Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The dream of Basic income for everyone

Imagine a society where every citizen gets £30,000 a year, paid for by the government, just for existing. Basic Income, also known as Unconditional Basic Income and Universal Basic Income, has been an economic theory for some time but has only recently become a feasible possibility. Jeremy Corbyn has been 'looking at' the theory, and several nations and states, including Switzerland and some cities in the Netherlands, have or will hold referendums on the topic (Switzerland recently rejected the plan but has been the first country to hold a vote for it). Ontario, Canada, is also looking to initiate a pilot project for Basic Income.

The concept is not a new one: from Thomas Paine to Richard Nixon the idea has been around, in various forms, for hundreds of years. Basically, Basic Income gives every individual a livable amount of income every year without means test or work requirement, regardless of any other income, regardless of background, sex or age.

There are some big questions around it – some economical (can it financially be done? Apparently, yes), others philosophical (what would we do with our time?). The time question is the most interesting one. Would we want to work? Well, a lot of would probably not, seeing as most of the population work in minimum wage, pointless soul-destroying jobs. Hopefully some people would still want to work (!), but the idea is they'd work fewer hours, giving them more free time and enabling others to also work part-time in their jobs, creating more work.

I literally dream of a world of Basic Income, where work and financial worry isn't the sole focus of our lives; where we're not wasting eight hours a day, five days a week doing mindless activities simply to exist; where we spend more time with our families and friends; where we have time to explore and develop other interests in life – spirituality, learning to play the violin, spending six months in Morocco painting. Being free from financial worry would enable us to pursue our dreams, and though – if that dream amounts to being a rock star, writer or painter – might not amount to fame and riches, at least we'd have the time and money to explore it. Alternatively, one could just become an alcoholic and watch YouTube videos all day and night.

"Socialism!" I hear you cry! It'll never work! Okay, let me try to sell you this one instead: Capitalism. A system where only the top 5% are the winners and the gulf between rich and poor gets wider and wider; where profit comes at the expense of everything from personal feelings to the environment; where corporations rule the world and have no accountability for whatever they do, whether it's destroy the environment or pay no taxes. Surely it'll never catch on.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Wasting Time
Four-day Working Week 
Introverts vs Extroverts
Aspire to be Average
Absolutely Famous 
The Offensive Office

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Now we are ten

Ten years ago today, this blog started simply with 'Hello' followed by 'Is anyone out there?' It proved to be one of my most popular posts, amassing four comments in the space of over nine years. It was a hard act to follow, and ten years and over 800 posts later I'm still chasing the dream. You would have noticed I've been writing less and less posts – time and inspiration are often lacking. I'll try to keep up writing at least one a month. Thanks for watching.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Top ten river films

1. L'Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934) 
2. Aguirre, Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972) 
3. Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982) 
4. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972) 
5. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) 
6. Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, 2015) 
7. The African Queen (John Huston, 1951) 
8. Anaconda (Luis Llosa, 1997) 
9. A River Runs Through It (Robert Redford, 1992) 
10. The River Wild (Curtis Hanson, 1994)

Monday, August 08, 2016

Celebrating Cornwall's mining heritage

 The 12 metre tall Man Engine has just finished its two week, 130 mile journey through the mining counties of Cornwall and West Devon. Slightly reminiscent of Ted Hughes' Iron Man, the mechanical puppet is to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the mines receiving recognition as a World Heritage Site from UNESCO. That some old mines in south England have the same status as the Taj Mahal, Borobudur and Angkor Wat may seem surprising but aside from their historical importance, the mines are a beautiful sight to behold.

We visited ones around Carn Brae, walking some of the Great Flat Lode trail, a seven mile journey along the old tramway routes that miners used to use. On a beautiful day, the paths were virtually empty (most people at the beach, we surmised), and the mines are tumbling down and overgrown with ivy and flowers; it felt like stumbling across the ancient abandoned kingdoms of Cambodia or Peru. The mines look like Gothic ruined abbeys, churches and castles. I swear I heard the clippety clop of horses approaching us on the path – but it was empty; just the echo of history was all I heard.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Travel first class on Southern trains

First class... before and after
Even though they've cut 341 trains a day; even though their trains never, ever run on time; even though trains are cancelled without warning or explanation; even though the staff often go on strike, though they rarely turn up anyway; even though the trains are overcrowded and creak and crawl along the track, stopping at a red signal every few minutes; even though it's the worst performing train company in the country, even after all this, it's reassuring to know the class system still exists in England, and for twice the price of a regular fare one can purchase a first class ticket for Southern trains and the only discernible difference seriously seems to be the (removable) First Class white piece of cloth on the back of the seat. However, if anyone actually buys a first class ticket, they can rest assured no riff-raff will be next to them – Southern has actually fined people for standing in the first class carriage when the train has been so crowded that there's been nowhere else to stand. Tomorrow, a fresh week of industrial action – can't wait!

