Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Missed photo #743

On the train to Paddington somewhere in the countryside just past Pewsey. A sunset – and yes, I generally think photographs of sunsets as over-rated and clich├ęd – but this one was so sudden and unexpected, and possibly better than the ones in Bagan, Burma (and that's saying something).

It had been a boiling hot day. The hills were shrouded in mist receding into the distance, and the sun obscured by wild swirls of red clouds. It was perfect and beautiful. There was nothing I could do – I fleetingly thought of pressing the emergency cord to stop the train so I could get a decent photo of it. It would be gone in a matter of minutes; it was getting dark outside and brights lights were on in the carriage so a picture was impossible. Sometimes you've just got to be in the moment, sit back and appreciate the fleeting beauty of the world. That's what I did; I had a beer and a packet of crisps. Things could be worse.

I'm still working on that book of missed photos...

Previously on Barnflakes:
Book of untaken photos

Friday, June 16, 2017

Generation 'X'

As reported in the Guardian, Oregon has become the first state in the U.S.A. to allow the third gender option for driving licences and IDs. So, instead of the usual 'M' for Male or 'F' for Female, gender fluid persons can now mark themselves with the letter 'X'. X seems a curious letter to use – wouldn't an S, U or W designate fluidity better? (When presented with a form that asked Sex? as an adolescent, and come to think of it still today, the immature desire to answer 'Yes please!' was almost overwhelming.)

The letter X has many connotations and meaning, depending on context, many of which are negative, from Nazi symbolism and poison, to pornography and death. Films used to be rated X, implying violence or sexual content, and the letter is still used to designate extreme forms of pornography (XXX); there's the X-Files, associated with mystery, the unknown and the forbidden; it is the sign of Satan; the crossbones of the skull and crossbones symbol is an X.

On the other hand, it has less nefarious meanings too: in maths, it is the unknown factor and the axis on a chart; to Romans it was the number ten; there's Christ on his cross; the X-factor (though to me it's the epitome of evil); XX and XY designate the male and female chromosomes; it's a size of clothing; X marks the spot on maps... the list goes on: in short, its broad array of meanings means it's a confused symbol (here's a blog from Psychology Today exploring the many meanings behind the letter X).

Anyway, the letter X is the least of the confusion. There's a whole plethora of jargon for third gender people. Not only is it confusing – for them and us – but many of the terms sound like the stuff of sci-fi (a mix of Burroughs, Dick, Ballard and The Matrix springs to mind; a line from a gender fluid person who "expresses multiple genders at the same time" sounds like it came from Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly): third gender, non-binary, intergender, agender, bigender, gender fluid, amalgender and xenogender are just a few of the terms...

And I have a strange feeling that technology is to blame; the loneliness, anonymity and avatars of the online world and social media, where we can be who we like, has spilled into 'real life'; politics and schools and traditional media have no choice but to follow suit.

(Bear with me – imagine a sci-fi film, called Battle of the benders genders, set 1,000 years in the future. Countries and borders have vanished, race is a thing of the past, the real battle is between the genders. There's a world war, men and women lose, the third gender is victorious. We all have to wear matching white outfits, we all look odd, bitter and unhappy. The Miss World contest is banned, as is Woman's Hour on Radio 4 and International Woman's Day; in fact books and art are banned and burned as the world embarks on its bland genderless future where we live in blissful unhappiness being told what to think.)

At the risk of sounding transphobic, all this third gender stuff is absolute nonsense (for the first time in my life I find myself siding with Piers Morgan, whose recent TV debate with Fox and Owl, two gender fluid young people who say "I never felt truly comfortable in my body. I struggled in my teenage years with puberty and was confused with myself and didn't know if I fit into this world", neatly summing up every teenager in the world, caused a storm on social media). Worse than that, it's dangerous.

In my day there were two genders, male and female. This is still a biological fact. I don't care if you wear blue (boy) or pink (girl) clothes, or are a truck driver (man) or work in marketing (woman), if you have a penis you are male, if you have a vagina you are female. Fact. (There are a small percentage (0.5) of people born intersex – though to me it's a congenital disorder, an anomaly akin to being born with three fingers, two hearts or one eye; blimey, even the term hermaphrodite is now outdated – presumably one day Jeffrey Eugenides' fine book Middlesex will be banned). What you choose to do with your genitals is your business (sex is another jargon minefield – are you androsexual or gynosexual)? If you have a strange feeling that you don't belong or never felt comfortable being a man or woman, that is an emotional feeling, not a biological state.

