Thursday, March 26, 2020

Top ten things to be positive about during the Coronavirus pandemic

With millions of people around the globe entering isolation, losing their jobs and getting into debt, as well as thousands dying, it’s understandably hard to remain upbeat at the moment. Here’s ten ways to look on the bright side.

1. Air pollution in the UK halved during the first day of the lockdown; similar results have been recorded in Europe and Asia.

2. When I’ve been out for my daily walk, I’ve heard the sound of children playing and birds singing, instead of cars.*
3. Nature is loving it. Birds and animals are everywhere. Nature is able to breathe.*
4. People are generally being friendlier, and it’s mostly bringing out the best in them.
5. Spending more time with family doing things – creative projects or games.
6. Doing proper cooking and baking at home (my daughter, aged 13, has made olive bread and naan bread, and cooked a curry, so far)
7. Everyone has instantly been cured of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), an anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere. Don’t worry, it’s not.
8. You’re not in an office.
9. There are loads of free stuff online, from concerts and plays to films and apps, including two cool synthesiser apps from Moog and Korg.
10. It's a great time to be an introvert – extroverts have had their day (if only social media didn't exist)!

*On our brief country walk today, we encountered a woodpecker, horses, swans, squirrels, crows, dogs, cats, a partridge, water rats, a rare North American black fox, goats, two emus and a reindeer (I'm cheating slightly here – the last four were seen whilst walking through Feadon Farm, though we were lucky the fox was being taken for a walk as we wandered past).

We had a brief chat (from a distance, obvs) with a couple who pointed out to us two water rats in the lake at Tehidy Woods.
Enjoying your walk? They asked us.
I said it's a beautiful world without cars or people.
The man agreed, though said he was ready to get back to reality.
This is reality. Nature. What an artificial bubble we created with offices, cars, shops, roads. A false reality. Nature was here before us and will be here after.

Previously on Barnflakes
Staying at home: a guide to enjoying isolation
Armchair atlases

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

National Explosives factory site at Hayle awarded heritage status

Initially built to provide dynamite for the mining industry, the National Explosives Factory at Upton Towans near Hayle went on to supply the Royal Navy with explosives during the First World War. On the advice of Historic England, last year it was given heritage protection by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The site is situated in an expansive, undulating area of sand dunes overlooking Hayle beach, where golden sand runs for three miles. Acres of sand dunes, rolling grassy hills and windy paths form Upton Towans, and the area feels like a golf course for giants, with sand dunes as bunkers. It is littered with various architectural remnants from the factory site, including what is believed to be the earliest surviving mass-concrete magazines from the 1890s (one of which is pictured above).

From the beginning it was mainly women who worked in the factory, with the number of staff increasing more than tenfold with the start of the First World War, from 175 to 1,800. The factory was state of the art for its time, only overtaken in the 1950s by Goonhilly as the most technologically advanced project in Cornwall.

Previously on Barnflakes
Abandoned gunpowder works at Kennall Vale, Ponsanooth, Cornwall
The Fuse Factory, Tuckingmill

Monday, March 23, 2020

Top 30 films on Amazon Prime right now

At first glance, the films free to watch on Amazon Prime (UK) seem severely limited (a fact I’ve probably moaned about previously). Bizarrely, the worst films on Prime are the highest-rated (Letters to Juliet, Saw V, The Book of Eli). However, it doesn’t take long to find something decent (though I’ve wasted hours over the years trawling through their lists of films, to the extent that it's bedtime by the time I still haven't found one, so I just go to bed). Anyway, catch them whilst you can – another annoying thing about this streaming lark is films come and go frequently with no warning.

