Monday, November 27, 2017

The sparrows of Kosovo

It's not often a beautiful woman invites me to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, to try out the disco shower in her hotel room, so I was hardly going to refuse the offer of a lifetime. H had been working in Kosovo for a few weeks and I joined her for a long weekend. Whenever I go anywhere on my own, I get fleeced. €15 from airport to city centre, everyone told me. There was a sign at the airport saying €15. This is what I told and pointed at to the group of taxi drivers. €15! I exclaimed. No, they exclaimed back. €30! This went on for a while. I ended up getting in a cab with an old guy who I thought might be a soft touch. Nope. €30!

It was to be the biggest expense of the trip by a long way. Put it this way – for €5 I could get a coffee, a beer, a meal and a pack of cigarettes. Sandwiched between trips to Stockholm and Venice, Kosovo was welcome relief on the wallet, if not as high up on the tourist destination list as the aforementioned places.

They say time travel will never happen – if it had, people would have come back from the future to our time. But it happens every day. Remember those balmy summer holidays as a child that lasted forever? Or that day in the office that lasted a fortnight, whilst the week holiday in Spain went by in a couple of hours? Sleep feels like a form of time travel. As we get older we experience time differently – in general, time accelerates in our brain. Going through time zones always feels like time travel to me, and even travel in general. Pay some dosh, hop on a plane, and whizz bang, you're in a completely culture with different people, money, buildings, food.

Kosovo, part of the former Yugoslavia, is a tiny (population: about 2m), landlocked country in the Balkans. It's recognised as a country by the United States and most of the E.U. but not by Serbia or Russia. It remains a disputed territory and partially recognised state. The area is still far from stable; the country is very poor and there are no jobs. You know what, though? It felt like one of the safest and friendliest places I'd ever been to.

Pristina may lack the wow factor of a capital city but it has a great coffee culture and some really quirky architecture – I don't know, there's probably not much more I need from a city. I loved wondering around with H – who already knew the place like the back of her hand – stopping for coffee and taking pictures of bonkers buildings. There's an intriguing mix of architecture – some modern, some communist, some Ottoman mosques and hamans and lots of monuments, dedicated to either communism or war. All over Kosovo are reminders of war – not just the recent conflict, though there are plenty of those, from the black gravestones with photos of prominent soldiers planted in the actual spot where they died in battle (ie on a street corner), to a large statue of Bill Clinton on Bill Clinton boulevard in Pristina – but monuments to previous battles, from the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 to World War II. Many monuments to Tito's Yugoslavia remain, unprotected and often derelict. The Brotherhood and Unity monument, built in 1957, towers above the minaret of a nearby mosque. The Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries are beautiful, but many of these are also derelict or damaged; others have armed guards patrolling and 'No Guns' signs outside.

My favourite building of all though – sometimes unfairly dubbed the ugliest building in the world – was the National Library of Kosovo. A huge building consisting of cube-shaped rooms with some 99 domes on top of them, the whole structure is covered with what looks like chain mail. It all goes to create a bizarre and brutalist building which has divided opinion. Naturally, I loved it.

In the evening we hung out at the popular Soma book station, a cosy and ubercool cafe, bar and restaurant catering to foreign NGOs and cosmopolitan locals (ie it's expensive, for Kosovo). Books and records are for sale, and cool jazz wafts through the dim room, creating an intimate atmosphere. Standing outside in the garden having a smoke, I heard the delicate tones of Chet Baker singing from inside; outside was the Muslim call to prayer – a very pleasant musical mash up.

Cocktails are a speciality at Soma but we kept to coffee and juice. I really don't mind a country without pubs and bars. In the UK, coffee shops shut at 5:30pm then the only option is the pub, and alcohol. In Kosovo – a Muslim country, so not many pubs – there are no drunks littering the streets on a Saturday night, no drunken shouting and fighting. The coffee shops stay open till late, creating a pleasant environment of people chatting over their macchiatos.

In general, the service in Kosovo is amazing – not matter what you order in a cafe or a restaurant – it arrives in minutes. Liburnia restaurant was my favourite place to eat; a slightly ramshackle old building but cosy and romantic, all the food cooked in their traditional open oven. Upon entering, we walked through a sort of greenhouse filled with trees, plants and flowers before entering the main restaurant, decked out with old wooden furniture and decorated with antiques.

