Thursday, 22 September 2016

Off To The Smoke

The world isn't just a great big onion, but sometimes it might as well be. Wouldn't it be more interesting, or at least more teary? No, probably not. Please cancel the comment and erase it from the short-term memory banks. Sometimes a song title can be taken just too far, as any glance down the list of 80s pop songs and vintage country and Western songs would tell you.

Once again, this blog will hibernate over the weekend, as the writer vanished off to the Midlands to have one last nice weekend before the full onslaught of GCSE tuition becomes known. Yes, a few last days of relaxation await. There may or may not be a post on Saturday evening, depending on the activities planned. Be warned, Muffineers! Even the most prolific nonsense writers have to take a break from time to time!

Oh, the joy of a long journey by coach. It seems the nicest option of the ones available. There's something very satisfying about lounging in the most comfortable seats available to travellers and working through a long-neglected novel or writing project. It will be nice indeed. One of the other joys of existence at the moment is the great opportunity provided by making notes for English students. For example, today the proofreading text was about a bicycle wheel found floating through deep space. Why was it there? What was its story? Not all was answered by a short extract, but these things can always return as the kernels of larger endeavours.

It has been a rough week, with multiple new students and several sleepless nights, and now the time is right for some rigorous sleeping. Sleeping is an addictive past-time. Perhaps it should only be indulged by prescription? This is really the worst kind of gibberish, isn't it? It's good to be a tutor in the weeks when everyone learns; one of the best ways to get through life. If it weren't so tiring and evening-based.

The Quirky Muffin now rests, probably for a long holiday weekend.


Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Movie: 'Metropolis' (1927)

This is a difficult one. 'Metropolis' is a legendary movie, and one which for most of the last eighty-nine years had thirty minutes lost from its total of one hundred and fifty, and is only now mostly restored from a damaged print found in South America. Watched in its proper historical context, it is an amazing achievement, and a grand epic that is the peak of Fritz Lang's silent movie career, even if it does take a while to get going. It's much better that 'Dr Mabuse, the Gambler', Lang's other epic (indulgently and ridiculously epic, in fact) of the time, and has some magnificent model work and production values. Watched out of context, the modern viewer might get bored, but you shouldn't watch old movies if you can't get into the setting.

I'm being serious. Get into context! You can't watch this, or 'Dr Mabuse', if you can't get yourself into an era where everything you see is being done for the first time. Everything. There may not have even been a dystopian future story before this one. There was 'The Lost World', though, the great dinosaur epic of 1925. Would that have made it to Fritz Lang's Germany of the 1920s?

Should this be a review or a critique? Or both? The story is comparatively simple. In a futuristic city, a metropolis, the decadent rich are living freely and luxuriously in the outer world, while the downtrodden workers are living underground in the Workers' City. The son of the city's genius architect falls in love with the workers' prophet or seer, and becomes aware of the horrors of the underworld existence, but his mission to reconcile the brain and the brawn of the city is complicated by a mad inventor and his brilliant robotic woman, in collusion with the architect. Got it? Can you answer questions posed at speed?

That robotic woman is the image forever associated with the film, but she actually doesn't feature very heavily in that form, but rather in her disguised form as the seer's evil double. The image wins out, though, and has done for almost ninety years. Even if the rest of the movie were terrible, then that imagery and the crazed performances of Rudolf Klein-Rogge (Dr Mabuse himself!) as Rotwang the lunatic inventor, and Brigitte Helm as the seer and robotic double, would make it a worthwhile watch. The only significant problem with the movie is structural: Each act is patterned after a piece of music, escalating in action and energy with each change, leaving the beginning of the film a little flat. However, as a counterbalance, the finale is frenetic!

'Metropolis' was definitely worth seeing. It was scary in prospect, but much better once it was de-mystified and simply a movie on the television. Are there any more silent era classics to check out? Only time will tell. Now, if only you could believe that that architect was worth saving and reuniting with the workers. He was rather a cad and a fiend...


Sunday, 18 September 2016


Greetings, felicitations, and welcome to what is sure to be another astounding ode to insubstantiality here at the Quirky Muffin! After a weekend of unusual relaxation, including both 'Superman: The Movie' and Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis', nothing can truly harm the tranquility of this blog. Ha ha ha! We're immune, I say, immune!

<cackles madly>

Ahem. Apologies to the notional readers of the Quirky Muffin. Normal service will now be resumed. That 'Metropolis' surely was a strange film, but I think it was good. I think so. It was so long that it almost defeated itself, but it was definitely a sterling example of silent film, and much better than 'Dr Mabuse: The Gambler', which wins the prize for self-indulgent lengthiness.

