Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Television: 'Press Gang: A Night In' (1989) (Episode 1x05)

I wrote about the series 'Press Gang' a long time ago, and it all still stands. It's a witty and intelligent show, even when shown twenty five years later and to a far different audience. Great writing from Steven Moffat (look up his stellar list of credits), and performances from the cast and crew combined to produce a show that transcended its original place in the scheme of things for two brilliant seasons, and three further slightly strained ones.

'A Night Out' is notable for the ever deceptive Colin and his pink rabbit suit, the star-crossed Lynda and Spike beginning to understand each other, the complete absence of a news-related story or guest actors, and the fact that the usually format is completely dispensed with in favour of an evening in the office, chatting. If this were a spinoff 'Star Trek' series, this would definitely be a 'bottle episode', but can a show only on its fifth episode actually have a low-budget episode? Even if it's nominally a kids' show?

There's something about bottle episodes that I love, wherever they appear. They're usually as close as you ever get to theatre on screen, and fizz in a totally different way. Here, we get a restricted cast of five characters for the majority of the episode: Lynda Day, editor of the junior newspaper, in denial at being freshly dumped; Spike Thompson, wisecracking reporter, the universal foil, vulnerable in displaying his cooking talent; Kenny Phillips, the all round good guy, clueless as to recent events; Tiddler, the junior feature editor and pusher of the Spike/Lynda combination; and Colin Matthews, hideous entrepreneurial wannabe trapped in a pink rabbit suit on the edge of a nervous breakdown. It's really just a normal evening at the Junior Gazette, complete with Chinese food.

Bottle episodes are episodes that take place in one location, usually with few to none guest stars, and centre almost entirely on a singular character or relationship arc. In this case, we get a retooling of the two perhaps lead characters, Spike and Lynda, and a fleshing out of their natures beyond their primitive functions as established so far. Why exactly do they act the way they do, and why so much more with each other? We also get more of the psychology of Colin, the aspiring corporate bandit, but he will be expanded further later on...

Yes, a bottle episode, and a fantastic one at that. It's still a kids' show, but it pushes the margins like no other show ever did, and with great wittiness. There has only ever been one Steven Moffat, and this is where he began.

O.

Monday, 27 June 2016

State Of The Thingie

The words dribble out of the finger tips once again, as I come to the keyboard without any well-defined plan. Sometimes there are plans, and sometimes not. There is no predicting the Quirky Muffin, especially after a hard few days of Kriss Kross puzzle compilation. I never really understood how complicated a process that might be, but it's done now, with nineteen shape names wrapped up into a not-too-difficult puzzle with a unique solution. It's the 'unique solution' part that really gets you, for managing to slot all the names together is hard enough as it is!

One really fantastic and useful thing to take out of a mathematics doctorate is a proficiency in the typesetting language LaTeX, which facilitates most of the high-quality handouts and documents I produce for students, friends, and occasionally ex-comrades in arms. It's a wonderful thing, and there's a template for practically every type of document you will ever need. Even KrissKross puzzles are supported, as part of a crossword compilation package, and it's all free! It's really important to be able to make puzzles and games for younger students, and for it not to be too difficult, once the roughing out on squared paper is done.

Getting back to this magnificent blogging challenge, now past the seven hundredth post, it seems clear that two of the stories have become far more interesting to write than the others: 'The Ninja of Health' and 'Wordspace II'. The other stories might pause or even be formally cancelled if a clear direction doesn't come to mind, although an epic session of plotting with pen and paper might clear it all up. Yes, it's time to get physical with the source material. It's almost impossible to do anything but maintain the status quo while writing on a computer. The mind really focusses when using paper, and also the eyes take far less of a battering, which is very much an issue when your optician changes your prescription. Mutter mutter.

Coming attractions here will include writings on 'The Time Tunnel', Mark Twain's 'Joan of Arc', 'Magnum PI', 'Star Trek V' and Wilkie Collins' 'No Name'. How does that sound?

O.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XI

( Part X , XII )

Haagenport was just as grey and pungent as always. The little car rolled into a parking slot next to the Oracle's lair, and the engine subsided to a harmonious silence. The Woman emerged from the driver's side and waited for the Man to look a little less green.

"I swear that one day I'll find some reason to get these contraptions replaced by horses again..." Groaned the still incapacitated passenger. "Or pedestrian travel."

"I swear that I've never seen anyone get so travel sick in every possible mode of transport. Yes, travel wrecks our spatial and geographical orientation, but surely you can manage a little car ride to the seaside? Oh, my goodness, I'm getting flashbacks to our ferry crossings to the Frozen Isle for training..." The woman began to amble back and forth.