We spent two days exploring other parts of Kosovo – taking buses to Prizren in the south and Peja in the west of the country, passing casinos, unfinished and abandoned buildings and factories, then snow-capped mountains and lush forests along the way. Every once in a while an immaculate palace-type building will appear as if from nowhere, in a wasteland, seemingly modelled on the White House or an ancient Greek temple. Flocks of black birds (possibly blackbirds – which would be a nice allusion to the Field of Blackbirds, site of the 14th century battle and marked by a war monument, but they looked bigger, so I'm calling them black birds – ravens or crows, I guess) flew ahead and alongside the bus, as if showing the way and ensuring us safe passage.

Outside of Pristina, we were more of an oddity, and people sometimes gave us suspicious looks. Nevertheless, a sweet old man selling chestnuts by the river in Prizren, not only gave me his cushion to sit on the wall but refused any money for the chestnuts he gave us. In Peja (also known as Peć), we visited the beautiful Patriarchate of Peć, the monastery and Serbian Orthodox church located about 1km out of town. I had to present my passport to an armed guard. We'd asked several people in town where it was; no one had heard of it – or said they hadn't. I thought this bizarre – but there was no way a Kosovan would visit a Serbian church.

+++++++

H was working on the Monday so I had a day to myself. I could make out that I simply hopped on a bus to a foreign country without map or currency or H – which is true – but I did a fair bit of online research beforehand and was a tad apprehensive. I needn't have worried; the bus from Pristina to Skopje, capital of Macedonia, takes two hours and costs €5.

Though Dana Rohrabacher, a congressman close to Donald Trump and frequent defender of Vladimir Putin, said earlier in the year that "Macedonia is not a country. I'm sorry, it's not a country," and suggested it should split up and divided between its neighbours, well, to me – and I'm sure, its residents – it certainly felt like a country. Its capital, Skopje, felt very unique and much different to Kosovo. Its uniqueness is striking and controversial. The whole city centre has been transformed in recent years with the 'Skopje 2014' renewal project, at a cost of hundreds of millions of euros. Detractors call it a kitsch mini-Las Vegas theme park and waste of money in a country with much poverty and unemployment. I see their point, but as a tourist there for a day, I loved it. Everywhere you look there are giant mock-classical Greek government buildings and museums, monuments, water fountains and warrior statues. That the city has 'borrowed' from Greek legends is no accident – the country has been locked in a 27-year-old feud with neighbour Greece, who objects to the country being called Macedonia (Greece wants it to be renamed the catchy Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). Athens has accused Skopje of 'cultural theft', and giant new monuments of Alexander the Great isn't helping the cause. The name feud has been the main reason Macedonia hasn't joined the EU or Nato.

Anyway, aside from being conned into buying a pair of fake Ray-Bans, I enjoyed the city tremendously. The sun was shining (I did actually need a pair of shades), and Skopje felt more cosmopolitan and relaxed than Pristina – women were out and about, for a start. Again, it's the bonkers mix of buildings which makes it such a fascinating place. Over the bridge from the sparkling white mega mock-classical buildings of the city centre is the charming old bazaar, Skopje's focal point of trade and commerce since the 12th century. With its labyrinth of alleyways, small shops, markets and cafes, mosques, hamans and a fortress, it has the feel of a North African medina. I was foolishly walking around in a pair of dirty shoes – and had a shoe shiner chase after me, and actually apply shoe polish to my shoe as I was running away from him.

I stumbled across by accident a concrete communist-era bonkers brutalist building I'd wanted to see – the central post office, looking like a cross between a spaceship and a giant insect. My other favourite building in the city was the Mother Teresa Memorial House (the famous nun was born in Skopje in 1910), a sort of fun, post-modern Hansel and Gretel mash up, rather than the austere place of worship you'd expect.

I only had a few hours to explore the city; yes I was worried about missing the last bus back. I arrived back in Pristina when it was dark and freezing cold, got a taxi back to the hotel with a crazy driver talking about kings of the road and guns (via Google translate on his phone); got fleeced.

Oh, and the disco shower? I found it a bit intimidating and complicated, but it was a disco shower. It had flashing lights, a radio and jets of water spurting out in all directions. And the sparrows? Lots of them would chirp around me in the morning when I had a cigarette in the courtyard of the hotel.

My flight back was at three in the morning. I got a taxi to the airport; with only €20 in my pocket, I was afraid I'd be charged €30 again. When he said €15, my heart leapt and I almost wept with joy; I gave him a large(ish) tip.

Flickr photos of Kosovo and Skopje.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The pigeons of Venice

What do you call someone from Venice who can't see? A Venetian blind! I'm here all day, folks. Obviously, Venetian blinds didn't originate in Venice (actually Persia; Venetian traders in the 1700s bought them back to Venice and Paris – the French still refer to their country of origin by calling them les persienes), just as, say, Jerusalem artichokes aren't from Jerusalem (nor are they even artichokes). Anyway, I digress.