Good grief, I've not written about 'Superman: The Movie' yet! The Donner cut of 'Superman II'? Yes. 'Supergirl'? Check. 'Superman Returns'? Yes-aroo. That only leaves the movie that kicked it all off. Well, that can be a cover post for next weekend's travelling. Another trip to Nottingham, and one which is the final rest before the double ordeal of an Open University course and the new GCSE season. It's going to be an interesting time, and one with many pressures, but also with lots of new experiences! If nothing else, I'll become so familiar with GCSE content that my DNA will rewrite into circle theorems and conversion graphs.

Meanwhile, pre-preparation for the upcoming degree continues at a snail's pace, as it will until the beginning of October! What are the opening modules? 'Exploring Languages And Cultures' and 'Bon Depart: Beginner French'. It will be a rough ride, but certainly easier than a PhD! Perhaps it will even help rebuild the mental stamina needed for the rest of this writer's life? Meanwhile, 'Wordspace: Phase II' will continue, as will all the other stories. They really need to be focussed on more, if anything is to get publishable.

Could one of these stories really end up publishable? How much would need to be added? Are there any candidates other than 'Wordspace'? All these questions and more will be almost certainly remain unanswered in the coming weeks...


Friday, 16 September 2016

Television: 'A Very British Coup' (1988)

It's downright unsettling. I can't write about the Chris Mullins novel that forms this basis of this Channel 4 mini-series, as I haven't read it, but the lengths to which private interests go to maintain the status quo in this story about a socialist prime minister coming into power is deeply unsettling. It's true that the new government in question is a little blunt and extreme in its methods, but you can't help but wonder just what it would take for a government to be allowed to change anything in the modern world. Is it possible at all?

It's difficult to write about politics when you're fundamentally neutral in a right-wing country, so let's talk about the show itself. It was adapted from the source novel by the magnificent Alan Plater, which is a ringing endorsement in itself, and has one of the most solid casts you could assemble from the British acting corps of the time. Ray McAnally necessarily stands out as Prime Minister Harry Perkins, as does Keith Allen as his press secretary Thompson, but the batting runs very deeply indeed.

The tone is bleak, with hints of dark humour, and no punches are pulled in what hard tactics would need to be employed for a left-wing government to get anything at all done while facing the official opposition, as well as the unofficial, in the form of hostile press barons, the civil service, the secret service, the United States of America, and practically anyone else who thinks they might lose from a new system in Britain. As Perkins progresses in attempts to do the things on the mandated manifesto, it goes from bad to worse. Assassinations begin to happen, conspiracies unwind in the darkness, and finally the most perfidious kinds of blackmail unfurl against the backdrop of an implied military coup.

The television adaptation is pumped up a little in emphasis by the insistence on closing US bases in Britain, and on nuclear disarmament, both of which strengthen American paranoia within the plot. The underlying question, which is not necessarily a partisan one, is who rules the country? Is it the elected government, or the unelected one?

Deeply unsettling, and now prescient. What would happen if today's Labour party got into power? Would they be allowed to do anything at all?


The Heat Is On

The pressure is on, as the first of the endless round of GCSEs looms on the temporal horizon. It's not the nicest of propositions for the students of today, is it? From my contacts, it seems that year eleven has been pretty much abolished due to the pressure on the schools to do well, maybe even moreso than the pressure on the students. Instead, they have a long string of exam revision sessions in a bid to beat other schools on the league tables. We live in a strange world where schools compete with each other instead of cooperating, as do hospitals and various other public services. If that doesn't make sense to you either, then congratulations. It's most likely the Bizarro Universe! Please check the person next to you for a little stone label on a chain. As a private tutor, my list will double for a month, and then subside as the exams go away for a few months.

However, let's not be too serious. Far more important things are going on! For one thing, I missed a Quirky Muffin yesterday, which is a crime punishable by withholding of cocoa powder and exile in Scandinavia without smorgasboard privileges. Yes, it is THAT BAD. Indeed, the last person to miss a post here, Sven Morgansbeard, hasn't been seen since the mid Nineties. Ah, Sven, you had such a varied selection of rutabaga recipes. What is a rutabaga anyway? Isn't it a hybrid of some kind? All I know is from references to the foundation of the Kingdom of Sendaria in the Belgariad.

<some minimal research ensues>

Right, a rutabaga is a natural cross between a cabbage and a turnip, that was first written about in 1620. Apparently the crossing resulted in a doubly dense chromosomal nature, and a shift in the plant's classification as a result. I've not knowingly ever seen a rutabaga, except... It's also known as a swede! Now it all makes sense. You weren't expecting the next Quirky Muffin to be late, and a mix of examination and swede talk were you, hallucinatory readers of this blog? Oh, the accursed swede! That endless supply of mush! No wonder Morgansbeard was sent away, that swede-loving fiend!

It will be a rough few weeks, which might play havoc with the blog as it currently stands. Principal writing will shift to the daytime as eight evening students take their toll. It's not easy for a diurnal person to do that much evening work, but people need to be helped, so helped they shall be! Whether they like it or not. Mwahahahaha. Short term exam preparation is the worst kind of tutoring, but almost always necessary somewhere.

