Saturday, September 29, 2012

Relative Relatives

There's a saying that goes we choose our friends but not our family, but is this strictly true? The idea first occurred to me when my uncle divorced my auntie, and suddenly my auntie wasn't my auntie any more. I had a new auntie, my uncle's new wife, and my old auntie was no more. She wasn't even the ex-auntie. Aside from parents and siblings, this can happen with other members of one's extended family: husbands and wives, aunts and uncles, cousins and all the in-laws.

As for friends, do we even choose these? What if I wanted Brian Eno or Martin Amis as friends? Would this be possible? It's doubtful. No, friends, unfortunately, are just as much a product of environment and chance as family is.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Daisy Meadows' Rainbow Magic books

Having a pseudonym is a common practice for many writers, from George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) to George Orwell (Eric Blair). More recently, bestselling crime writing duo Nicci Gerrard and Sean French have been writing together as Nicci French; and Swedish crime writers Alexander and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril are known collectively as Lars Kepler. I've blogged previously about the books of Lambert M Surhone and his team, who 'write' books by copying and pasting from Wikipedia.

Now I feel compelled to write about a series of children's books about fairies called Rainbow Magic, written by Daisy Meadows and published by Orchard Books. Daisy Meadows, it turns out, is also a pseudonym for a group of writers who seem to work from one story template, only changing names and places for different books. There are now over a hundred fairy books in the series, all based around best friends Kirsty Tate and Rachel Walker and their encounters with good fairies and bad goblins.

Dreadfully written books that are huge best sellers are a pretty common phenomenon, with Dan Brown's novels, JK Rowling's Harry Potter series and 50 Shades of Grey being three recent examples. The Rainbow Magic books are no exception, with their cut and paste story lines and terrible illustrations, so it comes as no surprise that over 20 million copies have been sold worldwide.

There's a seemingly inexhaustible range of Rainbow Magic books, with each series of seven books consisting of a different kind of fairy, be it Weather Fairies, Sporty Fairies, Dance Fairies, Music Fairies or Pet Fairies. Bland and dull, with predictable, repetitious storylines and characters, it's looking like the series could continue ad infinitum.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Baby Books and TV Programmes

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Veet for Men Hair Removal Gel Creme (200ml) has 539 reviews on Amazon, with one review by Andrew, entitled DO NOT PUT ON KNOB AND BOLLOCKS, amassing 1,083 comments (with 23,386 people finding it helpful). An article last month in the Guardian entitled Pubic Hair Has a Job To Do – Stop Shaving and Leave it Alone, informing readers of the health implications of removing hair down there, received over 1,000 comments. Another Guardian article from last year, called Pubic Hair Removal: The Naked Truth, looked at women who shave down below. Elle and Vogue also had articles about the phenomenon.

Body hair – or rather, lack of it, is a hot topic. If the 1970s were the decade of hair excess – where sexiness in a woman included having a bushy bush and in a man, a hairy chest, bouffant hair and a beard, then this last decade or so has seen hair gradually disappearing from our bodies and from our nether regions in particular.

It's now not unusual for, say, male cyclists and athletes to shave their legs, for gay couples to give each other a sack, crack and back wax, and for heterosexual metrosexuals to give their pubes a trim (though, worryingly, many metrosexuals and hipsters seem keen to grow beards, the results usually being somewhat scraggy). And a shaved head on a man has (thankfully) become more acceptable than the dreaded comb over.

The sex Bible of the 1970s, The Joy of Sex, with its hand-drawn illustrations depicting the man with beard and pubic hair and the woman with bush too, is a quaint anachronism. A hairy chest is no longer the sign of manliness. The phrase 'to put hair on your chest', meaning a food or drink will make you strong and healthy (or drunk), is rarely used nowadays. It seems real men have all but vanished, being replaced by hairless Peter Pan-like boys.

Obviously, men and women have been removing hair from parts of their bodies for centuries (and in different cultures, say Islam, removing pubic hair has long been seen as a sign of cleanliness; in prudish Victorian society pubic hair was never seen on naked women in paintings until Courbet's still-provocative Origin of the World); women – their legs and underarms, mainly, and around their bikini line; men – their faces. Now the whole body is game for that pre-pubescent look: backs, heads, genitals, legs. But who's to blame? Is it just the fickle fancy of fashion, or pornography (or Barbie, or Carrie Bradshaw)?

The widespread availability of internet porn has meant many of us have seen porn stars without pubic hair, admired it (apparently) and emulated it. Men apparently think their penises look bigger uncluttered by hair. As pornography, by its nature, is degrading towards women, whether women want their pubic hair removed or whether men have implemented the notion is a controversial point (in the same way as it was a man who invented the high heel). Women have gone from American waxing to French waxing to Brazillian waxing to 'The Sphinx' (full removal, named after a hairless breed of cat) in a relatively short period of time.