We arrived in the medina that is Venice at about two in the morning. Wondering aimlessly around the maze of alleyways trying to find our hotel, I naturally thought of Don't Look Now, and told H if she sees a little girl in a red raincoat, Don't Follow Her.

Is there anywhere else like Venice in the world? A city with no cars! With roads made of water! It's simultaneously antiquated and futuristic (cars – driverless or flying Blade Runner-style – do not figure in my vision of the future at all), though climate change doesn't make the future for Venice look great – it'll be like Atlantis in years to come.

Which, in a roundabout kind of way, is why we went. H and I had wanted to see Damien Hirst's (no, never been a fan of his before) Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable exhibition all year and finally got a cheap deal in November. The exhibition has received mixed reviews but there was no doubting the boldness of vision. Ten years in the making, costing millions of pounds, employing 250 craftsmen in 5 countries and housed in two galleries, this was art as blockbuster movie (I wasn't even going to mention this, but I will. Yes he employs people to execute his art! Like a film director does! Like Michelangelo did! Like Jeff Koons does! Enough!).

A year ago, almost to the day, we'd seen the British Museum's 'blockbuster' show, Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds, the tale of two 'lost' ancient Egyptian cities recently 'rediscovered'. I'd been underwhelmed by it all, but more than that – and I said as much to H at the time – I felt all the artefacts looked too new, and possibly, well, fake (we all mock modern art by saying it's only called art because it's in a gallery; very rarely do we question the veracity of a museum). Though Hirst's exhibition was planned years before the British Museum's, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable felt like a personal affront to Sunken Cities.

Before I went to the exhibition, I wasn't altogether clear on the story. Did Damien really find treasure off the coast of East Africa, and then doctor it – Chapman Brothers-style – with Mickey Mouse and Mowgli? Or was it all a hoax? The clue's in the exhibition title, the anagrammatically-named Cif Amotan II ('I am fiction', the wealthy freed slave from 100AD whose treasure this is) and, well, actually visiting the exhibition. Even though there is a strikingly similar and realistic documentary (or mockumentary, if you will) to the Sunken Cities one of divers finding the treasure haul in the depths of the ocean when you enter the exhibition, it very soon becomes apparent that it's all fake (though not fake art but fake news). Okay, it's a hoax but an amazing one.

There are one hundred artefacts, from drawings and sculptures to jewellery and weapons, some the size of a building, some the size of a fingernail. There are sculptures of serpents and beasts, of Kate Moss and Mickey Mouse, Rihanna an an Egyptian goddess, made from marble, stone, bronze, silver and gold, all encrusted with barnacles and coral. There is a mash up of cultures and religions – Egyptian, pre-Columbian, Buddhism. It has to be seen to be (un)believed.

We'd spent half a day at the two Hirst galleries, but there was other art everywhere in Venice. Not just the city itself – the churches and palaces, the beautifully crumbling buildings – but the Venice Biennale, the bi-annual arts festival which consumes the city. Everywhere we looked was free art – in abandoned buildings and churches (my advice to anyone visiting Venice: when you're in a building, any building, always look up – the ceiling will invariably be stunning) as well as the two main locations: the Central Pavilion and Arsenale. For these it was 25€ for a day pass, but worth every cent. We were there from 12 til 6 and had only seen probably half of the art on display. Some was crap, some was amazing (my own idea for an installation in the city was to have hundreds of balloons in the shape of a lion with wings – the symbol of Venice – floating around one of the churches). Just about every country in the world is represented in every kind of media – even painting! And hardly any female nudes, that fine tradition of the male gaze in western art for the last five hundred years, but lots of cocks.

As an aside from all the art and beauty (sigh; it gets so overwhelming, day after day), we did stumble across other stuff. Like a charity shop. I was hoping it to be full of cut price Tintorettos and designer wear – some Prada garb for 50 cents etc. Alas, no. The very persuasive old woman working there forced me to try on a horrible 1970s blue-patterned cardigan, which I did, before taking it off again immediately and walking out the shop. That didn't stop her from chasing after me down the street, waving the cardigan in the air and shouting Italian in my direction. (A note on the Venetian old ladies: they're stunning! And ballsy! Compared to shrivelling old English women, all beige, afraid and shuffling along, senior Italian ladies are stylish and loud.)

I thought there was no way we'd ever find the Libreria Acqua Alta bookshop I'd heard about, but H found it (she's on a par with my brother in map-reading skills but also has the female intuition thing going on) down a dark alleyway one evening (and even managed to find it again the following morning). Meaning 'bookshop of high water', the shop's solution to the constant flooding it receives every year from the nearby canal is to store its books in baths and a full-size gondola (no, we never went on one if you're asking; not for €80 for 35 minutes), as well as storing its books to the ceiling. With more people taking photos of the shop (including me) than buying books, it's a wonder they stay afloat at all.

