Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Yellow parrots on pylon

Okay, I admit it. I regularly look at the website Pylon of the Month. And I'm old enough to remember the BBC series The Changes, with its fear of pylons (referred to as 'bad wires'). The parrots? Dunno, just looked like it needed a splash of colour.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Morris Dance Murders Movie

I’ve always been slightly afraid of the pagan, cultish and violent aspects of Morris dancers so it came as a delight to come across The Morris Dance Murders, a little-known, low-budget cult British horror film from the early 1970s. Starring no one famous and directed with surprising aplomb by first-timer Vivian Cluster, who seemed to vanish after the making of the film, it displays a mastery of British landscape seen only from Michael Reeves (Witchfinder General) and Nicolas Roeg (cinematographer of Far From the Madding Crowd, as well as director of such classics as Performance and Don't Look Now) around the same period. It echoes those films, and of course The Wicker Man, in its depiction of British ritual and tradition gone astray.

Set in the middle ages, the plot focuses around a troupe of Morris dancers who travel from village to village murdering random folk, then each other, with ever-increasing inventive ways (à la Dario Argento) using batons and handkerchiefs. Expect certain staples from Hammer Horror such as busty barmaids and some cranky acting, but be surprised at the lush photography, the attention to period detail and some fantastic set pieces. It's also pretty scary without being gratuitous.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

William Blake's vision of angels in Peckham

Top: possible oak tree planted in honour of Blake; bottom: Blake mural at Goose Green
It takes almost as much imagination as artist and poet William Blake had to picture him, aged 7 or 8, walking to Peckham Rye on his own and having his first (of many) vision of angels there, but that's how the story goes: "A tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars". Around 1765 the boy William, not liking built-up central London where he lived, liked nothing more than to walk seven miles or more (sometimes as far afield as Croydon) to the common at Peckham Rye. One Blake scholar says these formative walks had a strong influence on future poems such as Songs of Experience.

Locating the actual tree is impossible now; for one thing the common was a lot larger than it is now, for another, even if it's still there, does it actually matter? We had enough trouble tracking down the small oak tree that was planted in 2011 by artist John Hartley in honour of William Blake (there's no plaque or sign, and we had only had a vague map of the park with a red cross where the tree is. It was a case of not being able to see the tree for the trees). Nearby, on Goose Green, there's a mural to Blake's vision of angels, painted in 1993 as a community project.

(Did we see any angels? was the inevitable question asked us when we returned from our wanderings. Well, actually yes. I thought I spotted one on the common, but it was a dead tree. But we saw them on the mural, and then in Nunhead cemetery, our next stop.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Rashisms: The Book of Rash

My friend and colleague Rashpaul passed away almost two years ago, and he is still sorely missed by many. I've been meaning to create a book of his sayings and hilarious photo montages since he died. I finally have, and will be printing it soon. Watch this space.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Pulp Poetry posthumously published

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Rocky's Rockland Road Rocky Road

My famously delicious Rocky Road finally has a logo! The full tongue twisting title – Rocky's Rockland Road Rocky Road – has its origins in a cat I had when I lived on Rockland Road.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Updated Southern Rail ads

I wouldn't mind the Southern Rail ads on the trains being so badly designed and ugly if the service wasn't so atrocious, but there's something about the smug, smiling faces on the ads and the pretence that everything is hunky dorey that irks me to the point of redesigning the ads to show what it's really like. I'd actually been cycling everywhere for weeks, so hadn't had to endure the service, but I took a Southern train the other day, and, yup, random cancellations and stops at red signals every few minutes still happening. Reassuring, almost, to know some things never change.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Travel first class on Southern trains
Public transport courtesy cards

Friday, May 12, 2017

Letraset after sex

Potential lame cover for a East London hipster band/design collective (naturally released on limited edition red vinyl; comes with a set of white Helvetica Letraset), inspired after seeing a Joy Division-esque poster for the band Cigarettes After Sex (they're actually quite good, despite the name) then talking Letraset.

Concept: James W
Design: Me

Friday, May 05, 2017

Random Film Review: The Dark Backward

Dir: Adam Rifkin / 1991 / 101mins / USA

I was surprised and saddened at the unexpected death of actor Bill Paxton in February this year. I'd admired him in a lot of films, he was a good character actor, very likable and watchable. Inevitably, in the wake of his death, there was a flurry online of top ten Bill Paxton films/roles, most of which I couldn't disagree with: the adrenaline-pumping Aliens, the near masterpiece One False Move (perhaps my favourite Paxton film), A Simple Plan and Near Dark (tell a lie, this is my favourite film of his). Even smaller roles in films such as Weird Science, Terminator and True Lies are memorable.

But one film (another is Talking Tiger Mountain, an experimental, sexually explicit, black and white 'psychotropic apocalyptic odyssey' shot in Wales and Tangier in 1983; another still is the horror film Frailty, the only film Paxton starred in and directed) absent from most lists was The Dark Backward, made in 1991, the same year as One False Move. I saw it when it came out at London's sleazy Scala cinema, which was the perfect venue for it. It got mostly terrible reviews, then vanished.

The Dark Backward, whose title comes from Shakespeare's The Tempest, features Marty Malt, garbageman by day and terrible stand-up comedian by night. Gus is also a garbageman, as well as an accordion player and Marty's best – and only – (back-stabbing) friend. Marty's career as a stand-up comic is going down the pan until he develops a lump on his back, which turns into a small hand, which turns into a full grown arm and hand, his fortune starts to change and Hollywood beckons...

