Thursday, 26 March 2015

Gadzooks! A Wedding!

Once again someone has taken leave of their sense and invited me to their wedding, and so off I go on the morrow to London. Do you think that perhaps the groom took a blow to the head at some point? You would think an ex-housemate would have more sense. A wedding! A grand opportunity to watch people be happy and wonder at the great river of life as it continues its irresistible flow through the channels of time. It's probably going to be very reminiscent of 'The Green Death' and 'The Sign Of Three', for those in the know, although at least this time I won't be watching an old infatuation walk up the aisle, thank goodness.

Weddings are never like the clichés you see on television and in films. They're normally quite sedate and polite affairs, unless I'm thankfully missing those kinds of parties where the hijinks occur. They're also just a teensy bit awkward, in the sense of being a passive observer to an event which is being put on for the audience usually or in some cases the overwhelming ego of the bride! Long ago, before giving in to the sheer inevitability of bachelorhood, I always thought a marriage should be an entirely different affair, quite unblended with the law and Church. Being romantic to the core, then and now, and utterly divorced from any possibility of romance, it seemed like the most binding form of partnership would be sworn in total privacy, perhaps on top of a hill by the sea or next to a roaring weir. No artificial bonds bonding people together so that complacency must inevitably set in, but an utterly voluntary union far from the things of humanity. It's a romantic notion still, a freeflowing expression of love untampered with by Church or State.

We are, however, all different and so to London does the Muffin writer dare to go. It's actually a rare opportunity to visit the capital in an unflustered and relaxed manner, not rushing to make a cross-city train connection or zooming off via Tube to make it to the airport on time. It's also a rare opportunity to eschew said Tube and busses completely and traverse the metropolis by foot, actually getting a feel for the place instead of just popping up like a mole and not knowing how it all fits together. Why not walk it, after all, and even indulge in the cliché of getting an 'A to Z'? What an obscure pleasure to weave! The one afternoon of leisure will be spent walking, and trying to get to the Royal Observatory on the - gasp! - other side of the river.

For a very long time, the 'other side of the river' was the 'wrong side of the river', mainly because taxi drivers were wary of making it back in one piece or in timely fashion and because it had fallen into bad times of decay and failure. Now what does 'the wrong side of the river' mean? And will I make it out in one piece to watch the joyous couple get safely wedded and whisk off to their honeymoon? Only time will tell, if it so decided. Meanwhile, it's back to 'Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased)', and hoping this trip doesn't block a day of supply work in places unknown.

It will be nice to see some happy people.


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Television: 'The Prisoner: Fall Out' (1968) (Episode 1x17)

Everything they say about this episode is true. It's absolutely as mad as a badger in a snowstorm, definitely written in a ridiculous hurry by Patrick McGoohan himself, who also directed the episode, and is a good basis for any interpretation you care to lay upon it. As an episode of television it's incoherent, nonsensical and at times borderline unwatchable. It might also be good, which is worrying.

So, 'The Prisoner', an odd duck of a television show that was an implied follow-on to star Patrick McGoohan's previous ITV series 'Danger Man' (known as 'Secret Agent' in the US), which featured a secret agent imprisoned in a scenic 'Village' incarceration centre and being toyed with and interrogated by a succession of chiefs known only as Number 2, in comparison to his own imposed label of Number 6. No-one had a name, and everyone had a number. The Prisoner's secret was the reason for his resignation from the Secret Service, and his identity, for those of us watching at home.

'The Prisoner' swiftly spiralled out of control, beginning as a series of shows about various novel and fantastical methods for breaking the Prisoner's will and extracting the truth, and ending as a sequence of experimental concept plays of varying success and occasional blatant insanity. From week to week in its 17 episode run, you weren't quite sure what you were going to get, and the idea of a final resolution was hard to grasp. It seems to have been hard to grasp for the makers of the show as well, as this finale decides to evade the issue and engage in experimental theatre of the most zany kind, a self-indulgence of McGoohan's creative mind under extreme time pressure. Thus, a bizarre inauguration ceremony as the Prisoner is declared the new ruler of the Village (scenic Portmeirion in Wales) is enacted, with surrealness pushed to its very maximum as he ultimately seems to reveal an insane version of himself as Number 1, and then destroys the prison by launching a nuclear missile apparently stored underneath it all. Did any of it really happen though, or was it just a massive metaphor, or did the Prisoner actually crack and lose his mind under the Degree Absolute interrogation of the previous episode? Was Kenneth Griffith a symptom of a total mental breakdown? We will never know.