We experienced all weather – sun when we arrived; then atmospheric mist and cold and finally rain (we'd prematurely high-fived each other when we overheard an American woman say it was to rain the next day – when we were leaving. We hadn't taken into account that the rain would start in the early hours of the morning, and we'd got soaked getting to the ferry).

Anyway. Venice, city of dreams. Pigeons and tourists, tacky souvenirs, pasta and pizza, ice cream, getting fleeced €6.50 for a coffee (well, I was glad in a way, it had to happen, and could have been a lot worse; still, it leaves a sour taste). The city's sinking, it's a theme park for tourists, a victim of its own success, begger's everywhere. Even so, it still feels like a city of dreams, no cars, water, beauty and art everywhere you look. And no sign of a girl in a red raincoat.

Venice in the movies
Don't Look Now
The Talented Mr Ripley (all set in Italy, with a few scenes in Venice)
Death in Venice
The Tourist (watched against my better judgement, but actually thoroughly enjoyed it.)

Venice in literature
The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, Geoff Dyer
Venice, Jan Morris 
Death in Venice, Thomas Mann

My Flickr photos of Venice are here.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Seven days of nothing


Here's the second video I've made for Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds, whose new album, Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me, was released last week. I went to the launch gig at the famous Troubadour cafe in London last Thursday, and had a jolly good time. The album is my favourite of Naomi's yet, and it's already high up in the Amazon folk music chart. 

Previously on Barnflakes:
Without Joy

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Camberwell submarine

I'd of course heard of the Camberwell carrot but the Camberwell submarine was a recent discovery. Located at Akerman Road, London SW9, for a while its purpose was something of a mystery. Nuclear bunker? Brutalist monument to sailors lost during the war? It must be said, since it had its chimneys raised by four metres several years ago, it looks far more imposing and much less than a submarine. Anyway, its purpose is fairly prosaic – it houses the boiler plants for the local housing estates; something which is fairly obvious when you walk alongside it and receive blasts of hot air.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Subterranean Stockholm syndrome

I know many countries through their movies, and my main motivation for going somewhere foreign can be because of film directors. So Russia will always be Tarkovsky, in Finland there’s the one and only Aki Kaurismaki, Belgium has André Delvaux, in the Czech Republic it’s Jiří Menzel and Sweden, well, Ingmar Bergman towers over their cinema like ABBA towers over their music (with death metal a close second). There’s also Bo Widerberg and I’m a fan of Lukas Moodysson – his second feature, Together, starring Michael Nyqvist from the film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish title: Men Who Hate Women), who died of lung cancer a few months ago, aged 56 – was an unalloyed joy, even if his later films can be very demanding and explicit – close-up scenes of vaginal reconstruction surgery, anyone? Nevertheless, I applaud him pushing the boundaries of cinema as Swedish filmmakers have done ever since Vilgot Sjöman’s scandalous I Am Curious (Yellow) in 1967. Special note to Let The Right One In (filmed in the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg), one of the most original vampire films ever.

Culturally, Sweden has changed since the 1970s. Back then, there was Bergman, ABBA and Swedish au pair blue movies. Now it’s IKEA, meatballs and crime novels.

We didn’t get around to watching Blade Runner 2049 in Stockholm, as we’d planned to do, but luckily we made our own entertainment in the Stockholm metro, where many of the stations look like sci-fi film sets. Commonly referred to as the longest underground art gallery in the world, out of 100 stations, 90 of them are adorned with some form of artwork, be it installations, paintings, sculptures, tiles or mosaics (amazingly, scenes of the subway in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo make it look like the epitome of urban squalor – it’s anything but). So with only 72 hours in Stockholm (perfect for a 3 day travelcard which gives unlimited travel on the metro, bus, tram and boats to nearby islands), and rain set in for the whole weekend, we set about exploring art in the subway.

I’d arrived on the Friday with a tease of sun; the coach from the airport passing red wooden farm houses and beautiful autumnal trees all golden yellows and reds. Then a cloud the size of the sky passed over and that was it – until leaving Monday lunchtime with another tease of sun, and most amazing of all, on the coach back to the airport I saw, over a stretch of water between two islands, perhaps the biggest, clearest rainbow I’d ever seen in my life. I looked around; everyone was on their phones. I almost shouted out ‘Look!’ but you know what? Their loss.

