Thursday, May 15, 2008

Adventures in Cornwall

My diary entry from January 27 2006 I thought worth publishing here to give you an insight into the life of an alternative film maker.

After nearly 2 weeks of house sitting in rural Hampshire I felt a big bonfire was needed to just sit around and ponder upon an emerging new year. While the fire was blazing to match the expansive sunset, I noticed the drying out Scots pine branch in the corner. The brilliance of the pine needles was intense as they blazed a deep orange copper red. The sort of flame a phoenix would arise from and the colour a King tries to capture in the tassels of his ceremonial robes. I filmed the magical blaze intending to project it onto the walls of a party somewhere soon.

Earlier in the day I had cleared the fire site from brambles and metal. Once cleared, I figured the space needed flattening. Building the fire up and with the Undertones in the CD player, I got about dancing away in the icy cold until the ‘shrooms I had brought kicked in. The coloured lights were on, the fire was high, the drugs were working so where was everyone else? Oh yeah it was just odd. But never the less, Dreadzone followed by Massive attack carried the one man party until Jim Morrison would lead the way through those openings of perception.

Speaking of music…John Peel, read and loved his book Margrave of the Marshes about his life. But interesting enough I didn’t find his part of the story half as enjoyable as reading how his wife describes him in the second half (he died half way thru writing it). I couldn’t imagine how a book about his life could have been written any other way. She(ila) was such a integrated part of who he was that a book written by him alone would only have been half as interesting. Made me wish I had tuned in for a musical education across the waters from Dublin to hear his mastery at work in the ‘80’s.

After a week of reading books and eating far too many chocolates, I felt in need of an adventure. So I called Roddy and asked if he wanted to go find Harry Potters missing car (will explain more later). He got the green light (and more importantly the expenses) from Sky News. So on Friday evening we met at the Thai restaurant at Traders in Petersfield. The ‘casino’ advertised outside turned out to be just a small cards table, but the setting was cosy with its open fire so we chose a window seat over looking the night life on the High street. The Thai host was very friendly (and beautiful) but she made up for the very bland food, which explained why the place was empty on a Friday evening. Still, since Sky News Amex card footed the bill so we gorged on as much as we could.

Roddy and I hit the road for Cornwall early the next morning. On the way he told me of how he was arrested a few weeks ago after slipping past security in the House of Parliament and wandering around for 2 hours filming in cabinet ministers offices. On his way out he was stopped by Police who must have been freaked at the sight of a Middle Eastern looking guy with a backpack standing on the wrong side of the security glass. He was stripped searched, made to squat to check he wasn’t hiding a tape up his jacksie (there is an easier way to check-his eyes would have been watering). His camera was taken and he was held for 8 hours but finally released (his boss informed him that a phone call was made by a Murdoch to the cabinet). The funniest thing was when we went back to collect his camera, the tape was still in the evidence bag which they handed back to him! Police- you’ve got to wonder about them haven’t you?

Arriving in Cornwall, Roddy leaves me with Jane & Sean, my Cornish contacts while he goes off to get carnal with his latest Internet date in Truro. I won’t see him again until we leave 2 days later.

On the side of the highest hill overlooking a Cornish town, Sam appears in shorts with white powder hanging from his nose at 11am on a Sunday. Living in a kind of lean-to stable block (but since we are in the middle of a field there is nothing to lean against). So his home, ‘camouflaged’ with cheap Astroturf (to avoid the gaze of the planning department one assumes) appears to prop itself up by leaning against itself. The interior is mostly taken up by a grand piano.

Drinking brandy with the mixed race scouser is an experience I wont forget for a while. He has been partying alone all night but in his sleepless and speed induced state he still manages to carefully tidy his space as he chats. His trio of long knifes with serrated edges are put back onto the wall and his girlfriends incredible sculpture of a naked black woman is uncovered for us to see. Hours later he finally points out the yellow garage down below in the town where Mr Potters movie car is hidden. Whether in a drug induced paranoia or not, he became very cagey of us approaching the people about the car directly.

So Jane & Sean suggested we first meet ‘John in Troon’.

