Thursday, April 28, 2011

Interlude (I'm not here)

Normal service will be resumed soon, hopefully, possibly, maybe.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Plucked from the ether

'With most of the songs I've ever written, quite honestly, I've felt there's an enormous gap here, waiting to be filled; this song should have been written hundreds of years ago. How did nobody pick up on that little space? Half the time you're looking for gaps that other people haven't done.'
– Keith Richards in Life, referring specifically to Exile on Main Street*

All great art – whether literature, music or painting (probably not film – it's too much of a collaborative process) – has a timeless, ethereal quality to it, as if it was always meant to be, and has indeed always existed, it just took the right person to pluck it from the ether. Though Richards isn't exactly the genius per se, his insights into the songwriting process are fascinating – he had no idea he could write songs until he was locked in a kitchen with Mick Jagger and told he couldn't come out until he'd written one. 'Great songs write themselves', he also comments in Life, his autobiography, and this seems to ring true with other great songwriters such as McCartney/Lennon and Bob Dylan, who said, early in his career: 'The songs are there. They exist all by themselves, just waiting for someone to write them down. I just put them down on paper. If I didn't do it, somebody else would'. The same also seems to ring true with other great artists, from the paintings of Van Gogh and da Vinci to the works of Shakespeare and Dickens to characters such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Sherlock Holmes.

In Iain Sinclair's introduction to a recent edition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes story, he touches upon a similar idea:

'Holmes and Watson were instant immortals, springing, full-grown and two-thirds formed, from the author's head. They were inevitable, a force of nature. It was impossible to believe that they had not always been there: the same age, the same clothes, the same room. […] Conan Doyle was taking down a form of dictation, accessing voices from a parallel universe (where they had always been present).'

A parallel universe! It's a fascinating idea that great art isn't actually created but already exists, somewhere, and the artist is just the vessel or the channel in which to capture it and put it down on paper. I used to discuss a similar theory with a friend, that all our ideas and thoughts are just floating around, ready for the right receptacle to pluck them.

*I wish I could go back to hearing Exile on Main Street for the very first time. I remember what I thought of the album on first listening to it, maybe twenty years ago or so: that it was jumbled and chaotic and made no sense. But I kept with it. And when I finally 'got it', after five or six listens, perhaps, it was like a Eureka moment: I was, like, God, this is amazing. I've played it to death over the years and can't listen to it any more. I only had a cassette copy of it until a couple of years ago, which I'd copied off a friend's crackly vinyl. I have the CD now, which I hardly play.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Don't blame us

Even if we do as much as we can to save the planet, be it recycling, turning off lights and taps, not having TVs or computers on standby, cycling rather than driving, the combined effect of all these measures is a mere drop in the ocean compared to what big businesses and governments could be doing to save the planet. Even if every individual on the planet lives as green as they can, it would still only combat global warming and climate change by less than a quarter – the rest is down to governments, big business and multinationals who, quite frankly, don't give a shit.

But the government and various agencies tell us not to waste food – okay, but stop doing two for ones and stop designing bags of salad to go off as soon as they're opened. They tell us to recycle more – okay, but stop supermarkets and other shops from producing so much packaging. They tell us not to leave TVs on standby – okay, stop making TVs with standby on them. They tell us not to wash laundry above 30 degrees – okay, stop making washing machines that wash above 30 degrees… you get the idea.

At the end of the day the government needs to be aware that people are stupid and selfish and the only way to encourage…. is to enforce. And to enforce businesses and multinationals to make changes too.

In this so called environmentally aware age (or was that the 1990s?), TVs are bigger and use more energy, digital TV and radio uses far more energy than analogue, offices stay lit up at night, adverts on the underground are now digital, supermarkets use more packaging than ever, carrier bags still haven't been banned… the list is endless.

Carbon offsetting is a joke for guilty-feeling middle classes, businesses and government. The concept behind offsetting is nothing new – people have always deluded themselves into thinking that doing one bad thing can be atoned for by doing one good thing. We go to the gym for a few hours then think that earns us the right to eat junk food for the next week and to take the bus or tube rather than walk or cycle. Me, I offset my smoking by eating organic food. It just doesn't work that way.

Likewise, planting a tree doesn't really offset you driving your car every day for thirty years and flying to Spain twice a year. It just offsets your guilt. Not to mention the fact that when trees die they release all their carbon back into the atmosphere.

As I think I've mentioned before (probably more than once) the key to saving the planet is to do nothing. Literally. That is, stop working, stop travelling, stop consuming, stop watching TV… etc. But more realistically, to find a proper, safe and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Modern Dilemmas

#1: Going out vs staying in
A friend is only comfortable staying in on her own on a Friday or Saturday night as long as she's been invited out somewhere (but declined). As long as she has an invite out and thereby feels wanted, needed, she doesn't feel bad or depressed staying in. I know what she means. Best of all, though, is being invited out to two places, and you can tell both parties you have another engagement, then go to neither, and stay in watching crap TV instead. Result!

#2: Mobile phones
Say you're having a really interesting conversation with someone, perhaps you're just about to work out the meaning of life, then their phone starts to ring. Nine times out of ten, they will interrupt the conversation to answer it. Nothing wrong with that, perhaps, but I think it's kinda rude and annoying. But, you know, that ringing phone promises unknown possibilities. And there's always something better going on somewhere else.