Things happen when one travels. Not necessarily big, life changing things, but surprising, unexpected things, which could (but tend not to) happen at home. I met my brother Daniel at a coffee shop in the bus terminal. I had my first taste of ordering a £4.50 cup of coffee. We were sitting chatting when a nearby customer’s bottle of fruit juice exploded. She was sitting with her friend at the window. The deep red juice went everywhere – all down the window, on the table, on their clothes. They were dumbstruck. They sat there stunned for five minutes before even attempting to clear it up. I quipped to them that it looked like a bloody murder scene or work of art. Not sure they understood. I then had to use the toilet. No toilet in the cafe, so went out into the concourse and upstairs. It was about £1 to use the toilet. I had no currency on me, I told the assistant. That’s okay, he said, use the chip and pin reader. For a toilet! Once in the unisex toilets – toilets everywhere are unisex; and there usually being only one (if at all) in cafes, results in large queues – I had to wait for a free cubicle. Once inside, I noticed someone had left their phone and wallet, so had to dash outside and find the person who left it. Anyway, as I say, small things.

Daniel’s bike is in a huge cardboard box, which we – i.e. he – has to carry to our Airbnb in the suburbs. This involves Daniel pushing it along the platforms of the metro, inviting many stares. What, has no one seen a tall, wild man in shorts and unkempt beard pushing a huge box before? Then catching a train, then a bus (and missing our stop as we were chatting), then carrying the box through an estate to our flat in Bredäng, about 5km south west of central Stockholm.

Not only did we score a cheap room but got to explore an area which no tourist would go to – this is the magic of Airbnb. Bredäng is a relatively poor area with large council estates. 60% of the population are immigrants, including a lot of Turkish, and mentally disturbed; full of, as Daniel dubbed it, "special people and kebabs".

Let it be known at this point that I did virtually no map reading (though I had done some research, a first for me and even bought a secondhand guidebook, though I never actually opened it); having Daniel with me meant I was never lost. He uses offline maps on his phone and knows where he is all the time, wherever he is in the world. I usually just followed.

I had a list of things to see and do but had a feeling Daniel wouldn't do most of them. There was Gamla Stan, the old quarter, with its pretty houses and cobblestones ("cobblestones are for tourists" he said); there was City Hall, the Nobel Museum, the Fotografiska museum, the Vasa museum, and probably a bunch of other museums and buildings. "All boring" Daniel would say (though amazingly I did manage to get him into the art nouveau Engelbrekakyrkan church, chiseled out of rock, and the large rotunda that is the Swedish National Library). And costing about £20 to get in. The only museum we did go to was Moderna Museet, the modern art museum. Free admission, but they managed to sting us on the coffee and cake in the cafe.

With coffee and cake – referred to as fika, a part of every Swede's day – costing £10, I always knew food was going to be a problem, especially with Daniel being a vegetarian and eating twice as much as anyone else. I never even saw any meatballs, pickled herring, reindeer, or smörgåsbords – it was all pizza, pasta, falafel and fika for us. We popped into the "third best coffee shop in the world" but didn't fancy their cakes. A lot of coffee shops are cashless (though not contactless). Having hot milk in your coffee seems to double the price.

We spent a lot of time wondering the city, trying to find either a toilet or a place to eat more substantial than a £10 sandwich. It's a beautiful city surrounded by water and consisting of 14 islands; clean, no litter, not much graffiti. Friendly people. With a population of less than a million (though being one of the fastest-growing regions in Europe, this figure is expected to more than double by 2024), the city never feels crowded; the long tunnels of the Metro look eerily empty. We jaywalked all the time, as everyone would in London (we're in a rush to get our lattes!), but people here wait patiently at the lights for the green man, even when there's no traffic.

Saturday night, 9pm in the trendy Södermalm district. The vegetarian restaurant Daniel wanted to go to was shut. All restaurants in Stockholm close at nine on a Saturday, we were informed. We trudged around in the rain until we found a poncy pasta place that was open. Vapiano was high concept: with no waiters, instead you're given a card that you swipe at the different counters – salad, main course, bar – whilst your food is prepared in front of you. Well, first of all they had no risotto. Then no spaghetti. Then no cucumbers for the salad. Then my card didn't work, in fact my next four cards didn't work. We eventually got a main course each, salads, bread and a beer. After eating, I popped out for a smoke. There was no one at the till at the exit when I left. Daniel came out five minutes later, saying "Let's walk fast". He'd paid for his meal on his card but nothing else (all my cards had been taken away). The service had been terrible so I wasn't hugely bothered, but all the way back I was paranoid we were being followed or tracked (I'd carelessly used wifi in the restaurant).