Saturday, August 06, 2016

In search of Emmett Grogan

"Mr Grogan writes so clearly that he almost convinces us the whole story could be true."
– The New Yorker

"This book is true."
–Emmett Grogan

"The best and only authentic book written on the sixties underground."
– Dennis Hopper

According to his autobiography, Ringolevio, A Life Played for Keeps, by the age of 21, Emmett Grogan (born Kenny Wisdom) had fought in a gang fight with the largest gang in New York (The Chaplains); spent time in jail; become a heroin addict, a burglar and a robber; watched as he and his mates kill a heroin addict with battery acid (it looks like heroin and leaves no trace); attended a posh prep school on Park Avenue, Manhattan, where he excels at basketball and goes to weekly parties with the rich kids and their parents for the sole reason to scope out the houses to rob them – which he does very successfully, waiting for the owners to go on vacation then looting them all of money and jewellery. Whilst doing this, he stays at a posh hotel and hangs out at Birdland listening to the likes of Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Bobby Gillespie. But when local gangsters get wind of his selling the stolen jewellery he becomes a wanted man.

He flees the States with $40,000 in his pocket; first to Amsterdam (on the boat across has an affair with a model), then Paris, where the tensions between the Algerians and the French are high – a bomb explodes just outside his hotel room. Meeting two men in a cafe, he drives with them across the Alps into Geneva, Switzerland then Italy, where he climbs mountains, learns to speak fluent Italian and helps build a church. He spends eight months in Heidelberg partying and spends a large chunk of his money; goes to Italy, witnessing the funeral of "Lucky" Luciano; then Rome, where he gets set up by a dealer called Squint Laszlo and spends seven months in jail (he's 17 by now). He swears revenge on Laszlo, tracks him down to the States, watches his house for a month, kills him with a shotgun, expertly making it look like an accident (they'd been a lot of recent mishaps with local residents killing themselves whilst cleaning their guns).

Emmett goes back to Italy and in Rome he watches films and reads the beat writers. He meets a girl, attends film school and immerses himself in New Wave cinema, Pasolini, Fellini. Adapts TS Eliot's Wasteland into a screenplay. Makes and acts in a few films, one of which wins a prize at a film festival but then is expelled from film school when one of the judges recognises him from when he was arrested and tried in Rome previously. Reads Joyce – goes to Dublin. Gets a job at the Guinness brewery, hangs out with the IRA, blows up a few buildings. Goes to London; writes pornography books for a while until, again, gangsters are after him for muscling in on their turf (his partner in writing had just been hospitalised).

(When he's not doing these things, he's either beating the shit out of someone, drinking Cutty Sark, taking drugs, getting busted by the cops, having casual sex (most notably in the back seat of a limousine with four beautiful black chicks and a lot of cocaine, whilst being driven through the Newark riots of 1967) or reading Beat writers.)

At 21, Emmett Grogan returns to the States for good, where he immediately gets drafted into the Vietnam war. In army training, where, naturally, he excels, Grogan deliberately gets himself discharged by popping a load of pills and aiming a bazooka at his fellow soldiers, and subsequently spends time in the psychiatric ward before being set free.

Grogan finds himself in San Francisco in the mid-1960s and becomes immersed in the counter culture, founding the Diggers, the anti-establishment anarchist group who distributed free food, put on improvised street theatre and organised free concerts with the like of The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin. Entirely distrustful of the whole flower power movement, he becomes a kind of outlaw figure and legend, equally admired and despised. His reputation spreads, and Grogan gives talks in London, New York and San Francisco; he coins the phrase "Today is the first day of the rest of your life"; hangs out with The Black Panthers, Timothy Leary, The Hell's Angels, Michael X, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Bob Dylan; organises the Rolling Stones' Altamont free concert (whilst in police custody). He kidnaps Governor George Romney and his wife, Lenore, in a large truck in San Francisco, managing to lose the FBI and the police. One of the most moving sequences in the book occurs when he leaves San Francisco briefly to learn how to hunt deer with an American Indian in a forest in New Mexico.