'Fallout' will forever remain a frustrating mystery, a psychedelic mess of surrealism masquerading as an episode of dramatic television. Was there a plan for the finale originally? Yes, but script editor George Markstein fell out with the notoriously difficult McGoohan, resigning and taking the ending with him for McGoohan would surely not swallow his pride to use it. What it is is what it is, an indescribably weird episode of television, and the culmination of the era as a whole.

Reflecting, it's fitting that this post of little sense is made to describe such an experiment. Well done, 'The Prisoner', you went out in pure unsatisfying confusion, and made a place in history with it. Mutter mutter 'what does it all MEAN?' grumble grumble.


Sunday, 22 March 2015

What's life worth without a cuddly shark?

How's that for an important question? What would your life be like without a cuddly shark, on the presumption that you have one to begin with? What? No cuddly shark? How do you get by? Where's the silliness? Oh, the madness of not accepting the madness is utterly insane...

To divert for a moment: It's amazing to see just how many different animals get the cuddly toy treatment in zoo shops now, utterly amazing. At Barcelona Aquarium, a sea turtle and a sting ray made it into my  collection, and a silverback gorilla at the zoo. It might even be possible to get a comprehensive cross-section of the mammal kingdom, if you have a small annexe to house them all and unlimited funding.

Let us however get back to the cuddly shark - mine is called Vera for reasons best left undisclosed - that great huggable ruthless predator of the oceans. Isn't it impressive that as a species we can render even the shark loveable in toy form? And the tyrannosaur too? It's fascinating how we take the most terrifying things and break their power to scare by loving them on some level instead. Yes, we would still be scared witless in an encounter with a real shark, but never away from the water! Making light of the horrors of the world is how we stay insane and functional.

Yes, we need the cuddly sharks, the fluffy rhinos, and the lighthearted fluff to avoid going sane, or at least I do. A sane person would have cracked decades ago under the stress of solitude and constant mess-ups. If you don't have a cuddly shark, then how about a blog of fluffy nonsense, which you write between turns at the mighty pipe organ in your supervillain lair basement? Or a magic greenhouse of exotic plants? Or a world full of jazz? At some point we're going to have to get to jazz, and not just the two general types of 'cool' and 'when does the tune start'.

A jazz trio would think nothing of having a cuddly shark. Can you bear being less cool than them? To the fluffy shark store with you!


Friday, 20 March 2015

Television: 'Moon Over Miami' (1993)

It's a romance, it's a detective show, it's practically unknown, and it will quite probably never be available to buy apart from on legally dubious bootleg DVD. It's also quietly wonderful, laced with laid back Latino vibes and retro undertones, and features some of the nicest quirky dialogue in my television experience. Is it a nostalgia love? Perhaps, but not a baseless love, as it's still a very interesting and cool jazz-tinged show.

Let's set the scene for this frothy fun detective show a little. 'Moon Over Miami' ran for thirteen episodes in 1993, the last three of which went unaired on the initial run, depriving the world of the incredibly well done rushed finale only seen in reruns and overseas. Set in the Walter Tatum Detective Agency of Miami, the first episode details how detective Walter and his operatives Tito and Billie track down the missing Gwen Cross, who has jumped off a boat before her wedding after watching 'It Happened One Night', and then the rest of the series is essentially about her integrating into the team over numerous noir-ish cases before finally winning over the cynical and reluctant Walter at the end. How many television shows use the name Walter anymore, anyway? Supporting leads Billie and Tito get together too, and the cases vary all over the genre map, featuring latino soap operas, industrial espionage, eccentric geniuses wandering the streets, Elliot Gould, the Maltese Falcon itself, the traditional 90s 'Minding the baby' story, and a decades gone missing jazz pianist.

The question to pose when talking about 'Moon Over Miami' is whether it's actually any good or just one of those things that only I like, and treated by the rest of the world as below mention. Being so out of step with the world at large can be troubling if you actually care about relative appreciation, and if you haven't accepted that the world is often very, very wrong and biased toward the least gentle of pursuits. The cast is interesting, headlining as it does with the ever reliable and underrated Billy Campbell as detective Walter Tatum and the fascinating Ally Walker as the goofy Guinevere 'Gwen' Cross, runaway daughter of wealthy society. Agustin Rodriguez and Marlo Marron complete the regulars, with the the guest star supreme J.C. Quinn adding grizzled recurring support as police detective Barnes. Barnes is interesting, evolving as he does from a grump with a plastic cigarette to a reluctant friend over a handful of appearances, apparently more by the power of Gwen than anything else. Yes, the power of Gwen... She was a lovely character, a rare example of a genuinely funnily written female role in a show mixed in with lovely casting. An early crush, easily confessed.