We'd had fun spending most of the weekend on the metro stations; looking around about twenty, photographing about ten. At some of the most popular stations – T-Centralen, Solna Centrum, Kungsträdgården, Stadion, Tensta – we ran into the same folk photographing them several times. One was a young Swede with a camera and tripod, who kindly marked on our map the best ones to go to; another was two young Chinese women, studying in Sweden, who wrote us a list of the best ones and taught us some Swedish and Chinese.

Then suddenly it was time for me to go; Daniel stayed another day before heading back to NZ. By chance, we did pass by the bank (though now a hotel) where the Stockholm syndrome got its name from; as well a plaque designating the place where former PM Olof Palme was shot dead. I mainly agree with my brother: touristy things are boring. Even the sight of a selfie stick had him walking in the opposite direction.

Funny how once you've been somewhere you suddenly notice it everywhere in the news: Swedish model Arvida Byström has received rape threats for her hairy legs... Swedish journalist Kim Wall beheaded in a submarine... Women-only music festival in summer 2018 in Sweden after spate of sexual attacks... Radioactive wild boar spark concerns in Sweden 31 years after Chernobyl [the seemingly random Chernobyl reference is because a cloud of radioactive dust spread over Sweden after the disaster]... Nobel prizes for literature [just a day after this announcement there's a large screen in our local library advertising the books of Kazuo Ishiguro – only in Stockholm!] and economics awarded.

Previously on Barnflakes:
White Clouds, Dark Skins
Lookalikes #23: Ingmar and Ingrid Bergman
City Syndromes 

My Flickr photos
Daniel's Flickr photos

Thursday, September 14, 2017

London through its charity shops #35: Swiss Cottage NW3, NW6 & NW8

No, I didn't go all the way to north London for charity shops! What am I – crazy/too much time on my hands/sad (delete as applicable)? No, I went for the brutalist, Grade II listed Alexandra Road council estate of course (picture above). Then, naturally, decided to do the charity shops. And along the long curve of Finchley Road from the tube station they go.

First up is a British Heart Foundation, with a fine range of women's clothes and shoes; lots of records, books and CDs. Next is a Shelter 'boutique'; mainly new, designer goods – not my thing at all. Octavia is pleasantly spacious. John's Hospice is an old-fashioned charity shop, with the pleasant, quiet and concentrated rustling of books and clothes going on. Books were stacked precariously high and there was a fine collection of religious figures going for a song.
Just one more charity shop, past Finchley Road tube station on the other side of the road, All Aboard had long rows of clothes, like TK Maxx. Other than that, some books, DVDs and CDs.

Also in the area, the Freud museum, the home where the psychoanalyst lived until his death. One can see his study and 'iconic' couch there. For £8. No barngains today.

Previously on Barnflakes:
London through its charity shops

Saturday, September 02, 2017

My daughter's top ten films (aged 11)

1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence, 2013)
2. The Hunger Games (George Ross, 2012)
3. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
(Francis Lawrence, 2014)
4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
(Francis Lawrence, 2015)
5. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
(Tim Burton, 2016)
6. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (David Yates, 2009)
8. Beauty and the Beast (Bill Condon, 2017)
9. Despicable Me 2 (Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, 2013)
10. Footloose (Herbert Ross, 1984)

Previously on Barnflakes:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The month's musical barngains

Top to bottom: Scientist – Dub Landing (CD); King Crimson – In the Court of King Crimson (LP); Thelonius Monk – Monk's Music (LP); Thelonius Monk –Straight, No Chaser (CD); Moondog – Moondog (mp3); Thundercat – Drunk (mp3); Fela and Afrika 70 – Zombie (LP).

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Barnflakes goes Cornwall

I had a delightful week in Cornwall recently (thanks Helen!), where I took a selection of my wares – photos, postcards and greetings cards – to sell at two craft fairs, one in Lostwithiel and one in St. Ives. Some things sold, and I had a great response to my work. I took the remaining stock to Make Industries, an art and crafts shop in Penzance, and they took the lot! I also took my illustration of the Art Deco cinema in St. Ives, above, to the cinema and asked if they wanted to use it for promotional purposes. I'm having an exhibition of my photos in the Art Cafe in St. Ives early next year. Watch this space!

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Without Joy


I was flattered to be asked by folk singer and old family friend Naomi Bedford to edit old home movie footage of Naomi's mum, Joy (who passed away almost six years ago), for her lovely and moving song about her, Without Joy. I'm very pleased with the resulting video, above.