This was all before he was thirty; by thirty-five he would be dead of a heroin overdose. Whether or not it's all true or not is a moot point; it's a terrific read. Whether or not there even existed a man called Emmett Grogan is also fairly moot (my boon companion think he's fictional, and in the book there are several allusions to Emmett Grogan being a myth – he shuns all publicity, refuses interviews, the photos that exist of him are not him but an actor. He basically works like a dog, stealing food and setting up 'free' shops to help the poor and needy (an about-turn for someone who used to beat the shit out of people, and murdered a few too). There's not that much information about him online.

The 500-page autobiography, written in crystal clear, detailed prose in the third person, where, confusingly, for the first half of the book he is Kenny Wisdom before changing his name to Emmett Grogan, is part polemic and part unbelievable adventure story. Why is there not a film made of this  man's life?

If writing an autobiography by the age of thirty seems a little vain, well, Kenneth Branagh, merely an actor, wrote his first one by the same age, and Jordan, a model, has so far ghostwritten* four, the first of which was the biggest selling autobiography sold at WH Smith** in a single week.

*I don't mind ghost-written autobiographies at all – unless they're a writer, there's no reason to suppose any celebrity should be able to write a book of their life. However, Jordan has also ghostwritten three novels, which is slightly beside the point for a novelist.

**I've been meaning to write a post about WH Smith for years, but it'll just consist of this: it's crap. It's always been crap. It's like jack of all trades, master of none. Its greetings cards are tacky, magazines and books bland and mainstream, chocolate overpriced, toys and stationary limited... Bring back Borders! Did I actually dream Borders? It was like my favourite shop ever, yet no one I mention it to have even heard of it.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016


Man chest hair

A pair of teeth /

Hot cock, late
(Hot chocolate)

Acid-faced finance
(Asset-based finance)

I sing sugar
(Icing sugar)

We eight at nine
(We ate at nine)

Snot sleeve shirts
(Short sleeve shirts)

Becks any dicks
(Eggs Benedict)

(Hi Jean)

*Mist herds?

Previously on Barnflakes:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Top ten museums/galleries*

1. The Hermitage, St. Petersberg
2. The British Museum, London
3. The Prado, Madrid
4. The Louve, Paris
5. The Uffizi, Florence
6. Musee d'Orsay, Paris
7. V&A, London
8. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
9. Guggenheim, Bilbao
10. Tate Britain, London

1. British Museum, London
2. Natural History Musuem, London
3. Ashmolean, Oxford
4. National Gallery, London
5. Tate Britain, London
6. V&A, London
7. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
8. National Media Museum, Bradford
9.  Bristol Art Gallery and Museum
10. Isles of Scilly Museum, St Mary's, Scilly Isles

1. Horniman Museum, Forest Hill
2. Sir John Soane's Museum, Holborn
3. Geffrye Museum, Hackney
4. Grant Museum of Zoology, Euston
5. Serpentine Art Gallery, Kensington
6. Saachi Art Gallery, Chelsea
7. Cinema museum, Kennington
8. Whitechapel Art Gallery, Whitechapel
9. Dulwich Art Gallery, Greenwich
10. Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, Euston

I love galleries and musuems (and possibly their shops even more!) but sometimes the big, blockbuster ones can be overwhelming. We spent an entire day, 9-5, in the Hermitage in St Petersberg, and though the experience was amazing, we emerged dazed and knackered, not remembering anything we'd seen or read. It can become a bit of a ticking exercise: Leonardo? Check. Matisse? Check. We watched the Asian tourists do just this, taking photos of every exhibit and painting without even looking at them. The smaller museums and galleries can be more interesting, specialised, intimate, unique, memorable... and less crowded. 

*That I've been to.

Previously on Barnflakes:
A guide to photography for tourists 
Top 3 new (and free) art galleries
Banksy vs Bristol Museum
H for Horrific

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Barnflakes on Instagram

Like is such a weak word, almost an insult. To like a film, photo or painting is the blandest, most unimaginative platitude. Naturally, it pervades social media. The more likes you get, the more valued and popular you feel as a human being in (virtual) society.

Instagram is 50% selfies of young women, 45% photos of meals and 5% arty pics. The medium is the message. There's a formula to taking a great, arty photo on Instagram. Simply take a photo of anything with your phone – object, landscape, rusty sign. Apply a filter and an arty frame. Post it and you may well get hundreds of likes (though obvs I don't – I'm all about anti-social media).

