Thursday, May 17, 2018

London through its charity shops #36: some odds and ends

Victoria, SW1P
The train station and surrounding area have been under construction for years and it still feels like a building site. The shiny new buildings are all ghastly, with one – the Nova Victoria – being dubbed ugliest of the year last year and winning the Carbuncle Cup.

The only redeeming features in the area are the stunning Westminster Cathedral, with its Stations of the Cross by Eric Gill, and Strutton Ground, the only nice road in the vicinity with its cobbled stones and weekday food market. There's a jolly nice Oxfam bookshop there, also selling music and DVDs.

Bermondsey Street, SE1
My favourite street around London Bridge now has a charity shop. Cause for celebration? Nope, because it's a Marys Living and Giving Shop for Save the Children with no books or records and men's shirts costing £25. 

Tulse Hill, SW2 to West Norwood, SE27
It's taken me years to know the difference between Tulse and Herne Hill (confusingly, for my mind anyway, it's because they're so close to each other). Tulse Hill is horrible, where people get shot and dragged under cars; Herne Hill is pretty nice.

Across the road from Tulse Hill train station is a ramshackle Geranium Shops For The Blind charity shop. These are getting to be such a rare breed; most charity shops been tarted up into boutiques with prices to match. This one's cheap and a bit dirty but can get in good stuff.

Continuing south along Norwood Road, we enter West Norwood before we reach another charity shop, and it's another Geranium. This is similarly ramshackle but bigger. Next is a relatively sterile RSPCA, with not much of anything of interest, ever. Past the train station on Knight's Hill are two Emmaus Lambeth, one selling white goods and electricals, the other, clothes.

Herne Hill, SE24
Herne Hill is nicely situated by Brockwell Park and has a funky market on Sundays. Not greatly served by charity shops, it has two pleasant Oxfam shops opposite each other on the delightfully named Half Moon Lane, a general shop and a bookshop.

Brixton, SW2 & SW9
Brixton has also never been good for charity shops. There's been a TRAID for years, which I've never been in, and there's now a huge Barnardo's on the corner of Brixton and Stockwell Roads, almost opposite the Brixton Academy. Lots of clothes, records, bric-a-brac and books; they had a good selection of art books when I last went in – I picked up one on Marcel Dzama for a couple of quid.

Previously on Barnflakes:
London through its charity shops

Monday, May 14, 2018

London libraries #7: Swiss Cottage

A brutalist exterior houses a delicate, flowing and symmetrical modernist interior. What's not to like? Originally designed in 1964 by Sir Basil Spence (Coventry Cathedral, New Zealand's Beehive), it was sensitively remodelled in 2003 by John McAslan & Partners. The library has a light, calm, peaceful atmosphere. It also contains a gallery, cafe and other cultural and leisure activities. As the twin staircases are symmetrical, expect publications like Time Out and The Guardian to have rife comparisons to the films of Wes Anderson.

Previously on Barnflakes:
London libraries
London Through Its Charity Shops #35: Swiss Cottage
Random Animated Animal Film Reviews

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The weekend in barngains

Pictured:
The Cramps, Smell of Female LP (£2, Putney charity shop)
Yes I have it on CD, but great band, best album title ever, cool cover.

Fairport Convention, Liege & Lief LP  
(£2, Putney charity shop)
Didn't have this one at all. I only have Unhalfbricking by Fairport, which I've mentioned previously.

Rodreiguez, Cold Fact CD (£1, Putney charity shop)
Another recent coincidence this – I was chatting to a friend about Searching for Sugar Man over dinner the other evening, then this turns up. I've mentioned Light in the Attic, who have re-released the 1970 album, before. There's another 'alluring narrative' that goes with Rodreiguez: he was (re)discovered a decade ago working as a labourer in Detroit, not knowing his debut album had become a cult classic, and he had become a national hero and beacon of hope in South Africa.

Paul Nash in Pictures: Landscape and Dream 
(£3.50, Putney charity shop) 
Beautiful book.

Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon  
(£3, Hammersmith charity shop)
Even though this will turn out to be another Gravity's Rainbow, I've been desperate for this ever since going to Kosovo. H said it would turn up eventually, and it did. There was no way I was ever going to pay £21 for a paperback.

Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman 
(£2, Crystal Palace charity shop)
The best comic strip ever.

Not pictured:
Two-for-one tickets for Kew Gardens
To see the newly restored Temperate House, even if it did rain.

Free screen print from Mai 68: Posters from the Revolution exhibition, Lazinc gallery, London
To the same friend I was chatting to about Rodreiguez, I muttered something about The Clash line "turning rebellion into money" with regards to the exhibition, but fascinating nonetheless.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Barngains
London Through its Charity Shops

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:
BARNGAINS is a select list of rated barngains from 2007 to the present day.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Notes on The Human Library

Overheard:
"I've just been to see the satanist"
"Oh the neo-Nazi just popped up, I want to grab him before
anyone else does"

Originating in Denmark, natch, The Human Library is an organisation dedicated to challenging prejudices through conversation. The concept is simple: people ('books'), mainly those who society as a whole has prejudices against, are on loan to 'readers' for twenty minutes, who get to ask questions and listen to the book's experiences. On a board is a series of labels – satanist, bi-polar, Muslim, homeless, autism, HIV, alcoholic, etc – and a reader picks whichever human book interests them, and they both go and sit on a sofa to talk about the subject.

I was a tad apprehensive beforehand, but the whole experience was relaxing and enlightening. As I look after an autistic young man, I went for the autistic book, and he was informative and chatty. H went for a reformed fascist and a neo-Nazi. The satanist was constantly in demand and booked out.

I love the idea. Whether the people who it's perhaps aimed at – those with prejudices – would be open-minded enough to attend such an event is questionable, but it's enlightening for both sides: the books get to express their experiences, and the readers get to hopefully understand a marginalised section of society.

We ran with the concept – why stop at prejudiced members of society? There could be a series of books, where experts expound on their chosen field. I know what you're thinking – isn't this what the internet is all about? Yes, true, but actually talking to someone face to face about a subject is far more enlightening and interactive than watching a YouTube video about it.

Interestingly, that week H had been on a course about restorative justice, a process where the victims of crime embark on a series of dialogue with their perpetrator. Having the victim and perpetrator talking face to face can give the victim closure and hopefully enlightens and changes the perpetrator, making them understand the damage they have done. It's a known fact that prison tends not to reform criminals; restorative justice can repair harm, build communities and promote understanding.

humanlibrary.org
restorative justice council

That evening we listened to:
Everyday I Write the Book by Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Previously on Barnflakes:
The Museum of Everyone 
A Life of Art

Friday, May 04, 2018

Cinema in Crystal Palace finally to reopen

After eight years of campaigning by local residents, there is finally to be a cinema in Crystal Palace, the first time for over fifty years. The Rialto on Church Road first opened in the 1920s, closing in the 1960s to become a bingo hall. More recently it's been a Christian centre. The Everyman chain of cinemas put in a bid earlier in the year, which was accepted. It will open as a four-screen cinema towards the end of the year.

Time Out has some pictures of what it's going to look like.

My image above contains all the iconic Crystal Palace landmarks: Transmitter tower, Sphinxes, dinosaur, subway and statue from the Great Exhibition.

Now all Crystal Palace needs is some chain stores. I've had with the cafes and vintage shops; there's nowhere for me to buy me a pair of pants or socks. Give me an M&S!

Nearby, the West Norwood Picturehouse is also due to open this year.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The lost art of the double bill
In the Crystal Palace subway
The dinosaurs of Crystal Palace
Random film review: The Pleasure Garden 
London through its charity shops: Crystal Palace, SE19
Double bill me

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:
Crystal Palace Flickr album

Monday, April 30, 2018

Padstow's 'Obby 'Oss

The May Day festival in Padstow (also known unaffectionately as Padstein due to Rick Stein's chain of restaurants there) is a centuries-old tradition involving two processions through the fishing port town, each led by a hobby horse or 'Obby 'Oss. It was a wonderful experience when I went a couple of years ago but the sight of the 'Obby 'Oss alarmed me. Reminiscent of a cross between an evil Father Christmas, African tribal masks, Punch & Judy and something from The Wicker Man, the 'Obby 'Oss is an unpredictable beast, charging through crowds of people in the hope of capturing a fair maiden (so I was probably fairly safe then).