1. 8½ (Fellini, 1963)
Other Fellini films also available: La Dolce Vita,
Juliet and the Spirits, I Vitelloni
2. Repulsion (Polanski, 1965)
Other Polanski also available: Cul de Sac, The Tenant,
Knife in the Water
3. Under the Skin (Glazer, 2014)
4. Toni Erdmann (Ade, 2017)
5. The King of Comedy (Scorsese, 1983)
6. LA Confidential (Hanson, 1997)
7. Brazil (Gilliam, 1985)
8. The Man With The Golden Arm (Preminger, 1956)
9. Once Upon A Time in America (Leone, 1984)
10. The Lady Vanishes (Hitchcock, 1938)
Other Hitchcock films also available: The 39 Steps,
The Man Who Knew Too Much, Jamaica Inn, Stage Fright,
Secret Agent, To Catch a Thief
11. Carol (Haynes, 2015)
12. Killing of a Sacred Deer (Lanthimos, 2017)
13. The Squid and the Whale (Baumbach, 2005)
14. Suspiria (Argento, 1977)
Other Argento films also available: Phenomena, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Opera, plus the much maligned but pretty good Suspiria remake from 2018
15. November (Sarnet, 2017)
This black and white Estonian film is stunningly beautiful, profoundly weird and often hilarious, conjuring, as it does, the obscure symbolism of Parajanov, the animation of Svankmajer and early Borowczyk, and characters straight out of a Grunewald painting. It evokes that cold (it's usually snowing), poverty-stricken but magical feeling of 1960s medieval-set films by Tarkovksy and Frantisek Vlacil, in a pagan, supernatural tale of doomed young love.
16. The Gospel According to St Matthew (Pasolini, 1965)
Other Pasolini films also available: Accattone, The Anger
17. Cold War (Pawlikowski, 2018)
Another sumptuous recent black and white film about doomed love.
18. Midsommar (Aster, 2019)
19. Cube (Natali, 1998)
20. The Dead Zone (Cronenberg, 1983)
Other Cronenberg films also available: A History of Violence
21. 12 Years a Slave (McQueen, 2014)
22. Room (Abrahamson, 2016)
23. Charade (Donen, 1963)
24. Green Book (Farrelly, 2019)
25. Four Lions (Morris. 2010)
26. Requiem for a Dream (Aronofsky, 2000)
Other Aronofsky films also available: The Fountain, Pi
27. This is 40 (Apatow, 2013)
28. Booksmart (Wilde, 2019)
29. Blinded by the Light (Chadha, 2019)
Guardian journalist Sarfraz Manzoor's memoirs, Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll, form the basis of Blinded by the Light, starring Viveik Kalra as Javed, a Bruce Springsteen-obsessed teenager growing up in 1980s Luton. If it seems unlikely that a Pakistani teenager in 1980s Luton would find much in common with Bruce Springsteen, then it's then equally unlikely that I would find much in common with a Pakistani teenager in 1980s Luton... except we studied English Literature A Level in the same year (Hardy's The Return of the Native is mentioned) and got into Bruce Springsteen at the same time, and for the same reasons (however, perhaps more important than the Springsteen influence is that of his English teacher, who encourages his writing and submits it to competitions for him), so the film struck a chord with me. Period details are depressingly spot on – mainly, the Arndale Centre and Job Centre. Unfortunately, the poster depicts Javed looking like a camp Kevin Rowland from the Come on Eileen video instead of a macho Springsteen.
30. Fisherman's Friends (Foggin, 2019)
These mawkish musical films are turning up everywhere (see Blinded by the Light, Yesterday, Military Wives) – this one's also rubbish but I've seen it three times.

Previously on Barnflakes
Fisherman's Friends vs Bait
A Study in Scarlett
The films of Dario Argento
Notes on Charters and Caldicott
The films of Sergei Parajanov
The films of Walerian Borowczyk 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Train tales #3

I generally don't like striking up conversations with strangers on a train but I like eavesdropping on others doing it. The two Americans and an English woman were all strangers sitting close to each other. The well-groomed American woman had a dog, always a conversation point. Coronavirus is the other obvious topic of talk but the opener was another classic: train confusion – in this case, conflicting opinions about which part of the ten-coach train was being split up; which part was stopping at Plymouth and which part part was going on to Penzance. There were conflicting, but not very interesting, opinions about it. In the end, we all could stay where we were, instead of having to move to a rear carriage.