With that, it is time to tap the last strokes of this post, and move on to the next. One penalty of dereliction of duty is double posting...


Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Story: 'Diary of a Laundry Robot', Week X

( Week IX , Week XI )


Good grief, we are safe nowhere! Mrs Wilberforce just dropped in with three boxes of feather boas. She found us in an entirely dimension in space! The Quergs are at a loss in understanding it. She just flounced in, dropped off these gigantic packages and flounced out again, utterly oblivious to the change in locale. Now we have feather boas, and our supervisor recommended we just wash them and then they'll drop them off in an undercover operation. How bizarre it is! Celia actually giggled for a whole hour, off and on. At least they're not hats!


I've just realised, my diary, that I never followed up on the singed hats. There they were on our return from the Ring of Querg. We found out the next day, after explaining that being singed is not the same as being dirty, that there had been a small expedition to a volcano planet in the Iocane system, with some damage being taken as a result. It sounds like a very interesting planet, even if it is part of a very unlikely story. Incidentally, the Blots are just sitting there, outside the laundry. I'm somehow tempted to drape the feather boas on them, but Celia just looked at me disgustedly when I suggested it.


A mystery has been revealed! Egbert is actually a time-space continuum correction to the Blots problem. Yesterday, he visited us here at the laundry, traversing the road from our new communal house, and tripped over one of the interlopers, who promptly vanished! Astonished, the Quergs took some readings and discovered that some agent had put him there for that purpose. He trumpeted with glee and began running about and wildly tripping over them at every opportunity! There are now no Blots left, although our maintenance/therapist Querg thinks they must begin accumulating again soon. He seems to think that we weren't as unimportant to the natural timeline as they had thought, or that something else is badly wrong.


The boas have been shipped back to our home time, finally! We managed to get a note put in as well, with the Quergs' agreement, asking for some necessary supplies to come back the squad. We really need some new sensor wipes and Celia misses her robo-bear! What madness! I gave up my robo-raccoon years ago, and she still has a bear!

Egbert has begun meditating in the middle of the night. I wonder if he has been told something about going home, as he seems rather melancholy recently. Barely an 'Egg!' has been heard for days.

There is a Blot outside the laundry. Celia is looking worried.


A brief note for today: The Grand High Querg has summoned us, including Egbert, to the Dome. We had never even heard of a Grand High Querg or a Dome! I wonder what we've done! Tomorrow, we will go. Celia's robo-bear growls at me when I sing in the wash facility.

There will be more...

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Just One More Turn

It was (and still is) a dangerous era. There were whole tribes of computer games (usually devised by the arch villain Sid Meier) which devoured your time in both real-time and in turns. Unsatisfied with merely having one success, Meier devised 'Railroad Tycoon', 'Civilization', 'Colonization' and even 'Pirates'. He used up decades of people's lives, not even including 'Silent Service' and 'Gunship'. His real success was in the 'one more turn' temptation of 'Colonization' and 'Civilization', though, which haunts me even now, decades later, in the form of 'Colonization', published in 1994. It's fiendish. It should be nothing compared to later offspring 'Alpha Centauri' and 'Civilization IV', but it's definitely better in its simplicity. Curses!

'End of turn' is an addictive phrase. With one click you could be off exploring the consequences of all your actions, moving cargo and military units, preparing for the inevitable end game. It is a strange and compulsive process, and one that taunts this writer even now. At this moment I could be selecting 'Declare independence' and rushing off to see if I can ward off the evil empire and liberate everyone, but instead discipline is holding and a blog post is being wrung from the keyboard of fate, which complains at not having to just provide an 'enter' key from time to time. 'One more turn' is a phenomenon wherein the game player repeatedly puts off finishing a session by thinking to themselves that they will play 'just one more turn' over and over again. Hours later, the player looks up and out of the window and sees darkness. A whole day has vanished, their eyes are bleary, and they haven't even build that fort in Baltimore yet...

You can guess what kind of weekend it has been now, can't you? Swimming, cycling and lots of turn taking! In other news, 'Strangeness In Space' (look it up) is going to Kickstart a two-episode season finale (featuring Sylvester McCoy?), 'Quincy, M.E.' is proving far better than I remembered or even predicted during the confused first run of episodes, the Labour leadership elections grumble on interminably, and 'Star Trek's fiftieth anniversary rolled by. 'Star Trek' is fifty, and I spent the weekend playing 'Colonization'. What kind of weird world is this? What else happened? Oh, the movie 'Hellzapoppin' arrived via DVD rental, and I'm not entirely certain how to react. It was... indescribable.

More 'Star Trek' thoughts will follow in the week to come. My students will certainly get bored with it, if nothing else! Maybe I should 'Deep Space Nine' on DVD after all. Maybe.