As tradition goes, from midnight today (the day before May Day), locals will decorate the town with flags, flowers and the maypole. Then late morning on May Day itself the processions begin, consisting of traditional dancing and singing. Locals are dressed in white with red scarves, some playing musical instruments. The 'Obby 'Osses, one red and one blue, are guided through town by the Teazers, who lead the dance with a club in their hands. Thousands of tourists also litter the narrow, windy streets.

See photos of Cornwall in my Flickr album, including some from the 'Obby 'Oss festival in 2016.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Beauty and the Brutalist exhibition
The Morris Dance Murders movie
Barnflakes goes Cornwall
Celebrating Cornwall's mining heritage
Notes on Cornish fiction

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The seven fabled noses of Soho

Not to be sniffed at: three of the seven Soho noses
I followed my nose through the streets, picking my way through the hoards of tourists in the rain, searching for the seven noses of Soho. They were here somewhere, and if I found all seven (which I didn't; I gave up after three) I was promised great wealth. I put my nose to the grindstone but they were hard to find, roughly at shoulder height yet hidden in plain view, and the size of a nose. The rain got heavier, my boon companions found a pub, and I was happy enough with my three (I nose when to give up).

The story goes that in 1997, in protest against the proliferation of CCTV cameras in the UK and inspired by the Situationist movement, artist Rick Buckley anonymously stuck 35 plaster casts of his nose to various buildings in London. Even though he painted them the same colour as the walls he stuck them on, so they would be fairly inconspicuous, most of the protrusions were found and removed. Fourteen years passed until Buckley admitted he was the guerrilla artist responsible for them, by which time the remaining Soho noses had reached mythical proportions, inspiring all kinds of fantastic tales (which you can read about here if you want), including the one about fabulous wealth coming to those who find all seven, a difficult task seeing as at least one is located outside of Soho.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The Chewing Gum Artist Vs The Admen

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Top ten films featuring photographers

1. Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1956)
2. Blow Up (Antonioni, 1966)
3. Salvador (Stone, 1986)
4. High Art (Cholodenko, 1998)
5. Uzak, pictured above (Ceylan, 2002)
6. Momento (Nolan, 2000)
7. Proof (Moorhouse, 1991)
8. One Hour Photo (Romanek, 2002)
9. City of God (Meirelles, 2002)
10. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Stiller, 2013)

See also:
The Bridges of Madison County (Eastwood, 1995)
Kodachrome (Raso, 2017) 

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top ten photographers

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I know I'm back in Brixton when...

I'm standing outside the pub for five minutes having a smoke and get offered a carrier bag full of steaks for £10; home-produced music CDs with hand written labels; three people trying to bum cigarettes off me; an elderly, well-spoken old lady asking for 40p to get back to Slough ("You'd have to pay me not to go", quipped my Catalan – "not Spanish!" – companion); and an elderly black woman asking me if I'm having a good evening.

I was actually rather offended not to be offered any drugs. When I was younger, I was constantly being offered them down Cold Harbour Lane. Either Brixton has become too gentrified and the drug dealers have moved away, or I'm just looking too old to score drugs. Maybe a bit of both.

Previously on Barnflakes:

Monday, April 23, 2018

Random Netflix TV Reviews

Lost in Space
Many years ago my brother and I used to watch the original black and white TV series from the 1960s and find the professor, Dr. Zachary Smith, very amusing. Then there was the dull, forgettable 1998 film with William Hurt, Matt LeBlanc and Gary Oldman. Now comes – and I feel like I've been bombarded with ads about it online, on the radio, in print and on billboards – the Netflix 2018 reboot. And you know what? It's so bad it's unwatchable. We couldn't get through episode two.
– 1/5
  