Driving along in their battered red Volvo (which you can only get into by climbing through the windows) you can tell the Romans never made it to Cornwall. Dilapidated as that car was, it still took those winding country roads with such speed and control it felt we hardly touched the tarmac. Zipping past the slag heaps (painted green) and through the forest of wind turbines lining the quarried landscape, Sean informs me that the tips of the propellers are spinning at 500mph so standing underneath looking up is an experience worth having.

Arriving in the grey suburb of cheap shops and miners’ cottages which is Troon, John holds back a pit bull and some other large meaty dog to let us past and into his small corner home. Soon after we arrive, five blokes entered, followed later by two teenage girls to quickly fill the already cramped space. John held court judging everyone who came into his home on how well they would survive in prison (which he knew a lot about it appeared). After a couple of hours he informed his audience (and not sure what he based it upon) that while I could probably just about handle myself in prison (leaving me feeling oddly relieved), the two blokes on my right would be decimated. Listening (there wasn’t a choice) to his tales of ramming every drug cocktail into his body was at once fascinating, sickening and incredulous, but also on another level very very sad. The jagged scar across his abdomen was his proud trophy to mark his lifetime of substance abuse.

Just in case we didn’t fully comprehend that John was not to be messed with, he let us know that when he gets a hard-on he fires electric shocks into his stiffened cock. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any weirder, the taut faced 40year old pulled out a Taser gun and shoots himself in the crotch! I’m guessing he had it set on low but the blue electric sparks still lit the room up and since his face normally looks like it’s riddled with pain, I couldn’t even tell if he felt it. But despite his hard shell there is a warm heart beating. Jane and Sean had told me earlier that John has a good reputation for helping abused or homeless youngsters. He arranged places for them to live communally, showing them how pool their resources and survive.

I soon felt a sort of grudging admiration for the man, especially when I noticed that even his fridge was hard. Standing six feet tall, the gunmetal cold box looked brand new apart from the gashed dent on its right hand side. It sat in his main room, which opened in straight off the street, alongside the aquarium bathed in red light for his lizards. Putting his Taser gun down, he pulled out a photo of his fridge (I kid you not), but here it was captured in a sterile office environment (minus the dent). Which brings us neatly onto why I was sitting in the same room as this maniac.

The office in the picture wasn’t an IKEA catalogue but more like a photograph taken as a trophy. Peering closely I noticed that the fridge, the 2 tonne green safe and the black carpet from that office now resided in the very room I now sat in. Apparently the fridge suffered the dent as it fell off the back of a lorry (while fighting some other poor bastard who was also busy robbing the contents of the office.) Anyhow that office was in the Westcounty Film studio in St Agnes, which I had explored the day before.

We had climbed over the fence and past the remnants of the CCTV system (which John had ripped out) into the grounds of studios. The studio consisted of two green barns, set in 15 acres of overrun but previously landscaped gardens. 10 foot high signs proclaiming the barns to be Studio 1a and 3. Number 2 was still a half built metal carcass. The only object I really was interested was the whereabouts of a 44-year-old Ford Anglia taken from one of the abandoned studios.

Martin Wainwright wrote in The Guardian on Saturday October 29, 2005
‘A rusting relic of the Harry Potter films has vanished from under a tarpaulin at a locked store of film props, in a theft which has got the local police force muttering about wizardry. Detectives suspect a cherry picker may have been craned over fencing to hoist out the turquoise 1962 Ford Anglia, which featured in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when it took to the air after JK Rowling's characters pressed a silver button on its dashboard.

Claire Smith of the Scotsman wrote
‘Devon and Cornwall police said they were keeping an open mind about whether the car was stolen to order for a collector, or was taken by an opportunistic thief.’

The truth as I discovered was closer to the latter but not entirely that simple.

Rewind 8 days back to Swansea…I am trying to help a woman with a very bad tooth abscess in my home (or more to the point finding her a needle to lance it with). Meanwhile her partner is busy grinding down cloves to soak into her gums to relieve the pain. Anyhow she arrived at undercurrents as an academic with a plan. Chatting on the phone last December we had found we shared similar aims. They loved to create free parties with inspiration and meaning so undercurrents has been part of their scene for years. During her studies to gain a PhD, Jane learnt how to access EU funds for cultural projects and put what we do into the convoluted language of the bureaucrats. Thus we laid plans to work on getting long term funding to run a touring Beyond Tv festival.