#3: Ironing
Those with a hectic lifestyle are amazed that I do all my ironing in one go, once a week, or once a fortnight. These hectic-lifestyle people do theirs only when they need the specific clothes, which is usually on a daily basis. So, the dilemma is, daily or weekly ironing? For me, there's no competition. Having to get the iron out on a daily basis would be a ludicrous, depressing waste of time (especially for just a few items of clothing). After years of hating it, I quite like it now (once a week or fortnight); put on some music or even watch a film whilst doing it and the time flies by.

#4: Breakages
Let's say you're in a shop and there's signs saying Breakages Must Be Paid For, and you (or, more likely, your child) breaks something. Don't sweat it, It's a civil offence so they can't call the police, or detain you (that would be kidnapping). Merely inform the shopkeeper their insurance will cover it (so don't feel any guilt about it), and walk out the shop, swiftly. And don't look back.

#5: Public toilets
I went into a public toilet the other day which had one cubicle (which I needed). It was the most repulsive sight I'd ever seen with urine, faeces, toilet paper all over the toilet and floor (this probably just applies to men; I'm sure women's toilets are never as bad). But I had to use it, which I did, as quickly as possible (without touching anything). However, I heard footsteps and knew someone was waiting to use it after me. Should I clean the whole cubicle up, or leave it, and have the person waiting think it was me who made the mess? Even though I may never see this person again, do I want them to not only to curse me inwardly, but to – no matter how fleetingly – think I'm a big turd?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Shooting from the Hipstamatic

I may not be a hip hipster, but I do have a Hipstamatic.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Random Film Review: The Social Network

Dir: David Fincher | USA | 2010 | 120mins

I'm not a huge Facebook user. I have an account but only check it about once a month, mainly to see who's deleted me; I tend to lose more friends than gain them (notice they're all bells and whistles when you hook up with a friend but when you lose one they're strangely silent). Mainly, though, I guess I'm not that interested in what other people have been up to; I'm not that bothered about seeing pictures of their drunken Friday night out/holiday/newborn baby or knowing what they've eaten for breakfast or music they've listened to. I find it all a bit frivolous. And I'm probably too self-centred to be that interested in others.

The concept of friends on Facebook is a loose one. I have Facebook friends who have hundreds of 'friends' on there; yet haven't actually met some of them, and wouldn't be able to call most of them up for a drink or count any of them as close friends. Another Facebook friend, an ex-colleague, is friends on Facebook with a mutual ex-boss who used to bully her at work and made her cry on occasion. I asked her why she accepted her friend invite. 'It would be rude not to' was her reply. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Facebook is like one of those dreams where friends and family from throughout your life are together in one room, chatting away like they all know each other but it's impossible, not natural and a bit creepy. I know, it's hardly worth criticising Facebook. It's become so ingrained in modern life… it would be like criticising air or email or texting (though I just might do that too).

Oh yes, anyway, the film. It came out last year to rave reviews, topped many end of year charts and won loads of awards. I didn't rush out to see it because I had a sneaking suspicion that a two-hour film about a website (a cinematic non sequitur) based around deposition hearings for two lawsuits concerning ownership and copyright for Facebook (also a cinematic non sequitur), with characters we neither like nor care about and a plot where we know the outcome before the film's started sounded a very boring proposition indeed. You know what? I was absolutely right.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Chewing Gum Artist Vs The Admen

We saw pavement artist Ben Wilson – better known as the chewing gum man – in action today, painting a mini-masterpiece on a piece of trodden chewing gum on the pavement near the Marquis of Granby pub (where some of Peeping Tom was filmed) in Fitzrovia. Ben has been painting scenes on old discarded chewing gum for quite a few years, completing around 10,000 pictures around London and has became something of a minor celebrity.

We are joined by an 'adman', drinking outside the pub too (there are lots of advertising agencies in the area), who introduces himself and seems quite excited to meet Ben. The adman, looking like a badly dressed middle-aged American tourist, tells Ben he'd recently done a presentation about him (in the ad agency someone gives a monthly presentation about some cultural phenomena). Ben appears nonplussed. We're then joined by a young hipster with a stupid haircut and turned up tight jeans. The middle-aged adman immediately recognises him as a kindred spirit. 'Are you an adman too?' he asks. Hipster answers an enthusiastic 'Yes I am!' For a minute I forget which century we're in.

Then Ben, wisely, goes on his way.

The two admen waste no time and start discussing ways to exploit and commercialise Ben's works. 'He's just too pure, he's not interested in being commercial.'
'But the potential's there, we could do anything. We could put his pictures on… T-shirts, mugs, badges… the sky's the limit.'
I've worked with admen before, but these guys, they had vision. When they get an idea, they run with it.
We move away, but eventually see the young adman join his mother and sisters. What a hip hipster he was too.

There's some nice photos of Ben's chewing gum paintings on this Flickr set.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The New Shape

Friday, April 01, 2011

Writers like me

We like to imagine writers as deep, cerebral creatures but a recent reading of the Bruce Chatwin biography by Nicholas Shakespeare, with more references to Chatwin's angelic looks, blue eyes and golden hair than to his actual writing, got me to thinking that writers are as superficial and vain, maybe even more so, as supermodels.

Not that I'd ever consider myself a writer (I'm a blogger!) but perhaps I do mainly identify with and like writers who remind me of myself. When I was young I was into, say, Rimbaud, Dylan and Rupert Brooke (when they were young), whom I sort of imagined I looked like at the time.

Now I'm older and greyer, I identify more with, say, Geoff Dyer; tall, skinny, gray, large nose; has lived in Putney and Brixton; well-travelled watcher of art house films and one-time collector of Dylan bootlegs. And David Mitchell; my age, also widely-travelled, stutters, likes Riddley Walker. The fact that I could never write like either of them is beside the point.