Naomi's last album, A History of Insolence (2014), was recorded with her partner and member of The Men They Couldn't Hang, Paul Simmonds. It contains a heady mixture of traditional songs and new ones, penned by Simmonds and one by Justin Currie (of Del Amitri fame). The album received great reviews in the press, including The Guardian and Independent. Naomi's vocal style has been compared to Joni Mitchell and Shirley Collins; she's worked with people from Orbital to Ron Sexsmith, and she's received plaudits from REM's Peter Buck and folk legend Shirley Collins. I'm looking forward to her new album this November.

See Naomi's website here

Previously on Barnflakes:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

London libraries #6: Carnegie Library, Herne Hill

I can almost bear the concept of library plus coffee shop (though not really), but library plus gym, even if it's a "bookish gym" (Lambeth's phrase)? That's a huge WTF?

That is the plan being put through by Lambeth Council. Meanwhile, the library has been closed for over a year (costing nearly as much keeping it closed as being open). There were protests earlier in the year by 'Defend the 10', the group trying to keep open the ten libraries in Lambeth that are threatened with closure.

Carnegie Library was built in 1907 with funds from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (most famous for his eponymous Hall in New York City). It's a striking and beautiful brick and terracotta Grade II listed building, apparently well-loved before it was closed in March last year. It currently stands empty and locked up, with leaves in the entrance and overgrown plants in the front. Posted all around the railing are quotes from famous authors on the importance of books and librarians.

Previously on Barnflakes:
London libraries #1-6

Elsewhere on Barnflakes:
The best photo ever, ever, ever taken in Herne Hill

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Top ten Prince food songs

The artist formerly known as Quince, then Mince, who resided in Parsley Park, was a bit of a foodie. Here's ten of his most edible:

1. Little Red Courgette
2. Sign o' the Thymes
3. Raspberry Brûlée
4. Alphabet Spaghetti St.
5. U Got the Cook
6. Lemon Crush
7. Do Me, Gravy
8. I Could Never Take the Plaice of Your Man
9. Under the Cherry Moon
10. Cinnamon Girl

Previously on Barnflakes:
Lionel Richie tea

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Negan must die

Long live Negan!

This post contains spoilers about season 7 of The Walking Dead

There's a new kid on the block. He has flashy white teeth, a black leather jacket and a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire called Lucille. He's always grinning, generally having a good time and has some killer (usually literally) one liners. Okay, he's a complete sadistic sociopath and psychopath but you know what, I can't help liking Negan! (Not least because of his rock 'n' roll demeanor, something of a cross between Lou Reed and Jamie Hince.)

Understandably, most of Rick's crew don't like Negan. In the first episode of season 7 he batters Abraham and Glenn to death with Lucille (his baseball bat). The rest of Rick's group stand around, aghast, yet do nothing. Which is what they do for the first eight episodes, as Negan beats up and kills other members of Alexandria (the community where Rick and co. live), takes half their supplies, and generally force them into a life of servitude (it should be noted – they could leave Alexandria at anytime. They could find a nice boat and sail to the Maldives!) which includes kneeling before Negan and thanking him for slipping his dick down their throats (Negan's words).

It's bizarre. In one episode alone, there were about eight of Rick's posse all looking to kill Negan, whilst all the time he's relaxing at Alexandria on his own (i.e. without any of his posse), drinking lemonade, eating pasta and shooting some pool, surrounded by about a dozen other people who also want him dead yet seem incapable of doing anything. My theory is if they killed Negan, the rest of the Saviours wouldn't be too fussed; they're basically all in slavitude too, presumably all hate but fear Negan, and he seems to have one-sided monologues with most of them, belittling and humiliating them at best, threatening and torturing them at worst.

Potential weapons are lying around all the time; okay, guns have been confiscated (but there was ample time before to take him out with anything from a pistol to a rocket launcher), but there's Lucille (his baseball bat), which Negan gives to Rick and Carl to hold for him, there's a cut-throat razor blade, there's a snooker cue; basically, any one at any time could have killed him. But if that had happened, the season wouldn't have dragged on for so long...

Even in the later episodes, guns, a tiger (!) and a zombie Sasha can't kill Negan. Like Rick, he is invincible. After sixteen episodes, Rick says exactly the same words to Negan as he did in the first episode (when he was also tied up and on his knees); "I’m gonna kill you… Not today. Not tomorrow. But I’m gonna kill you". Understandably, Negan laughs in Rick's face (but doesn't kill him).

Nothing really ever works out for Rick. But for Negan life seems a bowl of cherries. He has a harem of wives, undying loyalty and can generally do as he pleases. Before the zombie apocalypse, God knows what he did – barman in a biker bar? Banker? MD of a company?