The web is full of so-called great photos. In particular travel photos. But are they great photos by great photographers? Well, probably not. Mainly, they're photos of beautiful-looking places. The hard part is getting to the place – 99% of the photos is being in the location; 1% is the photo. I mean, literally a child or blind person could take most lovely travel photos – with a camera phone or a £10,000 Nikon DLSR – if they were at the stunning location. (It's no surprise to me that a National Geographic photographer can take great images with an iPhone but apparently it's headline news: here, here and here, for example.) Of course, some rules apply – composition, light etc, but, famously, a great photographer such as William Eggleston sometimes doesn't even look through the viewfinder of his camera – he just points and shoots.

Compare most Instagram photos to a photo taken by a great photogapher. A great photographer can take a great photograph anywhere; though it helps being in the right time at the right place (as the recent viral photo of a Manchester street scene demonstrates). Travel photography is relatively easy because everything is 'exotic' and new; it's much harder taking a good shot of a place you've always lived as it's hard to see it with new and different eyes.

Apple's Shot on an iPhone 6 campaign seemed to show us anyone could take a great photo if they owned an iPhone 6 (and indeed, it is kind of true – with apps and filters anyone can make a boring photo at least look interesting). What Apple didn't tell us was most of the photos were by professional photographers. The photos were predominately of a travel or 'exotic' nature, fitting in with Apple's supposed customer base as hip, moneyed and well-travelled individuals. (The hilarious spoof campaign, seen in San Francisco, is probably more on the mark for most users.)

I came across the website of one of the photographers used in the campaign. On his blog he charts his journey with the photo used by Apple, from taking the picture to the initial emails from Apple to finally seeing it on billboards across the globe. The finished photo is okay; the original, which he shows on his blog, looks very average – but after putting into Snapseed (also my app of choice), making it black and white and adjusting the contrast – hey presto, it becomes an Apple-ready image. I'm very happy for the guy but a lot of his photos look like holiday snaps, with an artistic bent.

Although photos have always been 'doctored', cropped and generally improved (before Photoshop was around) in the darkroom, in the past you at least needed a decent photo to begin with. Nowadays you can take any photo and with the help of a photo editing app, like Snapseed, you can add filters and adjustments to completely transform your dull picture into a masterpiece, then put it onto Instagram, get tons of likes and feel both popular and a great photographer.

Barnflakes on Instagram

Previously on Barnflakes:
Random Film Review: The Social Network
The Tedium is the Message

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Eye catching

I tried to catch her eye
On the 8:15
To East Sheen
But it rolled on the floor
Got caught in the door
Causing a delay
That lasted all day.

Her eye got the squash
But for not much dosh
She bought an eye patch
Which went well with her hat:
A perfect match.

After that traumatic event
Some fury she had to vent.
First she quit her dull job
And became a form of yob.

To be exact:
She became a train pirate
Which went well with her name
(It was Violet)
She sailed the rails all day
Better, certainly, was the pay
The work varied and interesting,
Hours flexible.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Courtyard cress* haiku

Covet the courtyard cress
as it covers the corners
of the cobblestones

 *It looks like cress but is actually soleirolia soleirolii, commonly known as mind-your-own-business or baby’s tears.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Wiltshire Winter Haiku

Friday, April 15, 2016

Top ten dialogue-free* openings in films

Aside from Steve Reich, the coolest person to ever wear a baseball cap...
Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas
1. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
3. Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984)
4. Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
5. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
6. Up (Pete Docter, 2009)
7. Aguirre: Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972) 
8. Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977)
9. There will be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
10. Le Samourai (Jean Pierre Melville, 1967)
It's a bold move for any film-maker to have no dialogue at all in a five, ten or even twenty minute opening sequence for a film, but it can set the mood of the movie perfectly, and besides, film is meant to be a visual medium. The opening sequence of many of these films is the best part of them: Paris, Texas would have been great as a ten minute short film; once the dialogue and story begin, all the mystery and beauty vanishes and the film turns very average indeed.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

"Women don't understand film"

Labelled under: Controversial (perhaps)

The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of the author.

I mentioned on a previous post that women don't do top ten films and music, and that men do (because we're geeky and on the Asperger's spectrum etc etc). I asked a female work colleague what her favourite film was (I also asked her what her favourite album was; she said she didn't know the title of any albums). She said her favourite film was Run all Night, a terrible Liam Neeson action thriller from last year. Another (male) colleague said dryly to her, "You may want to rethink that answer" before uttering the immortal lines: "Women don't understand film".

An outrageous statement perhaps but a quick survey in the office reveals women's favourite films to be mainstream at best, terrible at worst: Child 44 (never heard of it; oh, it's a terrible Russian thriller), Steel Magnolias, Dumb and Dumber, Love Actually (there's a great blog post about Love Actually not actually being about love at all), Pretty Woman and "anything with Russell Crowe".