Even an outline of the bizarre plot does nothing to prepare you for the carnivalesque sun-drenched filth of The Dark Backward. And though it's reminiscent of other films and filmmakers – imagine Gilliam's Brazil and Robinson's How to Get Ahead in Advertising remade by David Lynch, John Waters and Fellini with mise-en-scene via Soylent Green, the classic 1973 dystopian sci-fi thriller with Charlton Heston – the world it inhabits is like no other in cinema.

Filth, grime and decay oppressively permeate every inch of the film, so much that you can smell it. The streets are covered in rubbish, rats and cockroaches. Fish swim out of sewer pipes into the gutter. A Big Brother-style multinational named Blump's has 1950s-style advertising everywhere and seems to own everything from the garbage company to food: squeezable bacon, cartons of pork juice and cheddar-scented cheese are just a few of the choice morsels on offer.

Most of the cast play against type, and what a cast it is: Judd Nelson plays Marty as a sweaty, introverted loser, dressed in ill-fitting, over-sized polyester suits whilst his sleazy, over-bearing, maniacal, pushy and obnoxious, so-called best friend, Gus (Bill Paxton), in a constant state of grinning, jeering and accordion-playing, betrays him at every opportunity. James Caan is a useless at best, sadistic at worst quack doctor, Lara Flynn Boyle a sulky waitress, Rob Lowe (hard to believe the last time Nelson and Lowe appeared in a film together it was the ultimate Brat Pack film St Elmo's Fire, just a few years previously) as a sleazy talent agent, and, in an inspirational piece of casting, singer and entertainer Wayne Newton plays Marty's manager.

If the film has no sympathetic characters, and is a one trick pony (or three-armed geek), it astonishes in its detail and depravity: Gus stripping off his garbage man overalls and getting butt naked with three morbidly obese women on Marty's bed; Gus licking the breasts of a dead naked woman in a landfill site or Gus eating rotting chicken. In fact, the only tender scenes in the film are with Marty's third arm, pulling the bed cover over him at night or consoling him with a pat on the shoulder.

Watch it here.

4.5/5

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Around Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

From top to bottom: the new Cabinet gallery; Ashley Bickerton Bali painting; staircase, Newport Street gallery; Pacman Ghost on side of pub, Lambeth High Street; terracotta and glazed tiles, Southbank House

The last time the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens contained any kind of pleasure – of a legal, civilised kind anyway – was round about 1850. Since then it’s fallen into despair but, lo and behold, the area is being regenerated. We visited on a fine afternoon, the day before St George's Day, and there was a St George's festival on and it felt like a village fete, with a Punch and Judy show, sword fighters and stalls. There were donkeys on display, come from Vauxhall City Farm on the other side of the gardens. Old style jazz was billowing out of the lovely Tea House Theatre cafe (which blissfully doesn't serve coffee), where a slice of their stale cake sets you back £5 (worth having once for the experience).

I’d been earlier in the week to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens to visit Cabinet, the gallery having recently moved from east London and now residing below offices in a purpose-built structure on the corner of the gardens. Though I was none too inspired by Pierre Guyotat's childlike sketches of figures with huge dicks, it's nice to see another gallery in the area. Five minutes walk out of the park in a converted Victorian building, once a school, is Beaconsfield Contemporary Art gallery on Newport Street. We popped in to see their current exhibition, Meditations on the Anthropocene, which consists of huge black and white screens in large dark rooms, slowly animating, with discordant, creepy music. In other words, a Disney horror movie shot by Tarkovsky (perhaps). There's a nice vegan cafe downstairs.

Damien Hirst's Newport Street gallery is at the other end of the road. My usual stock response to being asked about his gallery is the staircases are better than any of the art, but I thoroughly enjoyed the playful new Ashley Bickerton exhibition. The shark in a strait jacket on the exhibition’s website homepage does no justice to Bickerton’s work which encompasses sculpture, photography, sculpture and graphic design. My daughter naturally preferred the scary monster heads with bird of paradise flower tentacles coming out of their heads, but I loved the lurid Bali paintings with their ornate wooden frames depicting traditional Balinese life, whilst the painting themselves show a kind of psychedelic modern Bali.

An interesting interview with Bickerton by Paul Theroux (how has his talentless son, Louis, eclipsed his father, one of the best travel writers of his generation? Oh yes, because pa writes books and son is on TV. Louis' recent film, My Scientology Movie, is a Nick Broomfield-esque textbook documentary about failing to make the documentary you intended; Tickled, by contrast, a recent documentary about competitive tickling, is a fascinating piece of investigative journalism where both you and the filmmaker start off thinking it's going to be about one thing, only to discover it's about something else entirely) can be read on the Guardian website.

On the corner of Lambeth High Street and Black Prince Road is the spectacular Southbank House, the only remaining example of the Doulton pottery complex in the area. This Grade-II listed building is being turned into flats, of course, but the ornate exterior will presumably remain. The outside is covered with reliefs, glazed tiles, moulded terracotta and polychromy, all to show off how great Doulton were at pottery (read a better description here, with photos). Nearby is the huge art deco Fire Brigade Headquarters on Albert Embankment, which has fine reliefs. A quick look at White Hart dock, across the road, concluded our tour. The dock was made around 1868, and used as an emergency water supply during the Second World War. Anyway, we were hungry by now and went to get lunch in a nearby cafe.

Really, I enjoy London's art and parks more than anything else in the city. I quite like the area around Newport Street – there's hardly any people or cars compared to the mayhem around Vauxhall.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Barngain of the day: Flora by Nick Knight

I found this book in a charity shop in Croydon. It was priced at £2.50; already a barngain until the shop assistant informed me there was a half price sale, so it was £1.25. I've vaguely wanted this book for years (first published 1997) not because I'm that interested in flora, but because it's a beautiful and elegant book (and tall; it doesn't fit in my bookshelves).