Trains – dogs – coronavirus – the conversation didn't get interesting until the subject of travel came up. The Cornish woman – who repeatedly insisted her cough was a smoker's cough – was 36 and had never left the UK for a holiday until 2011, when she went to Thailand with her boyfriend. Unfortunately it was the same year as the Japanese tsunami and Thailand suffered knock-on effects from it. She said her whole resort was flooded, and she spent most of her time there waist-deep in black, dirty water. She has still, to this day, never been to London.

The middle-aged American woman had gone on her own to the former Yugoslavia as a child to visit some relatives in the 1970s. She spent a week with an uncle she'd never met; their only mutual language was a smattering of German. He didn't have children, and wasn't used to them. They went to a market, and the uncle got his American niece to buy an assortment of food, which she kept on a table in her bedroom. This was apparently what she was to have for her dinners. For breakfast, every morning, the uncle got the same large piece of meat out of a drawer to give to the girl. She ate it for days, not sure what it was. She had a feeling it was dog food but ate it nonetheless. The uncle's girlfriend turned up about three days into the girl's stay. The girlfriend looked at the girl, green around the gills, and shouted at the uncle, what the hell have you been feeding her?

The jovial American man, quiet but chuckling along at various intervals, chimes in with his growing up in Mississippi in the 1970s – and then spending six weeks as a student in the Soviet Union; quite the culture shock. He'd also been to Serbia in 1994. The American woman, intrigued, asks the man what he does for a living. He's a history teacher in Maryland, and he's worked in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Bhutan (I didn't hear how or why). I didn't hear either exactly what the American woman did, but she worked in offices in New York and London, with yogurt and fruit for breakfast provided by the office, so must be somewhere posh. The Cornish woman worked as a cashier in Sainsbury's. The man got off at Bodmin Parkway, and the conversation went dead.

Previously on Barnflakes
Train tales #2: taking the piss
Train tales #1: the nipple-tassled French woman

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Staying at home: a guide to enjoying isolation

I know when to go out
And when to stay in
Get things done
– David Bowie, Modern Love

Apart from the imminent collapse of capitalism, the cancellation of Eastenders and the possible salvation of the environment, it’s hard to find much positivity around the coronavirus. Luckily, if you’re self-isolating or on lockdown, here’s some handy hints on staying in and having fun. I am never, ever bored at home – only at work. Home is the most exciting place, ever – it's also where the heart is; it's your refuge and safe place.

Imagine, if you like, it’s that wonderful time after Christmas and between New Year, when people are away, streets are empty, there's no work, you've stocked up on food for the holidays, the kids are at home...

Start a hobby
I am always working on a project of some sort – I’ve been doing a photography one for the past year, now in the post-production stage so I do it at home. I also draw, paint, design, and edit videos. Oh yeah, I write too, like this blog.

Learn something new
Mandolin or the violin.

Embrace chores
Ironing is fun.

Time for a spring clean
It is spring after all.

Plant a vegetable garden
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, it’s time to ditch your pointless, perfect lawn, and plant some fruit and vegetables. You may have noticed there's none in the supermarkets any more. 

Cooking and baking
Proper cooking and baking take time. No need now to survive on microwave meals and Sainsbury's Meal Deals. Go on, make an effort, they'll taste so much better than anything the supermarkets can offer. Homemade bread is another experience compared to a pappy loaf of Hovis or Warburtons. 

Quality time with the family
You spend eight hours a day pointlessly working in a sterile office with people you, at best, feel absolutely nothing towards; at worst, actively despise. Presumably you love your spouse and children and want to spend more time with them!

N.B. If you don’t have a family or a partner, get a pet or even a plant. 

Board games, cards and jigsaws
Get out those 20th century games and try some actual, real interaction.

If it all gets too real, nap. It's a great way to break up the day. Read my top five here.

Read some proper books
I recommend 19th century Russian literature greats like Gogol, Chekhov and Dostoyevsky.

Watch some proper films
Start with some great directors like Bergman, Bunuel, Hitchcock, Tarkovsky, Godard and Fassbinder; work your way through their oeuvres. Discuss them over dinner.