What if I've always felt uncomfortable as a middle class, British, white, male human (which, naturally, I have)? What if something inside me says to me I should have been born in the Galapagos Islands as a turtle in the year 1784? Can I get rights to live like a turtle, laze around on the islands all day, go swimming and become an Ecuadorian citizen? Nope. Tough luck. To a certain extent, we are what we are born and have to make do with that.

48% of trans people under the age of 26 have attempted suicide in the UK (compared with 6% of non trans people). No wonder – I'd be suicidal working out which category I belonged in. Probably just the one called 'depressed'. I don't think the statistic is even to do with them being trans or suffering from transphobia – it's do with them being mixed up, confused and weird. You know, being a millennial. But instead of simply being a frustrated and confused teenager full of angst for no apparent reason – aside from hormones, now they have an explanation – of course, it's the dissatisfaction with the gender I was born with.

It's a playground fad that has got out of hand – even my daughter (just turned 11) speaks of gender fluidity whereas twenty years ago she would have just said tomboy. Indeed, long before that, actresses such as Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn donned male suits and ties and would now be described as gender fluid – but back then they were being individualistic trailblazers. Today they'd just be part of the new in-crowd, getting categorised and pigeon-holed and likes on Instagram.

Political correctness is a form of censorship and fascism which rewrites the past and stigmatises those who don't adopt the latest correct jargon (almost impossible to keep ahead of with the latest race terms let alone gender). It's Orwell's Ministry of Truth where the past is rewritten or forgotten, and Newspeak which redefines language (though now it's in a more complicated form, rather than simpler). As Orwell writes, "language merely reflects existing social conditions". It's impossible for us to see out of our own epoch, to see the past for what it was, and the future for what it will be. We've been through this before, right? Rights for women, blacks, gays... wrong. This is completely imaginary and ludicrous, like teenagers wanting Jedi to be classified as an official religion.

I'm exaggerating? Hardly. Words get banned before our eyes; if you don't keep up to date you're blasted on social media. Germaine Greer gets banned from speaking at a university for her transphobic comments. This is the opposite of freedom of speech or expression. This is think what we think or else. This is the thought police, totalitarianism. And this is just the start. Be afraid. 

Previously on Barnflakes:
Satorial sexism
Gender bender
Portland & Austin: tales of two cities
Notes on afflictions

Elsewhere on the web:
It’s dangerous and wrong to tell all children they’re ‘gender fluid’
– The Spectator

Friday, June 09, 2017

Barnflakes is on Etsy

 
Barnflakes is now on Etsy. Yes, you can now buy merchandise from all my anti-social media outlets – films, photography, design and writing. Go on, put your money where your mouse is. Only a couple of items on at the moment but check back weekly for that beautiful barnacled barngain you've always desired.

Coming soon: posters, postcards, photos, books, greetings cards, wrapping paper and more... 

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Notes on the UK's recent terrorist attacks

Yes, this is filed under Controversial (Perhaps).

The three terrible terrorist attacks and their aftermath in the UK this year (so far) follow a similar pattern. First is the attack itself (more likely than not, a white van and guys with knives); chaos, confusion and terror ensue. Then the 'swift response' of the emergency services and the 'everyday heroes'. Next are Tweets by May, Corbyn, Khan et al, expressing various obvious and meaningless outrage: 'shocking', 'terrible', 'horrific' etc. Then comes the media (traditional and social) frenzy, followed by a vigil (with football players and pop stars if you're lucky) and perhaps a benefit concert.

(I get pushed and ignored on a daily basis in London; then there's a terrorist attack and we all love each other, we're all as one. It only happens in times like this. I don't see it any other time. Remember the Blitz? Oh, those were the days. I don't see it. On the day of the Westminster attack, there was a blind woman struggling along a tube platform; no one helped her, people pushed past her. Women on their own struggled up stairs with huge suitcases; no one helped.)