"Now, if only you got flashbacks of that time we reset the Mayor's spine in the frozen aisle at the supermarket instead, we'd both be much better off."

"Well, at least your colour's improving. Get out here and watch the sea for a little while." The Lady gestured at the lapping waters beyond a nearby fence. "Reconnect with nature, so we can get on to the Oracle."

"Thank you, milady. I will take that under advisement."

A little man emerged from the maritime store and ambled across to the car. "He stills get that sick from a little car ride?" He asked?

"Oh, for goodness sake." The Man half fell out of the car and stood up. With some pacing, he looked almost human again, and then looked at their amused new companion. "We have to ask you about some things, seer, but first you have to promise me that there's no seafood in there." He got a little greener just at the thought.

"Ah, that might be a problem. I got inventive with the pizza toppings. However, I aired out the place so it should be okay by now." He looked out at the sea, while the Woman dusted off her Man. "I also had some insight about what you wanted to ask me about, although it wasn't complete."

"Was it about our visitor?" Enquired the Lady.

"Yes, yes it was. Shall we go inside?" He offered his arm, and inspected her travelling companion. "Yes, you look okay now." Without further comment, he led the two into 'Crane and Nelson, Maritime Supplies', the lair of the Oracle."

To be continued...

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Blunt Pencil Tied To The Wall

The voting process has been completed yet again. The name has been highlighted on the list, a slip handed out, and the box crossed with the obligatory dull pencil tied to a wall. Another decision has been made, and another responsibility shifted on to the next people up the chain. Whatever the choice made, it's democracy in action, and that has to be better than all the other alternatives. It's not often that we see true democracy in action, mainly due to the electorate not having time or sometimes ability to examine problems in enough depth to make informed choice. Democracy, the governing of the people by the people, is almost unheard of. What we normally have are democratic republics (or the ever bizarre 'constitutional monarchy' in our case!): the selection of representatives of good character and judgement to make those decisions for us.

Note: Whenever people talk about electoral reform, you might consider the possibility that politics would be better if we examined those representatives we are choosing from in more detail than just the colour of their necktie or campaign button. Mightn't that help considerably?

Knowing what we do of our fellow voters, would anyone ever actually want a full democracy? It would be an incredibly dangerous experiment! How would it work, and what would become of the political class? Who would take and champion issues on both sides? Would there be a troop of trained debaters who would arbitrarily take sides or would citizen campaigners emerge on the two sides in each case? A string of citizens rising up to convince and argue on behalf of the issues they truly believe in? It's actually quite tempting, isn't it? It's also not far off being practical, if we could trust some centralised electronic voting system to not be corrupted almost immediately by the people who administrate it or break down at the worst moment. We can be funny about the blunt pencil tied to the wall as much as we want, but it's pretty hard to corrupt people physically counting pieces of paper under supervision. Paper voting would be pretty impractical and expensive in a true democracy, though. Good grief, how would the things to be voted on even be selected? Would that job have to be elected?

Yes, democracy has been foisted upon us once again, and now we can only wait to see what happens. The usual suspects will begin going on about electoral reform while missing the point at the very core of a republican system, whatever the result, and everyone else will go back to normal, happy at no longer having to agonize over affairs of state.

Never underestimate the power of that blunt pencil.

O.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Story: 'Wordspace' Phase II, Part II

(Part I , Part III)

Club marched along with the rest of the scouting troop, toward the cloud of particles on the horizon, or what they called the horizon, given that the Wordspace was as flat as a potato that had just been run over by several steamrollers followed by a frog on a bicycle. The group had bonded fairly easily, although the sedate words were still getting used to the return of War and her fellow ex-prisoners. Club, being of a protective temperament, fell somewhere in the middle of them all. He had emerged from the Well of Vocabulary some time after the exile of the Destructives, and had never seen aspects like those of War, Defence, Survival and the others. Regulation was having a nervous breakdown somewhere, he was sure.

They continued to walk onward, and onward and onward. Suddenly, Zephyr twisted down and exchanged news with War and Peace, the expedition's co-leaders. In a sudden and coincidental moment, a cry cam from behind him: "Club!" The stalwart defender turned around and saw Cloud bearing down with Mystery in tow.

"Mystery?" The coincidence had jarred his stability for a moment. "Boss?"

"Go tell War that the invader is at the Zone. Those are survivors ahead of you! I'm going back to organise!" Cloud zoomed off, and Club regathered himself. To his surprise, War had already begun to turn the troop around and sent Zephyr on to the dustcloud ahead of them. She looked displeased beyond measure, all scrunched up in anger, but the troop turned around anyway. War sought him out, however, with a different mission in mind.