Interestingly, 'Moon Over Miami' was a perverter of clichés long before the trend caught on, making it a trailblazer of sorts. Dozens of tropes get flung into the spinning wheel of jokes, many of them never to be seen again. Mysterious couriers collapsing at the door, showdowns between inept spies, averted infidelities by clients galore, and of course the Falcon itself. The Falcon episode 'In A Safe Place' is fascinating, a little window into the little series that could, as is 'If You Only Knew' on the subject of stolen jazz compositions and Walter's backstory. All that and the choice to never indulge in 'will they or won't they' sustained romantic tension marks it out as a fascinating deviation from the norm.

Maybe it will never be anything more than an oddball of a curio from a time long gone, and maybe it will never appear on DVD, but it would be nice if it could. The finale alone is a fantastically fitting happy resolution, albeit bittersweet as it comes so early, and that final lowering of Walter's presumably battle earned romantic cynicism is tear-inducing as only the best of romantic nonsense can be. Yes, yes, man crying, get over it. It's difficult to sell light and frothy television that peddles perverted clichés gleefully, and with a heart of gold, so let's stop and move on with the day.


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Balance The Equation

Four attempts in, and finally something is emerging from the fidgety fingers and idle brain, fully recovered from the zero effort expended in passing the literacy and numeracy professional skills tests. What, you didn't think I was literate after the hundreds of incoherent essays on this merry blog? Oh, what cynicism, pettiness, madness and wisdom! They were alarmingly easy tests, leading me to worry about the standard of education as a whole, not just idly but as a polymath and polyglot PhD who finds these things alarmingly easy. People have to resit them? Really? I shudder at the thought, arrogantly and with great insensitivity. You can throw fruit now, irate reader.

It's a strange thing to be tested, so long since the last time, and it was even stranger to not be stressed at all. Never was there a more boring and straightforward process. At least the whole endeavour prompted a trip to Cardiff, and with it the obligatory visit to 'Rules of Play', one of the best board game shops around. It's quite rare to plug shops here, but I'll do it this time, and recommend 'Rules Of Play' wholeheartedly. It's even pleasurable to visit as a penniless itinerant mathematician, armed with only a pencil case on the end of a stick and 'The Voyage of the Beagle' by Darwin.

Do Darwin and 'Moon Over Miami' go together? Do they have to? With only one episode left, it's an almost entirely academic question, but more on that show after the finale. Darwin was a lucky man to ship out on that survey ship, and satisfy the naturalist's urge within him in an era when exploration was still possible. Where now to go for those possessed by the wanderlust, and a raw need to live on the frontier of all that's known? Will they be satisfied by working in whatever jobs are left to them in a world ever more teeming with people? How do they stand it? Do they stand it or does the urge become perverted into other noble paths in life?

For my part, in my personal voyage of discovery, I'm struggling with the very basics of mathematical modelling. In my orange model quest, dimensional balancing has reared its ugly head, and it's a tricky thing indeed. If my grandiose verbiage seemed arrogant earlier, then now is the time for incompetence and inexperience to show its face, as I've never had to balance an equation dimensionally before. For the unitiated, both sides of an equation have to have the same units, so you can't have '1 kilo = 9 meters per second', to choose a most basic example. When you put together a model and set out your system of equations, the dimensional analysis is a tool to check that it makes some kind of sense. If sense isn't to be found, then you need to think again. How to think again, though? It's no good just making up some quantity to multiply by and 'fix' it all; there needs to be reality mixed into it, some science. It's going to take a lot of thought, in a problem that was supposed to be easy. More on this one later, too, if it ever works out and I don't go mad in the process. Does anyone have a good source for information on the life cycle and maturation of an orange fruit?

Is the humble-meter going off sufficiently? Did it all balance out to net neutral arrogance?


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Story: Oneiromancy, XVII

(Part O , XVI , XVIII)

The monkey barrelled down the hill on a bobsleigh, laughing. It was wearing tweed. Just before it collided with Stanley and Helen, the two twisted twenty degrees and vanished. The bobsled continued on, and the monkey screamed in frustration, before crashing inexplicably into a palm tree in a snow drift.

The venue shifted to a darkened and romantic restaurant. Helen was confusedly looking at the menu from a table for one, while Stanley hovered, waiting for the order. Suddenly the wine waitress appeared, brandishing a two gallon jug of milk as if were a lollipop, and wearing the wine menu like a tweed covered cap. As the jug came smashing down toward the table, Helen tipped her chair backward and Stanley twirled to face the attacker. He blinked and they were gone.