Despite the apparent random nature of the attacks, their aftermath is fairly predictable and follow a set script. It's become a bit like an episode of 24 or a soap opera. There are 'what we know so far' reports and 'live updates' for days; the reporting gets so bogged down in details. Someone three miles away from the London Bridge attack heard something and is interviewed; the editor of the Spectator informs us he got a cut-price taxi ride home after the attacks – yes, this was reported on Radio 4. The make and model of the van used by the terrorists is reported. Video footage and photos are examined in minute detail.

In other words it's all about the 'how' and very little about the 'why'. What drives a 22-year-old to kill himself and others (isn't it tragic that for a young person to get noticed, it is far easier to do something negative than something positive)? There's little debate on the wider issues of why it's actually happening – surely it's as tragic for the terrorist to die like this as for the victims, their families, the witnesses and the emergency services dealing with it. Like with paedophiles, daring to even think about a terrorist's motivation is tantamount to siding with them or being sympathetic. We do not want to understand the terrorist – they are pure evil and beyond comprehension.

Jermy Corbyn has recently made unspeakable (yet rather sensible) comments: he's blamed the UK's foreign policy in the middle east as the cause for the attacks (which I thought was obvious); he's said the war on terror isn't working; he's said he'd rather sit down with a terrorist and talk instead of shoot him. All this seems logical to me. Western intervention in the middle east has always been a disaster; the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth mentality has never worked; understanding and getting into the mind of a terrorist is more productive and useful than a dead terrorist (as my ex-girlfriend said, if you turn around the mindset of a terrorist, and get them to act as an advocate and ambassador for peace and understanding, that's far more useful than murder. For example, most councillors working in addiction are former addicts). But of course, for all Corbyn's rational comments, he received a storm of abuse – in the Mail and the Sun ('Apologist for terror' and 'Jihadi comrades', respectively), you'd expect it, but even in The Guardian comments.

Also, around the time of the attacks at London Bridge, there was a truck bomb in Kabul which killed 150, many of whom were women and children. Hardly made the news here (I know, I know, when it happens here it's an affront to democracy and the western way of life). More important (most read on the BBC website, as of today) is Phil Collins postponing a show after a fall, grim reviews for The Mummy and a hairdryer gran being a 'national hero'.

Anyway, General Election here today. Almost touching, really, that at the polling station it's still an old guy with a computer print out, a pencil and a ruler to check the voters. This election has been about Brexit, terrorism, immigration, personalities, back-stabbing. Hopefully one day someone with give a shit about the environment before it's too late.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Notes on murders and sex crimes
The Paedo files

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Lookalikes #39: Henry Darger and Marcel Dzama

I've written about Henry Darger previously; Marcel Dzama is a contemporary artist who also works in scultpure, film and collage. His paintings have adorned album covers, he's had books published. Henry Darger, outsider artist, was a caretaker and hermit, creating his deeply personal art in his apartment at night. I love both Darger and Dzama, but almost can't imagine Dzama's art existing if it wasn't for Darger.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Lookalikes #12: Feels and Henry Darger

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Top ten influences in my life

1. e e cummings (poet)
2. Sandra Bernhardt (woman)
3. Buddhism (religion)
4. Bacon (meat)
5. Luis Bunuel (Spaniard)
6. The 07:52 to Waterloo (transport)
7. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (film)
8. Noam Chomsky (American)
9. Akzidenz-Grotesque (typeface)
10. Jeremy Corbyn (man)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Two dreams

1.
I was at a sort of jumble sale in a 1970s-style council building. I saw a bunch of records that a woman had just bought. She was half-way between a landlady I had in Sydney and an old school friend who lives in Cornwall; she was a hippy, with a kind of satisfied look about her, though she was looking flustered at first. I noticed I owned some of the records she'd bought; in particular I saw a boxed set of The Cream of Eric Clapton (which I don't own, and which actually doesn't exist as a vinyl box set) and asked her about it. I told her I had it at home, along with some of the others, and asked if my parents had taken my records and bought them to the jumble sale. She said no. I asked if I could look through the pile. She let me, and I noticed some Procol Harum and Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos (ie Eric Clapton).