Stranger Things
What's so risible about Charlie Kessler suing the Doobie Brothers, I mean the Dust Brothers, no – I mean the Duffer Brothers for plagiarising his idea for Stranger Things is that's there's not more people doing the same thing. Such as John Carpenter, Steven King and Steven Spielberg (and that's just for the credit sequence!). Oh, I get it – it's a homage, not a rip off. Nevertheless, if you're of a certain age, i.e. you were a child of the 1970s/80s, it's hard not to feel like you've seen Stranger Things many times before, from the typeface of the titles, to the music, the characters and the plot. I'm thinking, like, The Goonies, Stand by Me, E.T., Carrie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones, The Evil Dead, Poltergeist and even Pretty in Pink, to name just a few (here's an entire A-Z of films referenced in the series). It's not even just films from that era: I thought the sequences where Eleven ('El') goes into the black 'void' were uncannily similar to scenes from Jonathan Glazer's extraordinary Under the Skin (2013).

Now, I don't mind film or TV directors being influenced by previous films or filmmakers: from the French New Wave directors affection for Hitchcock and Hawks, to the ultimate film geek Quentin Tarentino being influenced by, erm, virtually all cinema, there's a fine tradition of directors wearing their influences on their sleeves; doffing their caps, if you will. But when every frame of the series is a mash-up of Spielberg, Carpenter, De Palma, John Hughes et al, and drenched in clichéd, retro nostalgia for the 1980s, it's quite hard to take anything else from it.

It's like the difference between recent films Super 8 (2011) and It Follows (2014). Like with Stranger Things, Super 8 is set in the same period (1979 to be exact), is a mash up between films such as The Goonies, Stand By Me and E.T., but adds absolutely nothing to them or the genre. On the other hand, It Follows, whilst quite obviously influenced by John Carpenter, only takes his films as a starting point, and ends up with something stunningly original, and terrifying. Another 1980s-set film, Donnie Darko (2011), uses the trope of the American high school and music of the time, but to original effect, exploring diverse themes such as time travel and mental illness.

If you're a child, however, watching Stranger Things for the first time and thinking it's great, scary and original, that's fine. But if the first time you hear The Clash, Joy Division or New Order is on the soundtrack, I don't know, there's something wrong about that (Guardians of the Galaxy is another one retreading old retro ground with a mixtape of 1970s songs – featured previously in other films such as Reservoir Dogs and Boogie Nights – and storylines out of Star Wars). It's like – and this is just a shot-in-the-dark theory – they're purposely trying to hook in both children and adults alike. Nothing wrong with that of course, but it's the clichéd, unoriginal, cynical way they go about it that gets my goat.
– 3/5

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Recent Barngains

Bookbinding: The Complete Guide to Folding, Sewing & Binding by Franziska Morlok and Miriam Waszelewski
Crystal Palace charity shop, £3, sealed (RRP: £30)
'Bookbinding is a unique and essential reference guide for designers, explaining industrial bookbinding techniques with a focus on the design and conception of print products', so says the Amazon blurb. It also says the book isn't actually released for another week or so.

The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog, typeface memory game
Sydenham charity shop, £2 (RRP: £13.95)
Yes, I know how to have fun.

Read This if You Want to Take Great Photographs 
by Henry Carroll
Clapham Junction charity shop, 50p (RRP: £8)
Handy, simply-explained guide for taking photos using an DSLR, something I've never quite mastered.

The BARNGAINS page of this blog (just below the masthead at the top of the page) has had a recent, much-needed redesign and update, and now contains a list of select barngains from 2007 to the present day.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Barngains
London Through Its Charity Shops

Monday, April 16, 2018

We're all pretentious now

There was a time, many years ago, when we'd laugh and scoff at pretentious descriptions of wine that contained, say, 'aromas of rich dark currants, nectarine skins, gushing blackberry, but lots of fragrant tobacco, rich soil, white flowers, smashed minerals and metal' (actual review). Now that such descriptions are commonplace, meaningless and we ignore them completely, other products have got on the bandwagon. Nothing can be just what it is any more – it has to stand for something else, something more, something usually pretentious.