In pornography, women's lack of pubic hair allows for their vaginas to be explored in almost gynecological detail, whilst giving them a prepubescent, childlike appearance; a paedophile's delight. So completely has pubic hair been removed from mainstream pornography that female models with pubic hair are tarnished with the term 'hairy', a niche porn subject heading, along with 'mature', 'retro', 'anal' etc. Degrading terms for women's genitals such as 'gash' or 'car accident' sort of make sense on the hairless, open-legged woman; it's like a raw wound.

A history of female pubic hair fashions can best be seen in Playboy magazine, where pubic hair wasn't actually shown in the magazines until the early 1970s and a full bush (or at least a French) was on display from the mid-70s until the 1990s, when the Brazilian took over. By 2007, women were mainly sans hair down there.

I'm old fashioned about it all and prefer a hairy bush. Like a burka, it's the mystery of hidden delights contained inside.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pet hates #1,287: the rucksack

I try to look objectively at the ubiquitous rucksack (also known as a backpack) but can only come up with one conclusion: I hate them. Rucksacks are ugly, impractical and uncomfortable. Someone wearing one knocks it into me at least once a day on the tube, not seemingly factoring in that they are twice the size whilst carrying one. And looking like a hunchback. The few times I have donned one, my shoulders ache, my back sweats and I'm always paranoid someone's going through the pockets. And I have to take it off to get something from it. Really can't believe they're so popular.

Rucksack is a German word mean back and pack; the term backpack comes from the States.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lookalikes #31: arms on album covers

Clockwise from top left: The Hold Steady, Heaven is Whenever (2010); Spoon, Kill the Moonlight (2002); Spiritualized, Amazing Grace (2003) and Trust by Low (2002).

Three of these came out within a year of each other. It (sort of) reminds me of films with similar subjects coming out within a few months of each other, such as:
Dangerous Liasons and Valmont
The Prestige and The Illusionist
Twister and Tornado
Antz and A Bugs Life
Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line
Capote and Infamous
Tombstone and Wyatt Earp
Deep Impact and Armageddon
Dante's Peak and Volcano
The Truman Show and EdTV
Robin Hood and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

But like identical twin brothers or sisters, where one is usually more attractive than the other, one film is always a lot better than the other, and performs a lot better (though not necessarily the same one, of course.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

'Having a job makes you sick'

Last week's London Evening Standard featured a hard-hitting 'Special report' regarding youth employment. Apparently, the hidden cost of youth employment is depression and poor physical health. For thousands of young people the brutal reality of life with a job is the start of a spiral into depression, anxiety and ill health. They start work with high expectations but their dreams come to nothing.

Having a job can lead to depression, inertia and a sense of worthlessness, the report continues. A random cardiologist stated that "there's strong evidence that the employed are more likely, through boredom and low self-esteem, to indulge in excessive alcohol consumption and smoke."

A random professor then virtually repeats this by saying how "employment has an impact on health behaviours. It is associated with increased smoking, alcohol consumption and decreased physical activity, contributing to an increased risk of serious illnesses, including cardiovascular disease and cancer."

This will strike a chord with most office workers, who sit down and stare at a screen for eight hours a day, with regular after work drinks in the pub and possibly smoking and even doing drugs. On top of that, the "unhealthy atmosphere" of many offices, combined with being crammed like sardines on public transport, mean diseases, from man flu to Ebola, can "spread like wildfire".

Controversially, the professor goes on to say that unemployment is "good for health. London boroughs should seek to stimulate unemployment opportunities, particularly those that help young people stay out of work."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

H for Horrific*

I'd been meaning to go to the Cinema Museum in Lambeth for years, so it was great to see it as part of Open House weekend, as it's usually open by appointment only. A registered charity, the museum houses a huge collection of cinema memorabilia, artefacts and equipment, mainly concerned with (what used to be, anyway) the pleasure of actually going to the cinema. This includes old cinema fittings, like some fine art deco looking doors, as well as carpets, banisters, signs, seats, lobby cards, posters, signs and usher uniforms. The museum also has a large collection of projectors and a massive archive of printed publications and documents, including over a million photographic images. The place is a truly fascinating hotchpotch of memorabilia and a national treasure.

For over a decade its home has been the fine Master's House in Kennington. This fine Victorian Gothic building (whose chapel is now Grade II listed), the former Lambeth workhouse, was where Charlie Chaplin spent time as a child.

*This comes from an early and rare, pre-X certification board on display at the museum, where 'U' is universal, 'A' is for adults and 'H' meant the film is horrific.

As part of the Open House weekend, my boon companion and I also went to:
18 Stafford Terrace, 'remarkably well-preserved' former home of Punch illustrator Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910).
Leighton House, former home and studio of painter Lord Leighton (1830-96); 'one of the most remarkable buildings of the 19th century'.
The Library Space, former library in Battersea converted into an art gallery.
The De Morgan Centre, museum housing Evelyn's Pre-Raphaelite paintings and William's tiles and pottery; 'one of the most beautiful small museums in London'.