During that meeting they casually mentioned that they knew where the stolen Harry Potter car was. I expressed an interest and wanted to know more. They filled me in on how they were establishing community projects in the poorest parts of Cornwall but were saddened by watching money being swallowed up in corruption. There was a link to be made somewhere amongst all this so I felt it was as good a mission to embark upon as any.

Eight days later I was in their converted chapel in Cornwall in awe of Jane’s talents in mixing techno. I felt I was watching an artist at work. To listen and watch her mix tracks effortlessly and constantly feeding from both turntables at once to create new sounds was a real treat. We vowed to join forces somewhere so I can project visuals to accompany her beats.

Anyhow back to that Ford Anglia. The techno Dj cum academic (and knowing how EU funds work) discovered how two London geezers were siphoning millions of pounds from a pot aimed to help the Cornish out of poverty. Their film studios alone took £2m from EU handouts. Anyone with an ounce of cop on would have seen that building a studio in the arse end of Cornwall wasn’t going to give many jobs to local untrained people let alone attract many moviemakers.

The Cornwall Hearld wrote in December 2005
‘Police inquiries are continuing into alleged financial irregularities surrounding a £6 million Westcountry film studio venture which ran into difficulty within months of opening. South West Film Studios at St Agnes, near Truro, went into voluntary administration last autumn and was later closed down by receivers, leaving creditors owed money.’

So back to John and his fridge. After breaking in, he was busy clearing the studios of everything that would fit onto a lorry when he came across an old blue car. His young daughter instantly recognised it as Harry Potters ‘flying car’ and before you could say ‘Hogwarts’ the movie vehicle registration 7990 TD, was whisked away and sold for £500 (it has been valued at £20,000 by movie auctioneers).

Just as the second cup of hot tea was thrust into my hands by the hard nut (the first I drank at the risk of getting my head knocked off if I refused) the door opened and in strutted Pete- the ultimate in wide boys. His entrance gave me the chance to give away my tea (I still can’t for the life of me see any attraction in the stuff). A quick nod and Pete, Jane, Sean and I filed into the tiny kitchen away from everyone else. A level of trust was gained when I recalled that someone from Brighton had sent me a DVD compilation containing a music video Pete mentioned that he had made. It was rubbish but didn’t tell him.

Pete let it known that he was now in possession of Mr Potters vehicle but through his cocaine filled banter, informed us he had transported it to the East side of England to promote his latest CD, due out next month. His babbling got out of control when he revealed his plans to paint it pink (which would have lost any resemblance to the movie car thus rendering it totally useless.) So that was the end of that we figured as we weren’t interested in dealing with any more nutters.

A week on, it’s Friday, and after a week of watching mostly inane television, I have decided to head into the big smoke of Petersfield to check out the joys of its only nightclub. While having access to a Tv for the longest period in a while was interesting, it hasn’t convinced me to get one. Celebrity Big Brother drew me for for a few days, as being in rural Hampshire on my own made me feel as isolated as the people in the Channel 4 camera saturated house. Pete Burns (a drag queen who a chart hit with ‘You spin me right round’ in 1997) with cosmetic surgery to rival Michael Jackson made it all the more entertaining with his relentless sarcasm.

Apart from the odd gem of a programme, the general idea of Tv appears to be to show repeats or remakes of repeats. One of the highlights of the week was 24hour news coverage of a 20-foot whale, which swam up the Thames to the House of Commons and tried to beach itself. Thousands lined the banks for 2 days watching this whale slowly die from exhaustion and lack of food. Scientists say it probably drifted south while in the North Sea then turned west thinking it was in the Channel but went up the Thames instead. Its skeleton will go on show in the Natural history museum, meanwhile whaling ships carry on as before beyond the media spotlight.
So that’s the end of this dispatch for now but the story of Harry’s car isn’t over yet. News of a blue Ford Anglia being caught in the flashbulbs of speed cameras will probably be heard about soon enough.

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