'm not sure how to make it clearer. But you are managing to get planning completely wrong on a daily basis – or can't see how your decisions impact on wildlife. We don't need more car parks. We don't need new retail parks (with high streets simultaneously being decimated). We don't need new houses (the shortage is a myth – look at all the empty houses, buildings, offices, factories in the UK), we certainly don't need junk food outlets in deprived areas. Litter and fly tipping is everywhere in the area. On verges, in fields, in hedgerows. Plastic bottles, cans, nothing seems to get ever picked up.

This was only about the trees but I'm on a roll now.

My last complaint is concerning the St Austell 'eco village', whose name has changed to 'garden village', someone at the Eden Project informed me; presumably because there is nothing remotely 'eco' about it. I realise these are countrywide schemes requested by the government. However, choosing a site with abundant trees, foliage and wildlife, a haven for birds and a popular location for dog walkers is crazy. I had often climbed over the fence and enjoyed tranquil times watching birds flying over the lakes. I felt like I was in another world, all alone. Now when I pass by I see hundreds of trees and bushes destroyed.

The thing about humans, and small-minded, small-sighted councils in particular, is a compulsion TO DO STUFF. ALL THE TIME. In the case of nature, IT DOES IT ON ITS OWN. It wants to be left alone, it doesn't want you interfering. Or culling badgers or building roads or car parks or crappy houses or unhealthy supermarkets or destroying hedgerows – all these things prevent the growth of biodiversity and destroy what little natural habitat they have left.

The price of bus journeys in Cornwall is EXTORTIONATE* (you know it's so when the bus driver apologises for a five mile journey costing almost a tenner). Let's take one of the poorest counties in EUROPE and have the buses three times more expensive than its wealthier neightbour, Devon (where an hour long journey has cost me £4), and five times more expensive than London (all journeys £1.50). Then let's have the buses turn up LATE once an hour, stop at every stop for five minutes, presumably to even out the journey but leading to frustration for all on board. Let's have the rail fares at least half the price of the buses. Let's also say cycling is always quicker than the bus, and walking is sometimes quicker. Let's have a climate crisis as well, and a half baked attempt to get people to use public transport more – not with the service or prices you provide. To cap it all, shall we only have one set of doors on the buses.

*I'm talking single or return fares, I realise the weekly/monthly pass works out good value if you use the service every day.

My first letter of complaint had been hand-written on the complaint form at the Eden Project, mainly about the food being wasted there. Someone replied via email. I wrote back to them.

Perhaps try giving away the fruit and veg to the deprived of St Austell. Charity begins at home and all that. I've also seen staff throw leftover sandwiches in the compost bin at the end of the day. Better than recycling or composting is reusing and eating.

I see St Austell's "eco" village, presumably inspired by yourselves, is well underway. I can tell because they've destroyed hundreds of trees, foliage and habitats for animals and birds. Progress, huh?

I feel bad criticising a charity when there are so many other evil organisations to target, but there's something deeply unfulfilling about the place, and a golden opportunity missed in these terrible times. And it's insane that your car parks are bigger than the actual Eden Project!

Previously on Barnflakes 
Bus pass
Success and failures of the Eden Project
Abandoned Halloween Pumpkins
The China Clay pits around St Austell
Reviving Reduth (and environs)

Running rings around me

I had a huge, pretty embarrassing, argument in the office with a woman I used to work with many years ago. She wore a ring every day that her previous boyfriend, who had died horrifically in a motorbike accident, had given her. I had nude black and white photos – tasteful and arty – taken years ago of an ex-girlfriend. I had no idea where these photos were and hadn't looked at them for years (this is pre-digital era so they were actual physical prints). My argument was that her ring had a lot more significance than my photos: she wore the ring every day, it had emotional and sentimental resonance. Her argument was that the ring meant nothing to her, and me still having nude photos of an ex-girlfriend was outrageous. She was married, I was with someone. I told her if I was her husband, I wouldn't like her wearing that ring. You know what it is, she hasn't actually told her husband the significance of it. She was a loud Aussie and the argument got very heated, I don't know why. Jesus, you know what it is, I actually gave her a spare box of chocolates I had (long story) for her to give to her husband on Valentine's Day. Come to think of it, I designed a card for another female friend to give to her boyfriend for Valentine's Day. What am I, Cupid and stupid?

