Bridport’s great coaching inn has reopened after its makeover. Sam Barker is not impressed

What were they thinking? What crossed their minds when they removed the block-coloured seating and replaced it with triangles? When they dispensed with the comfortable sofas? When they went for the black-tiled-mirror-prefaced-by-floral-array, like a thing you’d find in beauty parlour in 1980s Romford?

I don’t know who the designed the new interior of the Bull Hotel, but it’s hard to commend them. Their vision seems to have been for all that’s ‘posh’, its expression a pastiche of cognitive dissonance. Hence we have the geometric shapes on the chairs alongside the waves on the walls, the Sea Blue seating alongside the Tardis Blue bar, that incongruous tiled mirror, the furniture reminiscent of bamboo and conservatories.

Are we having a wash and set in Essex, a coffee in Dorset or a tea in Tunbridge Wells? Whatever, we’re in a place of deeply disparate visual influences mitigated only by the wooden tables (look down and rest your eyes). Someone who ventured upstairs to the loos reported that it’s even worse up there. “I wouldn’t go in after a few drinks,” she said. “I think I’d pass out.”

By |March 2nd, 2016|The Sam Barker Column|0 Comments

New Year, New You, New Dump

By Sam Barker

If January 4th is the day that couples file for divorce, if February 1st is the day
that people decide their jobs are intolerable, and if April 1st is the day people
decide to do away with it all, then January 2nd is surely the day to go to the dump.

A New Year. A new you. The ephemera of the past purged to make way for the
clutter of Christmas.

Accordingly, January 2nd 2016 was the day I first visited the new Bridport dump. It had been there on the skyline, like some sort of IKEA warehouse of detritus management (lo, the wooden cladding), since mid-2015, but it never called. Until now. And even now, it was still not fully bedded-in: the surrounding saplings were sappy and the sign still said Broomhills Farm, as if what goes on there might be somehow agricultural.

When we arrived in Bridport 20 years ago, the old dump was a favourite
destination. The discard pile yielded us bike frames and two chests of drawers,
one of which had porcelain handles. We still have these items, mostly
because the interminable business of earning money precluded us from visiting
the old dump during the week and it was closed at the weekend after a neighbour complained that the endless flow of purgers was an affront to her human rights, but also because our house became a dump in its own right. There’s a lot of stuff in a pile out the back, and we’ve grown strangely accustomed to it.

In the 1990s, I had a friend who lived on a landfill site. His job was to graze sheep and lambs on fields created when the craters of crap were turfed over. A bucolic sanitization of waste, which he claimed disguised things people had once placed in recycling bins in good faith. It came to an end when the landfills encroached on his farmhouse, which was demolished and engulfed by another hole filled with old CDs and unidentifiable plastics.

After the pragmatic chaos of the old dump, the new dump reminds me of this
friend’s ‘farm’. It’s not even called a dump: it’s a ‘waste transfer centre,’ a
euphemism which suggests it’s a feeder for a natural cycle of waste
management. Saplings have been planted alongside: one day the new dump will be in a small forest. There’s the wood cladding; it’s all very wholesome and sort of Scandinavian.

More fascistically, though, the new dump is surrounded by 10-foot-high fences
topped with electrified wire. Why is unclear — are old kettles and mattresses
really so valuable? The approach is akin to a ferry terminal at best, an abattoir at worst – just as cows are herded along curved walkways so that they can’t see what’s coming next, the road to recycling redemption is partially elliptical – you can’t see the line of skips until you’re on it.

Virtuously, I dumped my old bannister in the wood recycling skip and drove
away. What happens to it next is a mystery. Will it be reborn as garden fencing,
or burned in some kind of wood-fired electrical incinerator? For all its
Scandinavian crispness and efficiency, the new dump is opaque. Bunging
unwanted items in skips claiming to be the start of an unseen recycling process
requires trust in that process. But which process? Declutter your life for
2016! Out of sight is out of mind. Maybe this is what the electrified wire fence
is for.

By |January 4th, 2016|The Sam Barker Column|0 Comments

Before you take a child to see Shaun the Sheep at half-term, read on…

Sideways GlanceBy Sam Barker

Shaun the Sheep is a multi-layered, audio-visual experience based around Plasticine sheep. Working on many levels, it is a story about ovine yearning for escape from the daily nullity of grass-consumption. It is also a social, political and generational satire with Orwellian resonances.

We have callous teens filming the unfortunate farmer on their phones as the caravan in which he is sleeping rolls out of control (don’t ask) into the big city, assuredly for later posting on YouTube. We have the now-infamous waiter whose similarity to Ed Miliband eclipses that of Gromit. We have the appearance of a 1970s tape recorder (“What’s that?” asked a child in the audience) and we have various scenes in which ambitious pigs take over the farm (and use the microwave).
Shaun the Sheep
At heart, though, Shaun the Sheep is pegged upon its central sheep-hunt-their-lost-farmer narrative. Incidental to the plot, the satirical element is there to satisfy grown-up yearning for higher meaning. Some adults may nonetheless leave feeling bereft: “A relentless load of crap,” declared my companion. Children are more amenable: “The best thing I ever saw,” said one.