Coffee is the new wine. My pack of Taylors of Harrogate ground coffee, Rare Blossom Ethiopia, is a 'dazzling riot of honeysuckle, mango, blossom, whisky and spice' (what, no 'echoes of a Bach fugue in the background'?). It's been some years since I've been able to go into a coffee shop and ask for something as simple as a white coffee (it doesn't seem to exist any more); it would be easier asking for an Austrian goat milk double-half-caf-half-decaf-soy milk cappuccino – extra hot – with a dash of Madagascar cinnamon and half a tablespoon of caramel-latte-frappa-mocha.

A list of 'guest beans' on a coffee shop menu (handwritten chalk on blackboard, obvs) includes those from Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Guatemala, Colombia and 'Coeur D'Afrique' (a place or a state of mind? The name evokes Conrad's anti-imperialist Hearts of Darkness, set in the Congo; despite being a slightly dangerous place to hunt for speciality beans right now, the Democratic Republic of Congo is the 'future of coffee', according to the NY Times. The aforementioned Coeur D'Afrique bean contains huckleberry, violet and sugar cane, but might as well also give off a whiff of, say, earth freshly dug up by Fairtrade slaves). The list of exotic (yet poor, obvs) countries conjures up colonial images of seventeenth century explorers returning from the New World with plundered treasures such as gold, tobacco, spices, chocolate and, indeed, coffee.

If coffee is the new wine, chocolate is the new coffee. In the 1980s, Ferrero Rossier and After Eights were the ultimate pretentious chocolate but that's nothing compared to the new breed of brands where 'lemon, poppy seed and baobab' is an actual flavour. Chocolate from Ecuador is apparently 'flowery and fruity'; from Madagascar it's 'intense red fruit with cherry notes', whilst Southeast Asia has 'smoky and earthy flavors'.

(When it comes to hot beverages and chocolate, sorry, but I'm so happy with a Sainsbury's Red Label cup of tea and regular Kit Kat I can't even put it into words.)

If products such as wine and perfume were the precursors of this pretentious parade, nowadays many other once-average and taken-for-granted items such as coffee, chocolate, craft beer, vinyl records and bikes are revitalised as specialised and authentic, artisan products with the intention of making the buying public feel like connoisseurs. Niche has become mainstream. I mainly blame advertising and hipsters.

What's the next product to get the pretentious treatment? Speciality industrial-strength bleach sourced from uranium mines in Namibia? With shades of deadly nightshade, aromas of Agent Orange and the soundtrack to Apocalypse Now in the distance...

Previously on Barnflakes:
The agony of choice
Now serving flat white
Not for all the tea in China
Proud to serve

Sunday, April 15, 2018

In St Pancras Old Churchyard

Supposedly one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in Europe, dating back to the fourth century, St Pancras Old Church is located five minutes away from St Pancras train station in Somers Town on Pancras Road. The churchyard is a curious place, part park and dotted with ancient trees and interesting tombs with fascinating stories.

The most striking aspect of the churchyard is the famous Hardy tree (pictured, top) – named after the Wessex writer Thomas Hardy – where hundreds of gravestones are piled around an ash tree in a circular pattern with the tree roots intertwined around them. As a young man, Hardy trained as an architect in London, and one of his unenviable tasks was to dig up and relocate body remains in the churchyard to Finchley to make way for the expansion of St Pancras train station. With the remaining gravestones, the young Hardy made a rather artful arrangement of them around a tree in the churchyard.

Also in the churchyard is architect Sir John Soane's mausoleum (pictured, bottom) for himself and his wife, Eliza, who died, according to Soane, after the shock of discovering their son's negative reviews of his father's work. Soane never forgave his son, and never got over the death of his wife. If the design of the tomb looks familiar, that's because it was supposedly the inspiration for architect Giles Gilbert Scott's iconic red phone box.

Though her body has been moved (to Bournemouth), the tomb of Mary Wollstonecraft, feminist and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, remains. When her daughter, Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, was planning an elopement with poet Percy Shelley, they used to meet at night to discuss their plans at her mother's grave.

Charles Dickens used to wander around the churchyard, and it's mentioned in A Tale of Two Cities. It also features on William Blake's mythical map of London. Somewhat later, in 1968, The Beatles posed for publicity photos in the porch of the church whilst promoting their White Album.

Previously on Barnflakes:
William Blake's vision of angels in Peckham
Notes on Gilbert George Scott