If you've no time to do any of these because you've got to work at home, ignore the above. You have my sympathies.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Armchair atlases
The top 100 films
The top 100 books
Start of Basic Income for the Finnish 
The dream of basic income for everyone
Don't become a graphic designer
Wasting time
In terms of moving forward 
Just a quick one
Four-day working week
Introverts vs extroverts
'In terms of' overtakes 'literally'
London Bridge Lunches
The Metros
Email étiquette
I'm literally not being funny but let me ask you a question
Aspire to be average
The Offensive Office
Top ten film directors

Flickagrams #16

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Armchair atlases

With the coronavirus preventing much physical travel, and armchair travel seeming an attractive alternative, also being sick of Netflix binging, as well as most of the planet now explored and photographed to death, it’s the perfect time to explore places that either don’t exist any more, have never existed, or are just so obscure you'll never visit them anyway.

Extinguished Countries is a new guidebook series about countries that no longer exist – a timely reminder, if we needed it, that nothing is permanent, though all civilisations feel they are invinsible. The first book of the series focuses on the Republic of Venice, which disappeared in 1797. The state once encompassed parts of Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece and Cyprus. The fascinating series contains everything from monuments, cities, famous figures, recipes, traditions and legends via craftsmen, historians and artists, and includes stories, timelines, infographics and maps.

The Unexpected Atlas series have books on Improbable Places (a 50p Barngain in 2018, keen readers will remember), focusing on the obscure and the bizarre; Atlas of Untamed Places looks at nature’s wildest places; Atlas of Vanishing Places explores places that no longer exist whilst Atlas of the Unexpected journeys to far-off lands, obscure discoveries and unimaginable locations.

Archipelago: An Atlas of Imagined Islands features an array of illustrators visualising their own remote islands. An Atlas of Imaginary Places is a fun children's books with bubble gum-sprewing volcanoes and islands in the shape of desserts.

Fictional places proliferate in film and literature, from Narnia and Middle-earth to the Land of Oz and Discworld. My favourite map in literature is probably the one in Treasure Island, with X marking the spot (for the very first time in a novel). Huw Lewis-Jones’ The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands is "an atlas of the journeys that writers make, encompassing not only the maps that actually appear in their books, but also the many maps that have inspired them and the sketches that they use in writing". Filled with beautiful illustrations of literary maps with essays by fine writers such as David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas) and Robert Macfarlane, it's a reminder that a map can do more than plot a route – it can feed the imagination.

The satirical Scarfolk Council is a brilliant and hilarious website of the fictional Scarfolk, "a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever."

Created entirely by graphic designer Richard Littler, the residents of the creepy, supernatural town are constantly under surveillance and force-fed warped public information posters and films, such as 'If you suspect your child has rabies, don't hesitate – shoot. It could save a life' (so convincing was this one it mistakenly appeared in a UK government magazine article about the history of UK government communications). In the words of the council: for more information please reread.

Though Norbiton is a place – it's near Kingston upon Thames and I've been there – describing the website dedicated to the nondescript area, Anatomy of Norbition, is difficult to do, so I'll instead pinch a quote from the website, provided by Robert Macfarlane, who calls it "A dazzlingly strange thought-experiment in virtual topography, counterfactual space, town-planning and tapirs..." Yeah, probably best just to visit it yourself.

Skidrisk – inspired by the road warning sign Skid Risk and, erm, Scarfolk – is my own imaginary town (which still lives entirely in my imagination), located somewhere in North Cornwall, where everyone loves car parks and cafes, and lives in the 1980s....

Previously on Barnflakes
Here's to you, Robinson

Not the narrowest street in the world

Flanked by two bakeries, a crappy Greggs on one side, a lovely French Patisserie Valerie on the other, Parliament Street in Exeter, Devon, is the narrowest street in Britain. The metal plaque beside it states: 'Believed to be the narrowest street in the world' but there's a narrower one in Germany. Nevertheless, at only 25 inches wide at its narrowest point, your typical lardy Brit wouldn't fit along it, especially after a visit to both bakeries.