Watch for the bit where a man gets his head stuck up a (pantomime horse’s) bottom. That’s the highlight.

By |February 11th, 2015|Sideways Glance, The Sam Barker Column|0 Comments

Tragic fact, tragic fiction

BR OpinionBroadchurch has been a huge success, soon to be repeated. But one aspect of the series, in which drama mirrored life, was regrettable.

By Sam Barker

Incongruous is not the word. Maybe discordant? Maybe disturbing? Maybe the full moral elongation of reprehensible? How else can you describe the attempts to drum up excitement about Broadchurch Series II when another person has recently died near West Bay?

What will Series II contain? We’re all being kept on tenterhooks. All we have is the teaser preview of the hit series, accessible on the web and the Bridport News website. All we know from the teaser preview is that there’s a distraught mother crying on the stairs, that two girls have gone missing, that it’s the “same town”, but with “new secrets”. And that East Cliff, or Harbour Cliff as its screen name goes, is somehow implicated. Again.

In Broadchurch Series I, East Cliff’s role was as an accessory to death. The plot pivoted around the body of a child on the beach below. Was he pushed? Was he put there? Did he jump? The cliff was predictably taciturn. And then, after several episodes, the cliff showed its hand: one of the potential perpetrators did jump. He was innocent but unable to bear the intimation of guilt. Dispensing with the depths of East Cliff’s amiable light, the series was shot in a flat blue-grey hue. Sad things happened. People died.

People do die at West Bay. Every year, one or two real people end their lives by going over East Cliff’s edge. “There have been several incidents like this,” a 73-year-old man who had lived by the cliffs for three decades told a journalist after a suicide on Christmas morning 2009. Anyone who’s lived in Bridport for any time can attest that he was speaking the truth.

East Cliff is not Beachy Head. At East Cliff, the deaths are more occasional, more local, less publicized than they are in East Sussex. They are for the nearby community to grieve and assimilate.

If you live near East Cliff, the abstraction is gone. While Broadchurch’s national audience of six million sees Harbour Cliff as a beautiful but macabre backdrop to the deaths on screen, the local community know East Cliff in reality. And in reality, the cliff’s warm glow can cast a worrisome shadow inland. Is your recently-divorced husband missing? Has your unhappy teenage daughter disappeared? Where did your son go after the pub closed? Check the beach below the cliff. And think twice before walking the beach on Christmas mornings.

Last Christmas it was 65-year-old Derek Smith who died at West Bay. Suffering from agonising tooth pain and taking anti-depressants, he drove to the cliff for three nights running before walking to the top and stepping over on the night of Saturday December 8. The people who witnessed his body being removed from the beach the next morning confessed they thought they had started filming the second series of Broadchurch early.

And this Christmas? A 26-year-old woman from Devon died on December 10. Moments before, people playing golf nearby reportedly tried to encourage her away from the cliff’s edge, warning of the unstable ground. The cast and crew of Broadchurch were also discouraged from the edge when filming Series II in June. They took no notice. The resulting vertiginous shots, taken from the top of the cliff looking down, are included in the teaser preview. So now we know – this is what people see before they fall.

Broadchurch II comes to our screens on January 5. Until then, the Bridport News website is inviting us to whip up the excitement with tweets including the hashtag, #‎BroadchurchReturns.

Is this discordant, disturbing, or reprehensible? Bridport must decide. Broadchurch is set around a place deserving of gentle sanctity and quiet respect. Real people have passed away there. Bridport thinks Broadchurch is bullshit. Or at least, maybe it should.

By |January 6th, 2015|Opinion, The Sam Barker Column|5 Comments

It’s Gatsby night at the Bull. But leave me out, Darling

BR OpinionBy Sam Barker

It’s New Year’s Eve and it’s Great Gatsby night at The Bull Hotel. Of the two destructive, dipsomaniac, American male writers from the 1920s, one – Fitzgerald (and his Gatsby) – has been enjoying a thematic revival. Forget Ernest Hemingway with his penniless Paris years, his Cuban cocktails and his shotgun to the head. Elitism and its calling cards of beauty and wealth are all the rage. It’s F. Scott Fitzgerald we want to party with now.

Or do we? Gatsby is terribly 2013. It’s also a little crass and missing-the-point. When Bridport’s food bank is said to be struggling to cope, it’s worth remembering that the beautiful young things of the twenties gave way to the Depression of the thirties. That F. Scott himself died of an alcohol-related heart attack aged 44. And that The Great Gatsby is in fact a parable about a man with money but without love who throws parties for empty-headed hedonists for the sake of snaring a woman already committed to the sort of loveless old-money which will never be impressed by his trinkets no matter how hard he tries. The Great Gatsby is a tragedy, Gatsby’s party-goers the vacuous chorus.

Not that this seems to have dissuaded celebrants at the Bull Hotel. We understand that the Great Gatsby New Year’s Eve is sold out. The Bull’s event-organisers may be feeling pleased with their efforts. Next year, however, for a hotel that prides itself on being eclectic and original – despite now being part of the Fuller’s Brewery chain, we’d like to suggest a Hemingway fiesta. Or failing that, a Dorothy Parker salon, with dancing.

By |December 29th, 2014|Opinion, The Sam Barker Column|0 Comments