Nick Knight is British fashion photographer who came to prominence in the 1980s with his book of photos of skinheads; a stint at i-D magazine led to photographing Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto's fashion catalogue (like this book, in collaboration with Peter Saville). He has also photographed album covers for the likes of Massive Attack and directed music videos.

Peter Saville art directed the book (though Paul Barnes actually designed it; presumably he did all the actual work). Never one to rush his work, Saville's poster for the opening of the Factory nightclub in Manchester famously turned up late for the event. His own website has been 'under construction' for years.

Photographers from Karl Blossfeldt (whose book Art Forms in Nature was very successful when it came out in 1928) to Irving Penn (whose book of flowers was published in 1980) have produced books of flowers and fauna in close-up, exploring their beautiful forms in much the same way Georgia O'Keeffe did with paint.

Flora is a result of Knight visiting the herbarium (library of pressed flowers) at the Natural History Museum and sifting through thousands of samples; forty-six of the 'most beautiful' were chosen. They are stunning; a riot of colour, texture and shape, all beautifully arranged. The second half of the book has text by Sandra Knapp explaining each plant photographed. Most interestingly, though, it lists when and by who each sample was collected. Amazingly, some date back to the 1800s, and as Knapp rightly states, the stories behind how they were collected would fill volumes and be almost as fascinating as the plants themselves.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Barngains
London through its charity shops

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Moomins in London

2017 seems to be year of the Moonins in London. Over Easter Kew Gardens are hosting Moomin Adventures, with the creatures hiding among the flowers, and there’s an Easter Trail and craft workshops too.

There’s still a few weeks to go to see the South Bank’s ‘immersive, interactive’ Adventures in Moominland exhibition which I think I enjoyed more than my daughter. Entering through a large Moomin book cover, we entered different Moomin and Tove Jansson environments, from tents and rocky islands to snowy forests and cabins, with rare illustrations and insights into Jansson’s life along the way. Appropriately situated under the stairs in the Royal Festival Hall’s Spirit Level. Thoroughly recommended.

Still a while to wait for the Dulwich Picture Gallery to house the first major retrospective of Tove Jansson’s art in the UK. Beyond the Moomins will showcase newly discovered artwork by Jansson from 25 October 2017 to 28 January 2018. If that's not enough, the magical Moomin shop in Covent Garden is one of my favourite shops in London.

Frank Cottell Boyce, writing in the Guardian, sums up Tove Jansson's unusual life pretty well: “Jansson was an upper-middle-class bohemian lesbian, living on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland”. Unfortunately when I was in Finland, I wasn’t able to go to the island where Jansson lived, but managed to fill my bags up with as much Moomin memorabilia as I could get. I probably own more Moomin stuff than a grown adult ought. Yes, I have some books of course, but also, erm, a mobile (no, not a phone, but you know, the 'type of kinetic sculpture constructed to take advantage of the principle of equilibrium' – Wikipedia's useful description), pillow covers, towels, notebook, a soft toy and a pack of teabags.

I had a great dream about Moomins when I was in Finland. They were riding on the back of a giant hare through the snowy streets of Helsinki at night. You had to be there, obviously.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The start of basic income for the Finnish
Illustrated children's books (for parents)

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Graphic Designer URGENTLY required

Fabulous, unbelievable and once in a lifetime opportunity to work in a niche but perfectly formed 360 degree omni-platform boutique agency, based in a lovely yet somehow hollow office somewhere near an area someone in Time Out said was cool… once. This cutting edge yet utterly pointless company URGENTLY require a Graphic Designer to URGENTLY start last month. Must be able to time travel and have strong design and Adobe CC skills, along with UX design, Cinema 4D, Final Cut Pro, Sketch, embroidery, nuclear physics, juggling, Microsoft Word and Excel, video, web, espionage, psychotherapy and civil engineering. A knowledge of HTML, CSS, SQL, KGB, BBC and NASA essential. A PhD in thermal dynamics is handy but not mandatory.

The job will entail designing beautiful layouts with the crispness of a Peter Saville, the roundness of a Rubens and the vigour of a Picasso. You will be designing for print, web, apps and holograms. 

Should you get an interview (though you won't, as the response will be predictably overwhelming), you will be required to do a one hour test which will involve jumping through hoops, general circus skills, and begging like a dog, plus be grilled on your entire life by a panel of five interviewers, all with less experience than yourself, then you will probably never hear back from us. You will be expected to be informed and passionate about the company which until ten minutes ago you didn't know existed. Should by a miracle you get the job you will reap the rewards of a £22,000 p.a. salary. All we require in return is your talent, soul, blood and time. Must be a team player i.e. enjoy being told what to do by people half your age.

Your portfolio will consist of only the best brands from the best agencies otherwise we don't care if you have a decade's worth of experience in publishing or some such dying industry.

Please apply elsewhere with CV, portfolio, shoe size and bank account details.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Random film review: Paterson

 (Jim Jarmusch | 2016 | USA)

Tom Cruise isn't good looking and he can’t act. He can’t even act being asleep convincingly. I did enjoy Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow however, so much so I’ve watched it twice (once with daughter), perhaps the only Cruise movie I’ve watched more than once. It’s a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day, and pretty good, for a Cruise film.