Previously on Barnflakes
Notes on Brian Rice
The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, Exeter

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Instagram hasn't heard of climate change

'Cause everybody hates a tourist
Especially one who thinks it's all such a laugh
– Pulp, Common People 

The paradox is that it is much easier to imagine the end of life on earth than a much more modest change in capitalism.
– Slavoj Žižek

As I pointlessly scroll through Instagram once a month I am amazed to see people are still travelling on long haul flights posting pictures of their moronic grinning selves in far flung parts of the globe*. Mainly, it seems, in order to make other people jealous. Which is generally praised with 'likes'. The hedonists don't look like they're too bothered about the state of the planet.

I would have to deduce that Instagram, and its one billion users, are climate change deniers. That's okay, it's apparently a weakness in the human brain; we're unable to conceive of (or do anything about) the global catastrophe as it isn't happening immediately right in front of our eyes. Climate change is slowly but surely inexorably coming but because it's gradual and not immediate our brains can't envisage it. We're both unable to look too far into the future (beyond the next holiday) and innately selfish – it's hard for humans to forego life's pathetic luxuries – cars, shopping, the next holiday – let alone admit or think about how they are destroying the environment and what the massive ramifications will be for merely living a very selfish life.

(I got very bored of Neflix's The Good Place but waded through it. When it was realised no human had got into heaven for 500 years, it made perfect sense – even the apprently good act of buying roses for your grandmother has become fraught with political and environmental issues – the flowers were ordered from a cellphone, which was made in a sweat shop, the flowers were grown with toxic pestisides, the migrant flower pickers were exploited and the flowers travelled thousands of miles, leaving a huge carbon footprint.

As I've occasionally written in this blog – and will do until the electricity goes out – the best thing anyone can do for the planet is absolutely nothing.)

Humans respond to threat or danger in essentially three ways – what is known as the fight-flight-freeze response. Since the dawn of humans this has been true, and it's still evident in animals (pet cats are great at doing all three) and humans today – though the danger is no longer saber-toothed tigers or bears, it's more likely to be some kind of social anxiety. In regards to climate change, we're still mostly in the freeze category – either we deny it or ignore it; it's too big, we can't do anything about it. Parts of the world where it has been immediate – flooding or the fires in Australia, for example, people have made flight. If we want to do anything about it, we will have to fight – i.e. tackle it.

The zoonotic COVID-19, otherwise known as coronavirus, is an example where humans have gone into fight mode (with a fair bit of flight) and taken immediate action, declaring it an emergency as it's a grave danger to human life. Action has been so over the top (as of today the death count of coronavirus is fast approaching... the annual amount of people who drown in their own bath) that I can only say it's the best thing to happen to the environment for a long time.

Flights are being cancelled. Coachloads of Chinese tourists have disappeared. Thousands of journeys, events and conferences (along with meetings, the most pointless and painful thing humans have invented to fill their vacuous, pointless lives to make themselves feel important) have been cancelled (meaning people aren't flying all over the world to attend them).

All precautions taking immediate effect because of coronavirus – quarantines, lockdowns, grounding flights, closing factories, roadblocks, cancelling events and conferences, advice not to travel or socialise – all these things (and a lot more besides) should be happening anyway to prevent climate change. 

So we've sort of half-heartedly declared Climate Emergencies here and there. Cornwall Council did, then immediately announced a Space Station and Heliport, apparently without irony. In fact, every day in Cornwall I see large tracts of fields and woodlands chopped down to make way for car parks, retail parks, houses and business centres (yes, I had a good moan at Cornwall Council recently so I won't go on). 

Reading news about the environment over the past month has been depressing reading indeed. 'Coronavirus wrecks havoc on global tourism' is the most positive headline I have read in a long time (you know what it is, Venice was up in arms last year about the hoards of tourists they get, threatening to ban them; now they're crying to their mamas about the lack of them). Otherwise, it's been something like this: 'Murders of monarch butterfly activists stun Mexico'; 'Thousands of sheep drown'; 'UK does not have clear vision for last ditch climate talks'; 'Loss of EU protections could imperil UK hedgerows and hedgehogs'; 'Sea levels rising in the U.S.'; 'Boris Johnson “doesn’t get cilmate change”'; 'A small government agency is supporting fossil fuel projects abroad with estimated carbon emissions of a country the size of Portugal'; 'Trees on commercial UK plantations not helping climate crisis'; '1,000 ancient woodlands at risk of destruction by projects like HS2'. You get the idea.