Then it seemed like I was getting a lift with her and some of her children. I gathered she was a kind of teacher. We arrived at her house in the countryside, which looked like a ramshackle boarding school. Children were everywhere, and a brother and sister took a shine to me and showed me round. It was then I noticed the children turning into various animals and birds. Foxes, badgers, birds, insects. They made a hand movement when they changed, there was a sparkle in the air, then they were an animal. I had to make a phone call, from an old red phone box in the huge garden. I couldn't get through. One of the children told me I could change if I wanted, into a bee. How? I asked. He showed me the hand movements, Like this, he said. I was about to do it, my cat jumped up on the bed and meowed in my face, and yes, of course, I woke up.

What can I say? Production values weren't high; it looked like it was shot on 16mm then transferred to VHS, but that was part of its charm. There was a magical yet eerie lyricism about the dream. It felt like those great 1970s BBC kid's programmes – The Owl Service, The Changes, Children of the Stones. Acting was good, natural. Special effects, not bad for the time – kids turning into animals.

I had a late breakfast; scrambled eggs and caviar on toast, a pot of proper coffee. Life wasn't bad. The cat meowed, wanted feeding.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Children of the 1970s

2.
The 13-year-old boy had expensive camera gadgets plus a drone. I hid them from him under a rug. He asked me where they were. Stolen I said. Oh no he cried. He told his parents and they called the police. The police couldn’t find them until I tried to move them. They caught me and I went to jail. The boy filmed me in jail with his phone and put the video on YouTube. The video got millions of hits and made him a YouTube superstar. I got out of jail and filmed myself watching his video of me in jail on YouTube, then filmed myself smashing up my phone, then uploading the video. It got like 2 or 3 hits.

When I'm happy and busy, I never remember my dreams. When I'm listless and despondent, I have really vivid dreams, such as these.

Previous dreams here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Banning bags on London transport

In a controversial move to ease congestion on London's over-crowded travel network, officials have announced the banning of all bags on trains, tubes and buses, estimating this will free up 39% of space on the networks. Rucksacks in particular take up the space of one person, a TFL official explained, and are extremely annoying, seeing as the oblivious owners whack other people with them when they turn around. "At worst rucksacks present a security issue and may contain an explosive device; at best they contain pointless clutter – either way they are a nuisance", the same official explained.

Free transport!
It would seem churlish not to take advantage of the endless engineering works besetting the rail network. So, travel for free! The replacement buses and coaches put on never check tickets, so hitch a ride for free, even if it's not to where you want to go, even if it does take four times as long as the train. 

A while ago I had to endure a bus replacement ride to Fleet in Hampshire. The train from Clapham Junction to Fleet usually takes 45 minutes; the replacement bus got lost and took nearly four hours. Still, it was a free journey, and I enjoyed seeing countryside I'd never seen before.

Previously on Barnflakes:
See it. Say it. Sod it
Public transport courtesy cards
Pet hates #1,287: the rucksack

Monday, May 29, 2017

Two Random ADHD Film Reviews

Two films where the lead teenage boys both suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); neither film is exactly cheery but both are superb, extremely moving and rewarding.

THE SELFISH GIANT
Dir: Clio Barnard / 2013 / UK / 91mins.
If the title sounds like it might be a Roald Dahl tale, put that thought away – it is actually more Dickensian than Dahl. Loosely based on Oscar Wilde's story of the same name, the film is set in modern day Bradford, in deprived, slum estates that are reminiscent of Don McCullin's photos of Bradford in the 1970s. The film follows two teenagers, the hyperactive and out-of-control Arbor (whose name made me think of the film The Arbor; then I discovered both were directed by Clio Barnard) and the slow and sensitive Swifty. After being suspended from school, the boys start making money by roaming the streets collecting scrap metal and selling it to a local dealer, Kitten.

Presumably the selfish giant of the title, he is played with relish by Sean Gilder (of Shameless fame), a Fagin-type character and monster, illegally employing and exploiting local children desperate to make a few pounds. Kitten also competes in local, illegal, horse harness racing, and when he finds out Swifty has a way with horses, Kitten gets him to ride his horse to compete in the races. There is not a nice bone in Kitten; he constantly shouts, swears, threatens and hits the kids. His scrapyard is his castle and it's like a vision of Hades, all fire and metal.