People's previous lives and work are rarely mentioned. Post-apocalypse you either sink or swim. After seven seasons, any survivors can kill a zombie as easy as turning the page of a book. No, zombies aren't the problem at all – it's other humans. 

Season 8 will be broadcast towards the end of the year.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Notes on the Walking Dead
The Walking Dead recipe
Dinosaurs & zombies

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The art of arranging flowers

Michael Andorfee takes the lift up to the offices at Dogma9, admiring his hair and Japanese jacket in the mirrors whilst reflecting with relish that any woman in the office would probably give him a blow job in the lift, if he asked them. He just hasn't asked yet. How to get (a)head in advertising. He walks through the office in slow motion, like a movie star or royalty. The creative guru has arrived. In the kitchen, the timid new office manager says she likes his jacket and asks if it's vintage (and not, is it new?). Thanks, Michael says, yes, yes it is vintage, with an approving lilt in his voice. I got it in Japan recently. Since Japan he's been to New York, and now he's back in the London office, partly to check the design mock-ups for a pitch for a new client.

Andorfee swans over to the design desks to view the designs on screen. Six other people suddenly materialise behind him; creatives, account handlers, groupies. Michael first looks at James's work. James has spent days on it. He looks at it for maybe five seconds, says it's too fussy, too complicated, and moves over to Alex's desk. This is more like it, he says. Alex is beaming. It actually looks like a Gap ad or a black and white Calvin Klein ad from the 1990s. With bland, meaningless text wrapped around some chiseled male figures.

Michael likes the photos… they remind him of a photographer whose name he can’t remember… Alex jumps in with “Terry Richardson?”, presumably the first, hip photographer he can think of. No, no, no, chants Andorfee. I like Terry but not what he does with kids. Cue canned laughter. There’s the implication that he’s worked with Richardson. Andorfee finds the photographer he was thinking of online and shows Alex. Ah, yes.

Michael Adorfee doesn't like the text. The text needs to be organic, he says. I can change it, enthuses Alex. Try handwritten text instead, suggests Michael. Alex immediately looks for handwriting fonts. No, no, no, intones David. Try actual handwriting. Genius! Everyone applauds. It occurs to James – whose designs were dismissed in five seconds – that Michael looks maniacal and crazy and may be an idiot. There's something of the Emperor's New Clothing about him, and not just the Japanese jacket.

Michael strolls over to his own desk and brings back a book with a spine some two inches thick: Shozo Sato's The Art of Arranging Flowers. Published in 1966, this book has acquired cult status for pretentious designers and creatives with more money than sense. To everyone else it just looks like a boring, old-fashioned book of flower arranging. Inside the book is the invoice, from IDEA, the poncy 'super' bookseller on Dover Street Market, said by Vogue to be the 'coolest publisher in the world' . The book cost Michael £125, though can be bought on eBay for about £17. It's all about context.

Michael tells Alex the book is beautiful and useful for inspiration. Alex stares at it blankly but gushes, 'Of course, brilliant, yes!' Michael asks him if he'd like to borrow it. As he hands the book to Alex – i.e. there's no option but to borrow it – there's a moment of awkward confusion as Michael also has his notebook in the same hand, and Alex thinks he's asking him if he wants to borrow his notebook. 'Well, don't you need your notebook?' Asks Alex in confusion. Not the fucking notebook, says Micheal, the book. Relieved laughter all round. In fact, every time Michael says anything, there's nods, yeses or laughs from the groupies.

Michael is regularly interviewed for creative magazines where he makes predictions such as '2017 will be the year for creativity in advertising'. Naturally he's working on a novel, a screenplay and a play but doesn't have time to finish them. His Instagram account has 15k followers but being a creative, Michael states that Instagram is 'for writers', and posts photos (rarely his) of an advert or newspaper headline or screenshot and writes besides it witty cynical commentary (self-deprecating yet superior sounding), to which his many admirers comment 'you are the best', 'bravo', 'incredible' and 'you are amazing', which certainly doesn't go to his head. Annoyingly I find myself chuckling at his clever copy, but at the same time realising it's fairly similar in tone to, say, the Dos and Don'ts in Vice magazine I also used to chuckle at. Some comments celebrate that he's 'STILL GOT IT'. Implying, one day, one day, he won't. Advertising and social media are fickle friends and he's almost the wrong side of 30.

Michael gets up and goes somewhere else, perhaps to go do some Japanese flower arranging. Like a puppy eager to please his master and still basking in that warm glow, Alex jumps up and gets everyone in the office to write a sample of their handwriting on a piece of paper. James rolls his eyes and almost imperceivably shakes his head. I walk out and presumably never go back.