The world has become like The Matrix. Everything is shit, in particular the environment (yeah, and that virus I guess, and Brexit), yet we’re all pretending we're oblivious, still driving around in our stupid cars, Watching shit on Netflix, doing dumb pointless jobs so we can afford to go on dumb, pointless holidays and take moronic selfies for Instagram. Climate anxiety is an actual condition that Instagram users are immune from.

Travel sure has gone luxury since my day, when the only two essentials were a passport and a toothbrush. According to selfish website, which ask questions like, Is “whelming” the new “negging”?, their list of 37 "travel essentials" includes slippers, 'microplane' (apparently a mini cheese grater), extension cords, mini steamer, facial sprays and eye drops. What. A. Bunch. Of. Complete. Wimps. Their shop sells books of cliched crap such as Paulo Coelho (when I went around SE Asia everyone was reading Alex Garland's The Beach, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Celestine Prophecy – probably no better than Coelho) – why do travellers still pretend they're doing it for 'meaning' and 'enlightenment' when they're obviously just hedonists showing off?

Tiny Atlas Quarterly is a photography-led lifestyle travel brand and social community that brings personal travel to life: in their magazine, through events and products and on immersive adventures. Meaningless bollocks. There are loads of sites like this now.

I half-read an interview with the apparently 'Phenomenal Woman' Emily Nathan (founder of Tiny Atlas) where she states, 'Everyone who cares about travel should care about climate change', even though air travel and tourism are a major cause of climate change (I actually commented as much on the post), and Instragram travel I would say is ruining the true spirit of travel. The travel of Tiny Atlas is the travel of cliched travel brochures – pretty young smiling white people being hedonistic in foreign countries.

Nathan was interviewed on, a site which "promotes female travellers with less than 10,000 followers" (I honestly think this should be a charity and that society is overlooking such a deprived sector of the population. Oh, hold on – what about men like myself with less than 100 followers?).

What gets me is these Instagram travel women always look like they're travelling with a professional photographer, a makeup artist and a wardrobe assistant. I mean, where's the dirt and the sweat? It's not proper travel. It's an illusion. She, looking stunning with a flowing Persil white dress, mock-contemplating the sunset from Machu Picchu, tranquil and at one with the world, as the photographer takes the same Instagram shot a million other people have.

(I had an argument with the ex-head of environment for Cornwall Council, who blamed her parents generation for climate change – you know, those ones who never knew it existed until a few years ago, like the rest of us. I blamed millennials, perhaps the most innately selfish generation ever, growing up as they have with mobile phones and the internet and crushed avocado on toast and brands and travelling – and thinking it's all okay. I mean, they don't question anything, right? Just crazy for those likes, and working for some shithole like Google. I don't just have a grudge against millennials – hedonists, capitalists, the rich and the poor are all equally useless when it comes to the environment.)

Talking of capitalism: neoliberalism justifies the world by Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest – well, his theory is flawed. Nature actually works best collaborating, when species help each other for the greater good. It's called symbiosis and there are millions of examples of it in nature; for a start, human bodies have thousands of species of symbiotic microbes inside them.

Unfortunately, due to human interference, the balance of nature is being destroyed. Sometimes humans are capable of symbiosis to each other and to nature – when they're not being moronic or selfish (stockpiling toilet paper and pasta is both) – and I'm not quite sure they yet realise that we rely on nature for our very survival (ants and bees are more important than humans). Anyway, the coronavirus is showing us that we can change our patterns quickly and easily if we want to survive.