Paterson is Jim Jarmusch's Groundhog Day. But not a Jarmusch film as we know it (it could also be Jarmusch's The Straight Story, with a bus instead of a lawnmower). Gone is the aching hipness and the irony, replaced with authenticity, sincerity, innocence and sentimentality. Apparently. Though all the way through the film I sensed something foreboding. I thought it was the music until I realised it was something almost Lynchian in the industrial factory settings, the loneliness, the odd encounters with strangers, the long dark shadows. It wasn't until the credits rolled that I noticed Frederick Elmes was the cinematographer, he who lit Eraserhead and Blue Velvet (the two films that redefined cinema for me), as well as several previous Jarmusch films.

The foreboding was also my wanting something to happen. Yes, something bad. Yes, sex or violence. Paterson was going to have an affair with the black chick at the bar! His wife would read the line of his poem in the (spoiler alert!) chewed up cherished notebook "I think about other girls"! But no!

Adam Driver plays Paterson, a bus driver and unpublished bad poet in Paterson, New Jersey. He seems slow-witted and boring. The only interest in his job is listening to the – often highly implausible – passengers conversations (such as teenagers discussing Gaetano Bresci, the Italian anarchist and assassin of King Umberto I. To be fair, he did live in Paterson, as did poet William Carlos Williams, Paterson's favourite poet and inspiration for his own poems). Amazingly Paterson has an attractive and kooky wife, Laura, played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. Laura spends her days dressing herself, their apartment and her cupcakes in Bridget Riley-style black and white patterns.

I can only call Laura sweet but delusional. She thinks Paterson's poems are amazing (when Paterson bizarrely starts chatting to a 10-year-old-girl who also writes poems, the poem she reads to him is far better than any of his). Laura wants to open a cake shop one day, be a country singer the next. She gets Paterson to buy her a black and white patterned guitar so she can practise. It's $200 on eBay (expensive for them, but apparently they think they can pay in instalments on eBay).

Which brings us to technology, which is a bit of a fault in the film. I wasn't sure when the film was set at first. Fairly contemporary I thought but there's no phones, no laptops, no technology – obviously a conscious attempt to get back to real values or something. But when it's revealed (repeatedly) that the only copy of Paterson's poems are in his cherished notebook, it's fairly obvious said notebook will come to a sticky end (plus they own a dog, plus Paterson leaves his notebook on the sofa when they go out one evening = the obvious). Laura (repeatedly) tells Paterson to go the Xerox store to get them photocopied (which he never does). The Xerox store? Photocopied? Where are we, 1987? Scan them? Write them up on Word? Publish a blog? Photograph them on her phone (he doesn't own one)? Never occurs to either of them.

I really didn't think the relationship would last the film: they don't have much in common; the relationship is still based on politeness (he forces himself to eat and pretend to like her Brussels sprouts and cheese pie; I'm not even sure he likes her cupcakes; he humours Laura on her daily whims); he's morose, she's hot; Paterson spends every evening on his own in a bar drinking beer...

I didn't recognise Adam Driver at all. He's in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (my daughter thought he was terrible in it). He was also in While We're Young and Midnight Special, two films I liked a lot. But you know what? Some geeky-looking guy swings a lightsaber around, kills some people in Iraq (probably; he was a U.S. Marine), does a stupid TED Talk (where he actually says "firing weapons is cool" and "self-expression is just as valuable a tool as a rifle on your shoulder"), then does a few sensitive roles and suddenly he's up for awards and he's gorgeous and he's got range.

You know also what it is? You've as much chance of reading all of the poem Paterson by William Carlos William as you have watching the film Paterson and your eyes not glaze over.

2/5

Previously on Barnflakes:
Here's to you, Robinson

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Alternative CVs

I may have worked in places as diverse as Jakarta, Khao Ping Kan, New Orleans and Sydney... and been an actor, stunt double and backing singer (yes, really), but does it count for anything? Nope. A CV is a cold, boring look at a person's life, and I've often said a person's job is the least interesting thing about them (well, hopefully it is, otherwise you're in trouble). Adult Fulfillment Assistant was probably my favourite job title (but certainly not my favourite job)... I'll leave you guessing. Here are three 'alternative' CVs – mock Victorian poster; a pastiche of XTC's Go 2 album and a mock classifieds ad – I did some years ago, but of course never sent out. I quite like them. Maybe I should have.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tautological job titles

I used to work at a company where a work colleague* had their job title 'Writer' become 'Content Writer'. Is there any need for this extra word? Do you get the extra word in lieu of a pay rise? Can a writer write anything else but content? Similarly, there are jobs advertised for 'Visual Designer'. Again, the definition of designer is visual (unless you're a Systems Designer or something; either way Visual Designer is too vague – Fashion Designer? Graphic Designer?). Another company calls its consultants 'master experts'. But my favourite tautological job title, very rarely seen unfortunately, is Deadly Assassin.

*Deliberate tautological usage; a colleague is someone you work with.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The death of cigarette advertising



Is the earthy tone Pantone 448 C really the death of cigarettes? Doesn't seem so bad to me – but that's the colour picked by Australians as the ugliest colour in the world. And that's the colour they, and now the UK, has chosen to replace all branding on cigarette packs, along with 60% of the pack surface consisting of health warnings and photos, and the logos reduced to a small standard generic sans serif typeface. Whether it has or will reduce cigarette smokers is another matter, but one immediate outcome is the confusion cashiers have of trying to find your brand of choice – the packs do all look exactly the same.

The 1970s and 80s was the most imaginative decade for cigarette advertising – and the start of the end. Advertisers weren't allowed to show cigarettes as evoking youth or coolness or even display a person smoking a cigarette on their adverts so companies such as Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges devised creative and surreal methods to evoke their brands.