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Inside St Day Old Church

When we were inside the church, we were both inside and outside at the same time, for the church has no roof. The Church of Holy Trinity, now known as St Day Old Church, was built in 1826-8 but by the 1950s had fallen into disrepair and was shut in 1956. After decades of neglect, part of the roof collapsed in 1988 and the rest of the roof was, excitingly, blown up with dynamite.

The church – referred to by Sir John Betjeman as “an ecclesiastical toy fort” and apparently his favoutite church in England – has now been saved by the St Day Old Church Community Interest Company, who have turned it into a community space for the arts. When I was there recently, to sketch, electricity had just been added and beautiful new carved window frames put in (I know, it sounds an extravagance in a building without a roof, but it was worth every penny). It's a wonderful space, where you can be simultaneously inside and outside, protected yet amongst the elements.

Upcoming event: DiaspAURA, a light festival with laser projections, illuminated artwork and lanterns runs from Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd February.

Previously on Barnflakes
Reviving Redruth (and envirions) 
Kresen Kernow now open

Friday, February 07, 2020

I’m confused here

I’m New Here is the final studio album by the late, great Gil Scott-Heron, released in 2010. We’re New Here is a remix of the album by the xx’s Jamie xx, released in 2011. Nothing New is a posthumous album of songs recorded during the I’m New Here sessions, released in 2014 on Record Store Day on vinyl only. We’re New Again is a ‘Reimagaining’ of I’m New Here by Makaya McCraven, released in February 2020.

Gil Scott-Heron died in 2011, so what’s going on?  It seems to me to be a case of the Johnny Cash Cow, as I’ve mentioned previously. Seven Johnny Cash albums plus a box set have so far been released from the Rick Rubin-produced 'American sessions' with, according to Cash's son in 2014, 'four or five albums in the works'. Seems a bit excessive to me.

With I'm New Here there seems to be four separate albums associated with it (hold on, actually five altogether with the I'm New Here (10th Anniversary Expanded Edition) just released). I loved the original album, though it felt quite thin on the ground, only 28 minutes long including half a dozen spoken interludes, produced by XL Recordings owner Richard Russell. Like Rubin's Cash sessions, there are cover versions and a sparse sound. Sometimes just a beat over Gil's haggard spoken voice. In fact, as Uncut magazine's review (awarded two stars, whereas in most other publications it got four or five) at the time suggested, the "finished article assembled, Bowfinger-style, without [Scott-Heron's] knowledge". Indeed, I don't think Scott-Heron was entirely happy with the result, calling it "Richard's [Russell] CD". Russell added all the music to the vocal tracks, including Gil's chattering that went on between takes.

We're New Here has Jamie xx use his skills as a dj to recontextualise the album in the style of his debut album with the band The xx, using snatches of Gil's voice with dubstep and garage styles. Nothing New contains more songs recorded at the original sessions, this time extremely sparse versions of his own songs, with just voice and piano. Now we have We're New Again, the album reimagined again a decade later, this time by Chicago producer and drummer Makaya McCraven who takes it back to Gil-Scott's mileu of free jazz and blues. The just-released 10th year anniversary version of I'm Not Here contains the original album as well as a bonus disc of even more songs recorded at the original sessions – with even more extended spoken interludes (this bonus disc actually came out first in 2010 as a limited edition with the original album).

You have to hand it to Richard Russell and Jamie xx, though, middle class white boys from south London, obviously huge fans of Gil Scott-Heron, who helped bring him to a new generation of listeners; it had been sixteen years since he had released an album before I'm New Here. It's just they had in mind a sound they wanted to hear and that was their sound, not Gil's.