Recently some women at the office have seen Batman Vs Superman (at the cinema; it's had universal terrible reviews) and 50 Shades of Grey (on DVD; the book was dire; the film is worse). Male colleagues have seen High-Rise, Anomalisa and Victoria.

Here's the thing: the average guy, who wouldn't consider himself a film buff, at least knows a potted history of film: classics such as Citizen Kane, Vertigo and The Godfather; a few foreign films; they would have heard of David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles. Most women wouldn't.

Mainly women don't care about film or its history (there are great female film critics – Pauline Kael and Dilys Powell spring to mind); they don't care for directors or cinematographers. It's not on their radar. They like sexy actors and a good story. They'll watch what's on. When they judge their favourite film, it's an emotional response which doesn't take in the history of cinema; usually, it'll be something they've seen last week and thought was great.

Now, I'm not completely pretentious (only a bit) and can enjoy a lighthearted film as much as anyone: recently I was in stitches watching Bridesmaids (so there; it's not even very good but I found it hilarious!). But my favourite films would be more along the lines of L'Atalante, Belle de Jour, Mean Streets, Eraserhead, Touch of Evil, Stalker...

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top 10 film critics
Sex and the City 2 Vs. Greenberg

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Relics of the recent past

As technology hurtles ahead at breakneck speed, we find ourselves more and more obsessing over our ever-increasingly recent past, whether through 1980s discos or remakes and reissues (Simon Reynolds wrote a good book about this subject called Retromania, which I've also mentioned here).

And so it is with physical excavations too. It used to be people would get excited about dinosaur fossils being dug up – now it's Atari games. In 2014 a landfill excavation in New Mexico revealed Atari video games (mainly E.T., often cited as the worst video game ever made) and consoles, to the excitement of geeks the world over, apparently. A documentary by Jak Penn has been made about the event.

Also in 2014, excavations began in the California desert for the buried film sets of Cecil B DeMille's first version of The Ten Commandments, made in 1923. After filming wrapped, the sets were knocked down, buried, and left for the sands of time, and the desert, to cover them for ninety years until journalist and aspiring film-maker Peter Brosnan heard the story and began his own investigations. He unearthed a Sphinx – then obviously made a documentary about the experience.

Closer to home (if you live in London), in 1916, printer and bookbinder Thomas Cobden-Sanderson spent six months dropping a ton of metal printing type from Hammersmith bridge into the Thames. He was destroying his own lovely font, Doves Type, due to a feud with his one-time friend and business partner, Emery Walker (this is the most exciting font story ever. Read more about it here). Long thought lost, over a hundred years later designer Robert Green went looking for the lead type on the bank of the Thames by Hammersmith and managed to unearth 150 pieces. No documentary but there is now a digital version available of the typeface.

(There's another story that I heard of a font in France being thrown into the sea. There's a relationship between fonts and water – no, not the church sort used for baptisms but the letter sort.)

What future generations will make of our rubbish is anyone's guess – presumably there is more of it now than anytime in history. Future historians be able to date our landfills in a similar way to geologists dating earth rock by its layers.

Russell Hoban's novel, Riddley Walker (1980), set more than two thousand years after the world's devastation by a nuclear bomb, features the eponymous protagonist living a stone-age existence in post-apocalyptic 'Ingland', struggling to come to terms with the distant past having had greater technology. The past, in the form of any object found whilst foraging in the mud – a fragment of a book, mangled machinery – is scrutinised over with reverence, but no sense can be made of it. 

Further watching:
Atari: Game Over
The Lost City of Cecil B DeMille 

Previously on Barnflakes:
Forward to the Past: Riddley Walker

Monday, April 11, 2016

London through its charity shops #33: Sydenham SE26

There is not much of interest in Sydenham (I've looked!), though it has some great greenery around it, including the lovely, ancient Sydenham Hill Wood, which has this interesting folly. Syndenham High Street has six charity shops (all of which are closed on Sundays).

From the top there's a lively St Christopher's Hospice, with a wide range of bric-a-brac and a Kids' Zone, and downstairs, excitingly, a whole room of music and books. ALDLIFE is like a smelly jumble sale. Out back there's a room with lots of kid's stuff, books, records, CDs and DVDs. RSPCA is small but nice. Sue Ryder is quite big with decent stock and has a nice vibe to it. Next is a small, average Cancer Research. Then finally a small Scope, mainly clothes, with a small book section and some records.

Records. I still look for them but I don't know why. The ratio of looking though stacks of records to actually buying one I want must now be something like 1000:1. It seems the days are gone when I used to pick up something like this for 92p.