Cigarette advertising was banned on TV in the UK in 1991 (also lamented; for example, the famous Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet campaign is often voted as one of the top TV adverts of all time). In the early noughties cigarette advertising was banned from sport (snooker and Formula One used to display prominent advertising at its events); then advertising was banned altogether. In 2007 smoking was banned from enclosed public spaces such as pubs and restaurants.

So now with the advertising and branding gone, as well as the ever-decreasing places to smoke, there is more incentive than ever for smokers to continue smoking quit, I mean, obviously. The new No Logo non-branding branding is presumably intended to stop people (in particular, youth) smoking, as is the banning of packs of ten and small packs of tobacco (though smokers trying to stop always found the small packs useful; if you're trying to stop the last thing you want to invest in is a pack of twenty).

Long before I started smoking, I always admired the advertising and branding of cigarettes (maybe because I was an art/graphic design student going through a surreal phase). I remember one seminar on subliminal advertising at art college where the tutor tried to convince us of the skull in the pattern of the camel on Camel cigarettes and the words 'horrible jew' sort of spelt out in the Marlboro logo if you turned it upside down and backwards ('orlb jew').

Anyway, I guess it's a good move to make cigarettes less attractive. But why stop at cigarettes? Hopefully enlightened future generations will see alcohol advertising banned. Then car advertising. And certain food advertising banned (meat, chocolate). I'd like to see (or not see, as the case may be) crap films, music and TV advertisements banned too.

Previously on Barnflakes
Australia first country to ban cigarette branding
Cigarettes vs. smartphones
Surreal Silk Cut cigarette ads
Silk Cut anagrams
Life branded 'a health and safety risk'

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Adele plus Ed minus Amy

Adele Laurie Blue Adkins and Amy Winehouse were both born in the 1980s in North London. Amy was a fine jazz singer who wrote her own original songs with personality and passion. She gave us two albums then tragically died aged 27. Adele grew up being influenced by Amy Winehouse, as well as The Spice Girls, and writes and sings banal crap which sells by the truckload.

In my local Co-op and Sainsbury's the only two CDs I can buy are Adelle's 25 and Ed Sheeran's new album, ÷ (Divide). Never has there been a more apt title, with the album breaking chart records around the world whilst receiving terrible critical reviews – two out of five in the Guardian, and a 2.8 (out of 10) from Pitchfork. Neither album is actually music. Positioned next to the till, they are the equivalent of sweets and chocolate, to be grabbed in a moment of weakness and hopefully eventual regret.

In the Guardian's review of Adele's 25, released in December last year, though gaining one more star than ÷, the reviewer is lamentful at the lack of interest in critical opinion – as is the reviewer of ÷ (both perhaps worried about the point of their jobs); like with Fifty Shades of Grey (book and film), huge commercial success for both Adele and Ed is a foregone conclusion despite completely mediocre material.

The unimaginative mathematical album titles of Ed (+, x, ÷) and Adele (19, 21, 25) is no accident. 19 + 21 x 25 = a lot of $$$. Indeed, it's a formula. This is music by numbers; slick, sentimental songs written for Radio 1 and 2 (Sheenan himself admits as much in the Guardian review); likewise with Adele's 25. Both albums are anti-music. The death of music.

19, 21, 25... you have the feeling that, say, 30, 45 and 67 are going to sound exactly the same. And Ed's going to produce his mathematical symbols to ∞ (that's infinity).

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Recent random film reviews

ELLE (Paul Verhoeven, 2016, France)
I saw this months ago and it's only just out at the cinemas! Ha. Seriously though – how is Isabelle Huppert still hot after all these years (just as Catherine Denevue and Meryl Streep still are)? She was just as hot when she was making films a year after my birth – and now it's, er, 45 years later and she's still got it. Proper serious though – it's a fucked up film. No surprise, then, that Paul Verhoeven directed it; the man who bought us fucked up tripe like Basic Instinct and Showgirls, but it should also be remembered that he directed the fine Black Book, his early Dutch films are pretty good and Robocop and Starship Troopers are great. Huppert was in the equally deranged The Piano Teacher, but I'll always remember her best in Maurice Pialat's Loulou.
– 4/5 

PHOENIX (Christian Petzold, 2014, Germany)
Once you forgive the film's central conceit that a husband doesn't recognise his wife, even if her face has been reconstructed, a fine film shot in muted colours, suspenseful and with a great climax. Unusual to see a film set in post-war Germany (though here's some more). The opening scenes reminded me of Franju's brilliant Eyes Without a Face, with the bandaged woman wandering alone in an empty flat; and the entire film has a similar concept to both Seconds and Vertigo.
Sill got a few weeks to watch it on the BBC iPlayer.
– 4/5

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013, France)
I did think this film was Russian, probably because on the train from St Petersberg to Helsinki two Russian lesbians were sitting near us, and they reminded me of the girls from Blue is the Warmest Colour (not having seen the film at the time, only the poster). They were the only ones questioned in our train carriage and have their belongings searched (on another train journey on the Eurostar to Paris we were also sitting opposite two lesbians who were snogging all the way to Paris – we didn't know where to look!). Anyway, of course the film is French. White wine and oysters? Check. Smoking indoors? Check. Terrible music? Check. Teenagers discussing Schiele, Klimt, Satre, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos and M. de Marivaux? Check. A teenage girl having sex with a guy one day and a chick the next? Check. There's some serious lesbian action in the film but it's no hot (or warm) blue movie. The camera adores Adèle Exarchopoulos, following her constantly and barely leaving her face – and her hair, body, sweat, tears, laughter – for three hours.
– 5/5

EXHIBITION (Joanna Hogg, 2013, UK)
Take Blue is the Warmest Colour and take away the joie de vivre, the warmth, the passion, the conversation – but keep the art and the sex, and you've got Exhibition. The film chronicles the every day ennui of two artists in a relationship working from home every day – from cleaning the oven to practising performance art to sex in the afternoon. Imagine Mike Leigh doing conceptual art.
 