I remember listening to Panthalassa: The Music Of Miles Davis, 1969-1974 when it first came out in 1998. Bill Laswell remixes In A Silent Way and On the Corner, Miles' electric jazz and funk period to create a surprisingly cohesive, unified, ambient soundscape (though when the remix got remixed a few years later, the results were awful). This was nothing new in Miles' music – producer Teo Macero edited and spliced together elements from hours of Davis' improvised sessions in the studio to create the masterpieces In a Silent Way, Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew.

Gil's original version of New York is Killing Me, from I'm New Here, contains a hypnotic handclapping riff, which reminds me of a song on Leonard Cohen's posthumous studio album released last year, Thanks for the Dance (an album two minutes longer than I'm New Here), called Night in Santiago. The album was taken from vocal tracks recorded at the sessions for Cohen's previous album, 2016's You Want it Darker. The producer, Cohen's son Adam, added music to the bare vocals, employing various singers and musicians, including Beck on Jew's harp and Daniel Lanois on piano. I would love to hear Makaya McCraven's take on the album, New Thanks for the Dance?

Previously on Barnflakes
Top 30 of the year
The top 100 albums
where new here
Rubinise me
Top 10 record producers 
More Ex-Ex Elliott
Elliott School of Rock

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Notes on Samuel Palmer

Samuel Palmer's (1805-1881) early works suggest a prodigious and precocious talent – he exhibited at the Royal Academy, aged fourteen – but little more. It wasn't until meeting William Blake in 1824, when Palmer was an impressionable teenager, that his work takes on the 'visionary' aspect that he is famous for (Tom Luddock in his book English Graphic gives a witty exploration of that difficult, vague and often unhelpful term 'visionary').

by his early twenties Palmer had moved to Shoreham, ostensibly for his poor health, and there produced the most imaginative art of his career, his so-called visionary pictures, inspired by Blake, the Bible and the countryside around him. He lived in a run-down house nicknamed Rat Abbey and hung out with a bunch of like-minded artists called The Ancients, a brotherhood all believing in an idealised rural past and worshipping their seer, William Blake.

Look at the riot of springtime, above, painted in 1829 in Shoreham, Kent. Visionary or kitsch (for visionary I might say hallucinatory)? A gloopy, bubbling candy floss tree found in Willie Wonker's Chocolate factory, maybe. Palmer's intense, impressionistic landscapes have often been compared to Van Gogh's (1853-1890).

I've never been that moved by the epic quality of Turner's landscapes or the chocolate box countrysides of Constable. But Palmer's landscapes draw the viewer in, partly due to their small, intimate size. Palmer's pastoral paintings and in particular his pen and ink drawings of either moonlit, early evening or morning scenes (above, 1825) hum with a magic realism imbued with a mystical feeling. All the elements of nature feel interconnected and alive. Contrasts are deep and shadows are long.

When Palmer returned to live in London in 1835, after a decade in Shoreham, his paintings lost a lot of their unique 'visionary' quality and became rather conventional. Only a few late works, such as 1879's etching titled The Lonely Tower, managed to recapture that paradisal mysticism of the Shoreham years.

Previously on Barnflakes
William Blake's vision of angels in Peckham 
Notes on Kent
Edward Burra, 20th century man
Christopher Wood, English painter

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Top ten Studio Ghibli films

I have a confession to make – I’ve only watched ten (of 22), so here they are, in order. Luckily, Netflix are releasing all of Studio Ghibli’s films (with the exception of Grave of the Fireflies) in batches of seven over the next three months. The first batch has just been released. This is literally the best thing to happen in the world this decade. Though I've criticised Netflix in the past, I can only thank them for releasing The Other Side of the Wind, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, a new(ish) David Lynch black and white short film, What Did Jack Do?,  as well as the excellent Uncut Gems and now the Studio Ghibli output.

10. Porco Rosso (1992)
9. Arrietty
8. Grave of the Fireflies
7. Howl’s Moving Castle
6. Kiki’s Delivery Service
5. Laputa: Castle in the Sky
4. Ponyo
3. My Neighbour Totoro
2. Spirited Away
1. Princess Mononoke