Stanley and Helen were in bed, watching television, and being bored by the antics of a Spanish soap opera on an obscure channel. The adverts rolled after the priest revealed the truth about his ancestral relationship to Cervantes, and the whole experience changed. The scene was a supermarket, an employee was offering free cheese samples to the customers, but then she suddenly looked directly at the camera. "Good evening, amigos, how are you? Como se va?" The expression became malevolent. "Now now, you can't get away that easily!" She gloated as the two hunted around for the remote control. Suddenly, Helen's memory kicked into gear and she rolled off the bed to pull the plug. The plug that was fused into the wall?! "Isn't it delicious?" Cooed the tweedy lady. "Don't worry, I've decided to not kill you. After all, why waste the entertainment?" Stanley mouthed the word 'fuse' at the Helen and they both went for a bedside lamp. "What are you doing?" The lamps were flung into the suddenly full bath in the adjoining bathroom and suddenly all was black.

There followed regular dreams, mostly about showing up for work on the wrong day, spending a few weeks as talking jellyfish, and the old classic of being arrested for cheese smuggling in the border Marches by a Daschund in a silly hat.


The two woke up blearily in Goosing's flat - although 'palatial appartment' might have been a more accurate description - finally somewhat rested after days of stress. The professor looked at them with some relief. "Code words?"

Helen's dazed expression eased a little, and then she pulled herself together to say "Rutabaga", while Stanley was still half in dreamland. She nudged him from her bunk. "Code word, dopey!"

"Muffin", the teacher said dreamily, "You look pretty when you're half asleep, messy, and getting annoyed."

"Oh, go shoe a horse!"

Goosing's relief was hidden pretty quickly as he watched the two bicker. On another day it would have been tiresome, but on this occasion... "Well, children, are we all happy some of our training paid off?" He smiled. "Now, tell me all about it..."

To be continued...

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Four Hundred And Eighty Two

As I wallow in the enjoyment of the long defunct detective show 'Moon Over Miami' - perhaps never to be seen on official DVD - it's easy to regress back to the joyous days of seeing it for the first time, and not realising it was cancelled with only thirteen episodes in the can. What a waste of witty writing and jazz! Today's post won't linger on that lovely show any longer, however, as it will get a piece all its own once I've made it through all the episodes.

This is post number four hundred and eighty two, and it's time for a renewed burst of panic as number five hundred edges ever closer. It would be nice to have an awesome idea, so witty and elegant that all the brave, loyal and foolhardy readers of the Quirky Muffin can appreciate and enjoy. It would be nice to have pre-planning in mind so that on that glorious day, at most thirty six days from now, one click of a button will reveal something awesome to the world. As it is... Well, you may get a pen picture of a cake, or be exposed to a ridiculous machination of the Clomp from the old story archive, or perhaps this is all a blind for an incredible idea! Procrastination is a lot easier than pre-planning, he said, while miming the role of a paper sculptor in a flying glass elevator.

Four hundred and eighty two blogs later, and there is still nonsense flying loose in the realms of the Quirky Muffin. Who would have thought it? Certainly not myself, as it has only ever been an excuse to blow off nervous tension and occasionally approach the horrors of real life obliquely. To approach real life directly would break the 'minimal self-indulgence' rule, although it is ironic that this week's odd trip out of town is to take professional literacy and numeracy tests. Should I take along the brick thick mathematical thesis and explain it to them as a backup, in case the tests go badly? At least it's sure to be fun, and a trip to Cardiff is always welcome, hopefully inspiring another of these bouts of silliness. Also, there's a board game shop in Cardiff, a tempting and torturing prospect for a penniless perambulator.

In other notable landmarks, the one hundredth Film Bin commentary is approaching, and after much deliberation we think we have chosen something very appropriate. The original, and hopefully current, motivation for Film Bin was to champion movies and television series that had perhaps been overlooked or underrated, to shine a light on things that were abandoned to the dark a bit too eagerly, or were just woefully misunderstood. The very first commentary was for 'The Seven-Per-Cent Solution', and we have something just as silly and fun for number one hundred. It's only fitting. Bring on the silliness, after the preceding five or six catchup episodes are finally done...

I now return you to your regularly scheduled Sunday. There are weird stories about medical ninjas and dream-talkers to be written, more episodes of 'Moon Over Miami' to enjoy anew, and of course that colourful guardian of the land of slumber remains to be bargained with as the dark hours wind on.