Even though most of the film takes place in a large modernist house in Kensington (recently on the market for £8m, the Daily Mail informs us), I can't remember seeing a film that so captures London; not just the smarmy estate agents (one played by Tom Hiddleston), The Big Issue seller and the arguments over parking spaces, but the sounds – of ambulances, road works and arguments in the street; the film captures it brilliantly.

It's hard to believe the mild and meek 'D' is played by post-punk icon Viv Albertine (from the band The Slits); her partner, 'H', is Liam Gillick, a conceptual artist. In other words, both unprofessional actors, which works in this case. The acting often feels improvised as the filming style is calm with long static takes. The house is the third character in the film, often seeming to have more character than the humans inhabiting the huge rooms.
– 4/5

THE PHONE BOX (Antonio Mercero, 1972, Spain)
Take a large dose of late Bunuel (in particular The Exterminating Angel, where the guests inexplicably find themselves unable to leave the dining room), combined with the economy of style of Polanski's early black and white shorts, add atmospherics from 1970s European horror movies, and you have Phone Box, a 1972, half hour Spanish made for TV movie. The premise is simple: a man walks into a newly installed phone box to make a phone call – then can't get out. Passersby gather around him, he is ridiculed and laughed at. Various people try to prise open the door but to no avail. The man, played by veteran Spanish actor José Luis López Vázquez (who spoofed himself in the role in a Spanish phone advert made in the 1990s), runs the gauntlet of emotions from anger to boredom to terror. Eventually the phone company come to take the phone box away with the man still inside it, and... well, watch it here.

(Not to be confused with Phone Booth, a 2002 American thriller with Colin Farrell in the phone box, unable to leave for different reasons. The idea was originally pitched to Alfred Hitchcock by B-movie auteur Larry Cohen in the 1960s; they couldn't agree on a reason why the protagonist would stay in the phone box for the length of the film – Cohen revisited the idea in the 1990s and hit upon the idea of a sniper.)
– 5/5

KINDERGARTEN COP (Ivan Reitman, 1990, USA)
I saw this recently on a windy evening in Newquay. You know what? I don't think I'd ever seen it before, or not the entire film anyway. I didn't see it all this time, either. And okay, I know it's an 1990s Schwarzenegger film, but nevertheless, compared to a lot of European efforts, most American films to me just seem to lack any depth or originality. Still, half way enjoyable.
– 2/5

Previously on Barnflakes:
Random Film Reviews

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Notes on Cornish fiction

Cornwall is a popular place to set novels, with its wild country, lovely beaches, hidden coves and tales of smuggling; according to one blog 'it's a literary feast for the senses'. But from Daphne du Maurier to Michael Murpurgo, the majority of Cornish literature seems to be about ghosts, myths and legends; and if it's not set in the past, it involves an idyllic family/romantic holiday. Nothing focuses on the reality that is Cornwall; as beautiful as it is, it has huge unemployment and drug problems, none of which is addressed in literature, whether it be for children or adults (Liz Fenwick's novels all seem to have Cornwall in the title; The Cornish House poses the question 'Can a house heal a broken heart?).

Thanks to my daughter, I've read a few children's books set in Cornwall. The Ingo series, by Helen Dunmore, features the underwater world of Mers (mermaids and mermen). Dunmore also writes adult fiction, one of which is set in Cornwall: Zennor in Darkness features DH Lawrence and his German wife, who lived in Zennor for two years during the first world war, until he was accused of spying and given three days to leave the county. Lawrence didn't exactly ingratiate himself with the Cornish, describing them "like insects gone cold, living only for money, for dirt. They are foul in this. They ought all to die".

Zennor is a tiny hamlet on the rugged Atlantic coast; aside from the incredible views of the ocean, it's famous for its Mermaid of Zennor, a wooden carving on the side of a chair in the local church, said to date back to the fifteenth century. The mermaid has inspired countless poems and folklore tales, including the Ingo series. The hugely popular Michael Murpugo has also used Zennor as a setting for his short story The White Horse of Zennor, where myths brush against reality. For such a tiny place, it's received a lot of literary attention.

Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) is arguably Cornwall's most famous author; she lived most of her life in the county and based much of her fiction there. Most of it ticks Cornwall's literary tradition – Historical? Yup. Smuggling? Yup. Romance and historical? Tick – but her last novel, the satirical Rule Britannia, is strangely prescient, post-Brexit, concerning as it does the UK leaving Europe and joining the United States to become USUK.

David John Moore Cornwell, known more commonly by his nom de plume John Le Carré, has lived in St Buryan, Cornwall for 40-odd years. Though born in Dorset, with his original surname it was presumably inevitable for him to live in the county. Shame his surname wasn't Maldives.

However, due to the recent BBC production, Poldark is currently Cornwall's most famous literary export, surpassing du Maurier and Murpurgo. The twelve historical (naturally) novels by Winston Graham, who lived in Cornwall for 40 years, were published from 1945-1953 and then 1973-2002 (he then died). Anyway, no one's read them, they're probably not any good, and all you want to see anyway is Aidan Turner get his kit off. 