A social realist film in the British tradition, by which I mean depressing, it is alleviated by the remarkable acting of the two young leads and their shifting friendship; the poetry for the countryside and a terrifyingly exciting horse race along a motorway at dawn. Near the end the tragic and shocking denouement is only exonerated by the last few scenes in the film, and the final shot, the only glimpse of sentimentality in the film, but by this point a bit of sentimentality is allowed and deserved.
– 5/5

MOMMY
Dir: Xavier Dolan / 2014 / Canada / 138mins.
Being filmed in a 1:1 ratio (i.e. square) made me immediately think of Instagram but this apparently wasn't the intention. The intention was to create a private, repressive, enclosed world, which the film does. The screen opens up to wide screen twice, for about five minutes each time. The first time, halfway through the film, has Steve actually pull the screen wide open. He's running along the middle of a busy road with a shopping trolley full of groceries wearing large white headphones with Oasis's Wonderwall playing on the soundtrack; it's one of the most thrilling moments in the film. Music is key to the film – as a form of escape and release. I didn't want the scene to end, or the screen ratio to return back to 1:1, but knew it would.

Steve is the son of the eponymous Mommy of the film, a charismatic but violent and extremely anti-social teenager. Released from juvenile detention centre for setting fire to the cafeteria, it is up to hard-as-nails mommy, Diane, to look after her son and try to hold down a job. Kyla, a neighbour from across the street – a shy teacher with a stutter on a sabbatical – helps to school Steve, and the three form an unlikely yet inseparable trio.

Mommy contains some of the most exhilarating scenes of anti-social behaviour combined with music I've seen for years. And not necessarily good music – Celine Dion, The Counting Crows, Dido, Sarah McLachlan and Andrea Bocelli all populate the decidedly unhip soundtrack. Nevertheless, the mix of ballads and pop create an emotional escape to the difficult situations in the film  – Steve's violent and outrageous anti-social displays are contrasted with dreamy, slow motion, music video-like sequences full of hope and happiness.
 – 5/5

I have no opinion or expertise on ADHD; both films suggest it stems from poverty and lack of a father figure; I wouldn't know. That the only solution seems to be pills and institutions I would disagree with – these don't address the core of the problem, only mask it. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a better alternative.

Previously on Barnflakes:
The lost art of the double bill 
Notes on afflictions
Top ten affliction films
Stuttering in the movies

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Rayfaring Stranger

 
For Ray on his lonesome wayfaring travels.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The lost art of the double bill

A Google search of the term 'double bill' reveals the Everyman cinema showing a double bill of Guardians of the Galaxy along with the 'amazing' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Now, the last time I saw a double bill at the Everyman it was two Japanese erotic classics in the 1980s: Woman of the Dunes plus Ai No Corrida (yes, I've mentioned this before). Times have changed. Double bills used to have imagination, they used to make you think about the connection between the two films. They could complement each other, or be at odds with each other. The relationship might be opaque or tenuous. You might not have even heard of one of the films. Good!

Anyway, here's ten of my own double (and quadruple – this would usually be an all-nighter) bills:

Retired Cops With A Nagging Hunch No One Listens To:
THE PLEDGE (2001) + HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016)

The River Journey Is The Destination: EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (2015) + APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

Maverick Directors Go Normal: PATERSON (2016) + THE STRAIGHT STORY (1999)

Social Comment Ensues When Aliens Land In The U.S.A:
THE BORROWER (1991) + BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984)

Writer & Artist Retreats: ARCHIPELAGO (2010) + TAMARA DREWE (2010)

National Geographic Photographers Having Affairs In Faraway Places: THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (1995) + GORILLAS IN THE MIST (1988)

Twisted Relationships In The Manor: ADELHEID (1969) + THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2014)

Transformations: PHOENIX (2014) + SECONDS (1966) + VERTIGO (1958) + EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)

We're Watching You: THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998) + BATTLE ROYALE (2000) + THE RUNNING MAN (1987) + HUNGER GAMES  (2012)

Depardieu Eats Meat: WELCOME TO NEW YORK (2014) + LOULOU (1980)

Previously on Barnflakes:
Double Bill Me
Scala Forever!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Alton estate of mind – the book


The Alton estate of mind book(let) is finally finished. It's a personal and architectural guide to the Grade II listed Alton estate in Roehampton, where I lived many years ago. The text is mainly the same as on this very blog (see here); some of the photos are on Flickr. But there's nothing like  holding a book (or going to an exhibition). You know, the physical, tactile thing. I still have to get it printed, mind. Watch this space (again).

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.