Previously on Barnflakes
Letters of complaint
The cult of personality vs saving the planet
Boycotting buffoons
The world's top ten environmental problems (and how to solve them)
Barnflakes on Instagram 
Aspire to be average
In 100 years everyone in the world will be dead
Busy bein' busy
Blight of the plastic bag
Water as it Oughta
Gullible travels (*yes, I did a lot of travel in my younger days, from hitchhiking in the Sahara desert to getting caught up in a revolution in Jarkarta, at a time when we were all pretty unaware of climate change)

Flickagrams #15

Lookalikes #43: Undercurrent by Bill Evans and Beneath This Burning Shoreline by Cherry Ghost

Does what it says on the tin

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The art of the shop front

High Street (pictured, top) is a beautiful children's book from 1938 illustrated with lithographs by Eric Ravillious with text by architectural historian J. M. Richards. Even back then, Richards bemoans the homogeneity of the high street with its bland chain stores taking over, and goods being factory-produced.

Ravillious' shops were actual London shops (and amazingly, two are actually still around) – not all found on the same street but dotted around the capital. Some were already obsolete when the book was published: Coach Builder, Harness Maker, Naturalist and Submarine Engineer are unfortunately no longer found on the extremely boring British high street (shops in foreign cities seem to have retained some individuality). Ravillious made his shops look as enticing and exotic as possible with lovely architectural features, dramatic lighting, quirky details and rich patterns and textures.

The 1950s were a heyday for British illustration, with the talents of teachers and students from the Royal College of Art largely leading the way. High Street sort of set the template for how shop illustrations should look. Barbara Jones (Croydon opticians, middle) and John Griffiths (deli, bottom) both drew shop fronts in the 1950s and they both studied at the RCA; Jones was taught by Ravillious. The influence is obvious but both have their own wonderful style. Jones' opticians picture was included in her 1951 book, The Unsophisticated Arts, which chronicled the vernacular of British life, from fairgrounds and tattoo parlours to seaside piers and high street shops. In 1959, issue three of the art magazine Motif carried Griffith's illustrations of quirky shopfronts.

And the tradition continues: last year illustrator Eleanor Crow (who also, incidentally, illustrated Pebbles on the Beach, which I read last year) released her book Shopfronts of London, which beautifully records London's cafes and food shops. Her criteria for a good shopfront wouldn't be that different from Ravillious' some eighty years ago: “great typography and signage, striking colours, nice tiles, lots of good architectural detail.” Unfortunately yet typically, many of the businesses have closed down in the decade Crow has worked on the project.

(I've written about the death of the high street previously, so won't dwell on it here. Interestingly, though, there's been a revival of the art of the hand-painted shop sign. Unsurprisingly, it seems to be mainly in London's East End, where hipster types love all things authentic, traditional and handmade. Nevertheless, I take it as a good sign. Both The Guardian and Eye magazine had features on handpainted signs in 2015.)

Further reading / looking
• Blog Quad Royal has posts about both John Griffiths and several about Barbara Jones.
The Unsophisticated Genius of Barbara Jones is at James Russell's blog.
Motif magazine: The World Made Visible by Rick Poymor in Design Observer.
• The always excellent Spitalfields Life has photos of boarded-up East End shop fronts from 1988 here and here, and also featured Eleanor Crow's pictures of cafes back in 2013.

Previously on Barnflakes
Verve magazine, 1937-1960
Illustrated children's books (for parents)
Not for all the tea in China
Death of the High Street
Proud to Serve

Monday, March 09, 2020

Along Pill Creek, Feock, Cornwall

Artist Alasdair Lindsay’s acrylic on board painting of Creek Vean. Paintings and prints available from his website.

Since the modernist house Creek Vean was built in the mid-1960s, many other similar-looking buildings in the area have cropped up, leading the Cornish Buildings Group to recently comment "Pill Creek has become home to a series of iconic or semi-iconic modernist houses".

Creek Vean was designed by Team 4, which consisted of architects Richard Rogers and his wife Su, and Norman Foster and his wife Wendy. Built between 1964-1966, it was designed for Su's parents. Creek Vean incorporates ideas Rogers and Foster, two young architects at the time, had learnt at Yale School of Architecture, where they had met. The building shows the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright with its flow of movement and the bold structure nestling nicely into the hillside. Its large windows have fine views of the Fal estuary.