"Zephyr spotted that the disturbance ahead is caused by more survivors. He has gone back now to confer, and will be back to guide you over there at any moment. Please, go, and explain the present circumstances. You've lived through them, and will be able to answer many more questions than I would. Please, go."

Suspicions fired through Club's mind, but nothing was clearly wrong. "Are they to continue on their way or join us at the Zone?" He asked deliberately.

"To the Zone, or the Well of Vocabulary, should they be in a very bad state." Zephyr was returning once again, and War turned back to her troop, after a few last instructions. "I'll send your friend on, after you. Good luck!" With that, the group moved out, and Club stood by himself, under the nervous form of Zephyr. They had never talked before, to any great extent.

"They're over this way. Come on, come on!" Zephyr was ever flighty when agitated. Club began to walk faster over the foundation of random punctuation, dodging the occasional prefix bushes or suffix roots that threatened to trip. Slowly, the group of survivors came into clearer view, and he abruptly stopped.

He didn't recognise a single word in this new group, and was stunned.

There shall be more...

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Go Stand Under A Tree

Ah, Sundays, the days when things happen slowly. Very slowly. The day when even rain falls in slow motion from the sky as you glance out the window, and the wavelets on the surface of a swimming pool might as well be features on a watercolour painting. Yes, Sunday can be a very worrisome day for its inactivity. Not everyone remembers how to relax, anymore.

Is any of this making sense? In retrospect, no, as I've just been out to stand under a tree and listen to the rain for a while. This is one of the most relaxing experiences in the universe, to simply wander out and stand under a tree. It's one of the most direct connections you can have with nature. Do raindrops falling on leaves and tiles have a naturally meditative effect, fostering introspecting and relaxation in the human psyche, or is it purely personal? Did all those days watching the rain from the arches at school have a profound effect on the psyche? It's such a soothing thing in the evening. More people should learn to love rain.

It's easy to get lost, to lose contact with the world, when you have the whole false world of the Internet to lean on. The Internet is a construct, though, and the world outside is something else. The sheer physicality of raindrops, and their noise, forms a far greater connection to the world than any keyboard or sunbeam could. It's a little like sensing air movement at your fingertips, swimming in a scenic bay, or sitting on top of a cliff and listening to the waves crash and the winds rush.

Yes, it may be a Sunday, but it can be turned to the powers of good. The so-called 'day of rest' can legitimately be a day of rest, of your own choosing and not in the way imposed by the daft world outside of commercialism, of politics, and even of religion. Take that moment, and if it appeals to you, go stand under a tree and experience the rain. You never know, you might enjoy it.

O.

PS Without raindrops, we could never have rainbows.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Television: 'Garfield And Friends' (1988-1994)

What makes this more than just any other cartoon series? What makes it better? What stops this writer, who is normally disinterested in cartoons, smile and enjoy it, rather than turn it off like any other example of the type except for the 'Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show'? Is it the warmth that people feel for Garfield the cat, Jon Arbuckle and Odie the dog? Is it the musical content, the occasional existentialism, or even the bursts of surrealness that creep in around the edges? Maybe it's all of those things and more, with some points taken away for the non-Garfield segment that is 'Orson's Farm'.

Reviewing 'Garfield and Friends', it's fascinating to see just how much they pushed the edges of what a kids cartoon series was supposed to be. There are musical segments, whole minutes pass by with Garfield stuck hanging from a branch, dream sequences, bursts of angst from the hapless Jon, and yet it somehow exudes a wonderful and warm sense of family. Well, it is a show based in the hit comic strip of Jim Davis, after all, the only strip that is even vaguely comparable to 'Peanuts', and it is built around an unconventional family. Even 'Orson's Farm' (aka 'US Acres') is build around a family too, and another unconventional one too.

The humour embedded in this show is lovely, even in 'Orson's Farm', which segment is always just a bit less sophisticated than the bracketing 'Garfield' bits. It's far more subversive than you might expect too, with jokes thrown in at levels you would never have been aware of as a child. Most of those jokes wouldn't land without the stellar voicework of Lorenzo Music, though. That guy was created to play a fat, greedy and laconic cat with a sketchy conscience. Thom Huge too was a magnificent Jon, pulling off the melancholic goofiness of the misfit that lives on the edge of some bizarre alternate universe of nervous collapse.

Looking back at the early episodes, highlights include 'Box O' Fun', in which Garfield imagines some adventures while playing with a cardboard box, 'Up A Tree' in which Garfield is stuck up a tree, and 'Nothing To Sneeze At', in which Jon has a terrible first date with Liz the sarcastic veterinarian. Those are all segments with a minimum of plot, and they all excel. Plot is what you bring on when you don't have characters! Bring on the existentialism, people, or bring on lasagna. It's a great little show, and it will be fun to work through the whole thing.

O.