Will there ever be a Cornish Irvine Welsh? Doubtful.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

London through its charity shops #34: Marylebone W1

Ah, mythical minted Marylebone High Street – its fabled charity shops are always in lists of best charity shops in London (such as Time Out and the Evening Standard). I was in the area anyway, and decided to check out Daunt Books too. I'd not ever been there but seen every other female hipster toting a Daunt Books tote bag (what great, free advertising). A lovely book shop with a great travel section.

But onto the charity shops: Oxfam is large, spacious, posh and pricey. Stacks of records and books at the back but people come for the bargain designer clothes, apparently. As they do at Cancer Research, a little further along. Mainly clothes with a boutique feel, it's not really my kind of place. But if you want cut-price Dior or Miu Miu, this is the place for you.

That's it for the High Street, but just off it on George Street is Barnado's. Again, mainly clothes with a small book and CD section. Best of all, though, and not just because the chatty Scottish lady working there complimented me on my jacket and my shoes, is Geranium, on the other side of the road to Barnado's. A fraction of the size of the other charity shops in the area, it feels like an Aladdin's cave. Lots of bric-a-brac, art books and auction art catalogues, an old accordion (£199) and a great leather jacket (£69) which the Scots lady proceeded to try on and model for me.

No barngains today (when you can't even afford charity shops, you know something's wrong) but the previous weekend I'd got some good vinyl: King Crimson's Discipline in Octavia Barnes and Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here in Cancer Research Clapham Junction (£5 a piece).

Previously on Barnflakes:
London through its charity shops

Friday, February 10, 2017

Start of Basic Income for the Finnish

Previously my interest in Finland was limited to Moonins and the filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki. Now, however, with Finland recently becoming the first country in Europe to launch a Universal Basic Income pilot (Switzerland had a referendum on the issue last year – though it was rejected, 22% of voters were in favour of every citizen receiving £1,755 per month regardless of whether they work or not), I'm thinking of moving there. Admittedly the project is only available to two thousand unemployed folk, and they only receive £480 a month (it's called Basic for a reason), but it's a start. France and the Netherlands have run similar pilots recently, and Scotland is to run a trial over the next few years.

Being paid to do what we want to do (even if that's nothing!) in life is such an obvious and natural yet radical idea, and yet, capitalism – that most unfair and utterly pointless of systems – still bizarrely seems popular.

(The nutter eco-warrior who's threatened me a few times would earn £30K for picking up our rubbish; someone else would earn £30K for watching bad YouTube films all day; someone else might want to work in an office and would still get the £30K on top of their office earnings; someone else would travel and take photos. There may even be some people who would want to work in offices.)

(Or how about we're all paid the same amount as our age? So, if you're 18, you're paid £18,000; if you're 57, yup, you're paid £57,000. It's that simple. Why not? The wage system is so unfair. We're all doing essentially the same thing in an office (ie we're all in an office, staring at screens all day). I know people paid £120K a year, and others on £22K a year. They're essentially doing the same thing (giving up their precious time to work for a faceless corporation); they're of the same intelligence and capability as each other, yet the gulf in pay is horrific.)

Previously on Barnflakes:
The dream of Basic Income for everyone

Monday, February 06, 2017

See it. Say it. Sod it

Late last year the trite 'See it. Say it. Sorted' campaign was launched to encourage train passengers to report any unusual items or activity on major railway stations. Thankfully, the ads have already been banned but the announcements at stations are constant, and for some reason drive me crazy. Spoken by a slightly common, possibly regional, annoying female voice, the sort of woman who works in HR and doesn’t allow you that extra day’s holiday as it’s against company policy, and if she did it for you she’d have to do it for everybody, it comes across in a slightly condescending manner as if she's telling the message to children. "Now, if you see something that doesn't look right..." Like what? Litter on the ground? Trains so over-crowded trains I can't even open my Michel Houellebecq book? Broken toilets? Late or cancelled trains? Oh sorry, something that doesn't look right. You mean like a clean, empty train running on time? Gotcha.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Sartorial sexism

(or Gender bender II)

Within reason, women can wear what they like to the office in all seasons. In spring and summer it's skirts, dresses and sandals; in the autumn it's black leggings; come winter it's fur-lined boots and hooded coats with (perhaps) pink fluffy fur inside. Men have a raw deal – all year round, it's shirt, tie, suit and shoes (so we're sweating in the summer and freezing in the winter). All of which are either grey, black, blue or brown. Even men's umbrellas are always black whereas women's can be a riot of colour and pattern. Generally, women's office attire reflects the seasons of nature; men's reflects lack of imagination – his only means of expression is via tie, socks, pants and facial hair.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Top ten most boring Instagram photo subjects

1. Sunsets
Sometimes it's just about being in the moment, why ruin it trying to get that perfect sunset shot, which invariably turns out too dark or too light. All sunsets look the same anyway – sunrises are usually far more interesting.
2. Selfies
=Boring.
3. Beaches
Yes it's fun when you're on them but we don't want to know about it.
4. Marketing/products
Should be banned.
5. Landscapes
What looks wonderful to the eye, and perhaps even exhilarating to the spirit and body, looks rather flat and boring on a camera phone. At 2x2", rather pointless too.
6. Pets
=Boring.
7. Food
=Boring.
8. Flowers
=Boring.
9. Babies
=Boring.
10. Filters
=Cheating.
  
Barnflakes on Instagram here.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Buxom girl in Luxembourg

Spending warm summer days indoors
Writing frightening verse
To a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg

– The Smiths, Ask

For thirty years I've thought Morrissey was writing frightening verse to a buxom girl in Luxembourg. The evening before we left, we played the song – literally, the only cultural reference to Luxembourg we could think of – and I heard buck-tooth girl for the very first time. I was pretty disappointed.