It's hard to know exactly what each member of Team 4 actually did, but it's Su Rogers who connects Creek Vean to another nearby house: in 1973-4 John Millar and Su designed Pillwood House, which was awarded Grade II listed status in 2017. Funnily enough, Pilwood House actually looks more like a Richard Rogers building and Creek Vean more like a John Millar – a joke I had, as you do, with an elderly architect outside Creek Vean (I knew he was an architect because he wore Le Corbusier glasses).

The most recent addition to the area is Sylvania House, designed by Truro-based Kast Architects, and awarded a commendation by the Cornish Buildings Group in their 2019 Awards. A stunning five-bedroom cantilevered family home, it features the upper part of the house at a dramatic 90 degrees to the lower half. The building is sympathetic to its woodland surroundings and, again, has a hint of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Many of the buildings on the hillside along Phil Creek look down upon the estuary; some of the houses, including Creek Vean, lead directing down to the water. The whole area around Feock is beautiful, peaceful and relaxing. There are no shops or traffic. It feels very exclusive. Indeed, nearby Restronguest Point is the richest part of Cornwall (and third richest in the south west), with every house costing way over £1m – in estate agent speak, 'one of the most desirable waterside addresses in Britain'.

The Friends of Restronguest Point website gives useful advice on how to construct a Cornish hedge – with preference given to the local style of hedge, of course. It goes on to list all the listed buildings in the area of Feock, finding 78 of them, an extraordinary amount, it seemed to me, for a tiny village.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Frank Baker and The Birds

Sixteen years before Daphne du Maurier wrote her short story The Birds (first published in the short collection The Apple Tree in 1952), which Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) was loosely based on, British author Frank Baker wrote a novel also called The Birds, in 1936.

Frank Baker had an interesting, if mostly forgotten, career; first, inauspiciously, in a London insurance company. He then moved to St Just in Cornwall, becoming a church organist. He also began to write, publishing his first novel, The Twisted Tree, in 1935. The Birds was published the following year. Set in pre-war London, the apocalyptic tale depicts birds attacking people with the intention of the destruction of mankind. Despite the novel receiving decent notices, with the Birmingham Mail going as far as to call it "The most original piece of imaginative fiction since Wells wrote The War of the Worlds", the book only sold several hundred copies.

Nevertheless, Baker continued writing, and Miss Hargreaves, written in 1940, became his most famous book. It later became a stage play, TV show and radio programme. During World War II Baker was a professional actor, touring with the likes of Paul Scofield. Then he was the pianist for Players' Theatre, a West End music hall. Still writing, he produced novels, short stories, articles and plays. His 1954 novel Lease of Life was adapted into a film by Ealing Studios the following year.

When Hitchcock's film The Birds came out in 1963, Baker was tempted to sue Universal Studios for the similarities between the film and his novel, believing his story to be the inspiration for the film, but demurred. Daphne du Maurier denied ever having heard of Baker's The Birds, though they both lived in Cornwall (a small county where everyone seems to know everyone else), and, by coincidence, Baker's The Birds was published by Peter Davies, who was du Maurier's cousin. Apparently excited about publishing Baker's book, it is likely he might have mentioned it to du Maurier at some point.

Hitchcock scholar Ken Moss believes the Baker novel has more in common with the Hitchcock film than the du Maurier short story, citing certain scenes including an attack in a phone box as well as the triangle of the main characters. Author Christopher Fowler goes as far as to say Hitchcock meant to buy Baker's version but bought du Maurier's instead, accidentally.

Anyway, it seems Baker himself wasn't immune to a bit of plagiarising. In his autobiography, I Follow But Myself, published in 1969, he admits that his birds book bears some resemblance to Arthur Machen’s The Terror, published in 1917. Baker's The Birds was reprinted in a paperback version in 1964 (above) featuring a cover with characters not unlike those in the Hitchcock movie. It was reprinted again in 2013.

Frank Baker and Daphne du Maurier ended up writing to each other. In one letter, du Maurier tells Baker, "I wish for your sake Hitchcock had bought your novel rather than my short story from which to adapt the film". They both lived and died in Cornwall, du Maurier a legend and Baker a complete unknown.