These can all be visited outside of Open House (as can most of the buildings in the booklet), the main advantage of seeing them during Open House weekend is not having to pay. And having architectural chats to people whilst queueing up to see the buildings.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Open House: St Annes, Soho
Safe as Castles

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Lookalikes #30: Stonehenge & Sacrilege

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument constructed around 3100 BC and situated in the county of Wiltshire.

Sacrilege is a life-size replica of Stonehenge, made as a fully operational bouncy castle. It's lots of fun. It's been doing a tour of the UK since June and is now in its last week. Try to catch it if you can. Sacrilege is by Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, who has also done all kinds of other interesting and fun things, such as a documentary about Depeche Mode fans and a reenactment of The Battle of Orgreave, the confrontation between miners and police during the 1984 miners' strike.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Notes on Rhodia notebooks

When I used to go on family holidays to France as a child, I'd always get a Rhodia notepad or two to doodle in. I used to love French stationery in general and the iconic orange Rhodia notepads in particular. The square graph paper pads came in a variety of sizes and were held together by nothing more than a staple or two at the top. There were score marks towards the top for easy folding over. Over the years I stopped using them for one reason or another, migrating to other alternatives, from Filofax to the rather pretentious Moleskine with its Chatwin and Hemingway lineage.

But on a recent visit to France, my love for Rhodia was reignited, mainly perhaps because this time round I couldn't actually find any Rhodia notebooks. In place of Rhodia were generic, supermarket brands such as Bloc, Oxford and Casino*. It took me searching in dozens of tabacs and Hyper U supermarkets to track a genuine Rhodia pad down. Rhodia now do other types of notebooks, including, inevitably, the Moleskine kind, but my favourite remains their simple orange pad, which they've been producing since the 1930s.

Next time, though, ahem, I think I'll get my Rhodia online from Ryman.

Related: I so want this gorgeous French stationery kit.

*Supermarkets do this all the time, don't they? They copy the packaging of popular brands – 'parasite packaging', according to the Mail – apparently in the hope that shoppers will mistake them for the real thing. They must take us for idiots. We buy them because they're a fraction of the price, not because we think they're the real thing. And as much as I hate most brands, it must make them awfully pissed off, spending millions on branding, advertising and packaging, just to see Sainsbury's replicate their packaging for next to nothing. Apparently there's no law against it. The supermarkets have all the power.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Scala Beyond

After the success of London's Scala Forever season last year, which celebrated the long defunct sleazy cinema club in King's Cross, we now have the nationwide Scala Beyond, which has already been going for a couple of weeks but also runs throughout September. The season celebrates all forms of cinema, but mainly, thankfully, the weird and wonderful. But if this season lacks such Scala fodder as Jodorowsky, Meyer and Argento, it makes up for it by focusing on independent cinema, apparently thriving in the UK, and having film workshops and showings in clubs, festivals, pop-up venues and even schools and homes.

The many highlights include The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein on 19 September at London's Horse Hospital, where my boon companion and I finally got to watch the extraordinary Thundercrack at last year's Scala Forever; and a rare screening of Alan Clarke's visionary Penda's Fen on 25 September.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Scala Forever!
Double Bill Me

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Mr Brainwash: art for the brain dead

Good news for some, perhaps, that Mr Brainwash's first solo UK art show at The Old Sorting Office on Oxford Street has now been extended for an extra week until 7th September.

Mr Brainwash is familiar to many via Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy's 2010 'documentary' about Frenchman Thierry Guetta, who adopts the name Mr Brainwash during the course of the film and puts on his own art show in L.A. The film seemed like a hoax, things not adding up, just another Banksy trick. Yet here still is Mr Brainwash, designing covers for Madonna CDs, having huge solo exhibitions, his 'art' selling for thousands.

I'm not hugely bothered if Mr Brainwash is or isn't Banksy; I'm not even bothered that Mr Brainwash has no artistic ability and employs a team (not of artists, note, this is not art; but of graphic designers) to carry out his work (after all, everyone from Michelangelo to Jeff Koons has done the same); if I'm bothered at all it's that his work is so completely derivative, endlessly recycling Warhol and Banksy until it is devoid of any meaning or originality.

Still, the exhibition is good fun in a trashy and kitsch kind of way; presumably aimed towards people who don't normally go to art exhibitions because they don't get modern art. With Mr Brainwash's work there's nothing to get. I wish I'd taken my six year old daughter; she would have appreciated it more than me.

I can't complain (much), though, there are numerous freebies at the (free to get in) exhibition: a Mr Brainwash spray can, three posters, three postcards and a bottle of Coke and water.

[The same day I'd gone to Mr Brainwash's exhibition, I went to see Grayson Perry's series of tapestries at the Victoria Miro gallery (above). Examining notions of taste and class in the UK, the six tapestries were based on the Channel 4 series All in the Best Possible Taste, which was presented by Perry. It was a worthy contrast to Mr Brainwash. Here was art with meaning; original and thought-provoking, it even told a story, you know, like all art used to do. Perry states that he's 'interested in the politics of consumerism' and shows us how we attach emotional importance to objects. With Mr Brainwash all we get is the objects.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Banksy vs Bristol Museum