'Discover the unexpected Luxembourg' the tourism ads at the airport told us but we had no idea what to discover expectantly let alone unexpectedly. We'd failed to locate a guidebook or city map. We didn't know anyone who had been there. All we did know was a quick Wikipedia search: a tiny, mainly rural, country (1,000 square miles) with a tiny population of 500,000 landlocked in between Belgium, Germany and France. A Portuguese work colleague told me 16% of the population was Portuguese. We knew Luxembourg City, the capital, was a centre for the EU and business (no corporation tax for a start). That was it. We were going simply because we hadn't been there.

With flight time less than an hour from London (that day it had taken us over two hours to get into central London to see an exhibition, a distance of seven miles; a combination of cancelled trains and broken buses ensured it being a painful and time-consuming journey) it's a perfect place for a weekend getaway. We knew it was going to be a good trip as soon as we saw the officials at passport control, laid back and laughing. Laughing! When have you ever seen passport control laughing?

Our hotel was near the airport and after snacking in the buffet – I had two helpings of cold meats and fish followed by eight desserts and a cheese platter – we went to bed early to wake up early to explore Luxembourg City. The hotel receptionist informed us buses were free on Saturday, but for us they were free every day. Attempts to pay – including rehearsing in French 'Je voudrais un billet pour le jour s'il vous plait' – were met with a cursory wave of the hand by bus drivers, so we hopped on and off without paying all weekend.

Buses full of Turkish refugees sped past us as our bus drove past roadworks, construction sites, banks and office blocks into the city. Was this the unexpected or the expected Luxembourg? We weren't sure. Once in the city itself, this is what we were expecting: churches and turrets, coffee shops and ancient bridges. We soon unexpectedly came across a large gorge where the UNESCO World Heritage old city nestles amongst the two rivers that run through it. The rocky medieval fortifications of the gorge surround the town with walls, ramparts and caves where once the old fortress stood (before it was demolished).

Every step of the way we couldn't help comparing the city unfavourably with London. From the clean air, spaciousness and ultra-efficiency of the city; to the buildings designed with people and pleasure in mind rather than business and money; to everything running on time; to the people being polite and friendly; to the old buildings tastefully blending with modern extensions (in other words, the mix of old and new actually working); to the beautifully designed free magazines in all the civilised cafes serving perfect coffee and lovely cakes; to the skate park and the pedestrianised roads; it all seemed to be there for people. Everything was easy – transport, buildings, art. it was all there for people to enjoy, relax, be at peace.

(I know, I know, we were on holiday and Luxembourg is the second richest country in the world with a tiny population; London has 9 million people but, even so, London feels like a dirty machine. Its purpose is to make money, and we're all making it, and toiling and striving to make it every day but – it's for other people. Other people, businesses, corporations, governments are making the money, not us. Nothing's built for pleasure – or if it is, it's controlled and contrived and a corporation is making money from it.)

Most of all, we loved walking and adventuring – and did it twelve hours a day. It's a great city for exploring, from the underground caves and viaduct with the skate park below it, to the museums, art galleries and beautiful buildings, old and new. We loved Picasso's hiboux (that's French for owls) in the free exhibition of his animal art at the L'Institut français du Luxembourg – jugs, plates, etchings, collages. We loved the Christmas market and the pedestrianised streets (complete with unexpected homeless people). We loved gate-crashing a gallery opening in an abandoned building and ordering the free wine in French. We loved that design was thought about here, that form followed fuction, that nature – trees, water – were close by and abundant.

Towards evening, wandering around the old town we noticed numerous young people carrying musical instruments, from drums to clarinets. Then we started hearing sounds all around the valley: the lone wail of a trumpet, the reedy caressing of a clarinet. Drummers lined up along the river. Saxophone players appeared in a rose garden. Trumpeters in the caves of the valley. It was a (classical, experimental) rock concert, of sorts, in the rocks, on my birthday (my girlfriend's last birthday funnily enough also involved a rock concert – of sorts: a free classical musical concert at Helsinki's famous rock church, Temppeliaukio – literally, a church chiseled out of rock), performed by students of the local music college as a rehearsal.

If we hadn't been staying out of town we probably wouldn't have known anything about the Kirchberg area. As it was we passed it every day on the bus and decided to explore the area in the evening, and then the following morning. Although predominately a slightly sterile business and residential area, it also contains the Philharmonie concert hall, the Mudam museum of modern art (showing Wim Delvoye, our new favourite artist we'd never heard of) and Fort Thungen; all extraordinary buildings definitely worth a visit. At night it felt like walking on the set of a sci-fi film, but not an apocalyptic or dystopian one, rather a pleasant one, and nicely lit. And inside the concert hall – again, it's using space and light in a creative, relaxing way so it doesn't feel cramped or busy. All in all, a breath of fresh air.

Photos on Flickr here

Previously on Barnflakes:
Mishearing Dylan

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

My daughter’s top ten films (aged 10)

1. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Tim Burton, 2016)
2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (David Yates, 2009)
3. Nine Lives (Barry Sonnenfeld, 2016)
4. Star Wars: Rogue One (Gareth Edwards, 2016)
5. Kung Fu Panda (Mark Osborne, John Stevenson, 2008)
6. Song of the Sea (Tomm Moore, 2014)
7. My Neighbour Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)
8. Jurassic World (Colin Tervorrow, 2015)
9. Zootropolis (Byron Howard, Rich Moore, 2016)
10. The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980)

Previously on Barnflakes:
Notes on Harry Potter