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.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Vertical Video Violation

We’ve all shot vertical video. We hold the phone vertically, use most of its functions vertically, take still photos vertically and often don’t even think twice about pressing the record button on the video vertically. Perhaps it’s only when we upload the video on YouTube or when the BBC have some amateur footage of a disaster or terrorist attack, and the video is played a third smaller with fuzzy grey bands on the left and right, that we realise the error of our ways. And thousands of people watching the video is thinking to themselves, ‘Why didn’t the idiot just hold the phone horizontally?’ (Presumably they didn't really have time to think about correct phone orientation in the middle of a terrorist attack.)

Films and videos have been shot and displayed in the landscape ratio for the last hundred years or so in cinemas and then on TV (though in early silent cinema and older TVs the ratio was 4:3, almost square – all through the 80s and 90s I was crying out for TVs, and then computers, to be widescreen; technology usually, eventually, catches up with me (see here and here, for example)). Then along come smart phones with video recorders and there’s the (unfortunate) option to shoot video vertically. I guess this is pretty logical – there's a fine tradition of portrait painting in, erm, portrait orientation dating back at least five hundred years, and photography has always been acceptable in portrait and landscape modes. Painting, drawing or photographing a person – the predominant subject of all art – seems correct in the portrait format as the human figure is long rather then wide.

But horizontal seems to be the dominant format in the digital age of widescreen TVs and computers; and the internet, from splash pages to web banners, all look best horizontal. And our eyes are side by side, not on top of each other, so horizontal feels more natural. There's almost a whole online movement to get people to shoot video horizontal: websites, YouTube tutorials and apps all to prevent Vertical Video Syndrome (yes, it's a meme).

Nevertheless, I feel there's a place for vertical video, alongside traditional portrait painting and photography. The technology just needs to catch up, as usual.

Elsewhere on the web:
It's time to take vertical video seriously

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 clichéd – 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)