Thursday, 28 April 2016

Almost Comical

In the aftermath of a wonderful episode of 'Quantum Leap' ('Camikazi Kid' if you're interested), and a mutually tiring English session, it's time to relax and compose some words into post for the Quirky Muffin. It could be anything, absolutely anything. Did you know how easy it is to make scrambled eggs? No? Well, that's good to begin with. You melt some butter in a saucepan, into which you pour the egg batter, which consists of eggs beaten with salt and pepper. Then, over a medium to high heat, you stir the eggs until they've become solid and you can hear a cooking noise. Finally, you place the eggs on hot buttered toast and serve. You see, you can find anything here on the Quirky Muffin, especially when the writer is convalescing from an illness and preoccupied with the fate of the second phase of 'Wordspace'. The whole saga might actually be a publishable effort, in an alternate dimension.

The day is nearing its end and it has been reasonably nice. Tutoring went as well as it could, given that both the student and tutor had bad throats, and that the whole thing became almost comical at times. At least I didn't try to teach him how to make scrambled eggs via sign language and mime. Is any of this true? You'll just have to wonder. Sometimes, or all the time, 'The Muppet Show' is preferable to reality.

'The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou' is playing, as my mind wanders all over the place and the wild and woolly April weather continues to defy all predictability. Practically anything might happen, including snowstorms and droughts. It's a wild and crazy world, which is filled with all kinds of silliness. Maybe it's all totally normal, and the confusion of 'Armadale' is making me a little goofy. That novel has shifted gears and formats more times than is truly comfortable. I don't even think it's the same story any more...

We shall see.

O.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, IX

( Part VIII , X )

'The Memoirs Of Ken' by Ken, as translated from the Swedish

"One.

It all started a long time ago, in a public library in Mariestad. I had little to do and was spending a lot of time reading. You see, back then, libraries were far more scholarly in nature. I had a fine time, devouring texts on all subjects, before stumbling onto the topic of Japan and it's traditions. Then there was no turning back, and I became, just a little, obsessed.

The idea of this order sounds rather daft, doesn't it? A bunch of highly trained operatives, skilled in the martial arts, stealth and holistic healthcare? It was rather a large leap for me, too, but it made sense at the time. It seemed to all to fit together precisely, like a keystone in the grand philosophy of life. A caste of stealthy medical practitioners appealed to me, as did much of the Eastern philosophy I had been exposed to. Before I knew it, I was deep into a whole new well of study, and making progress.

After some years, I compiled what I thought would be the bible for the order, and began to recruit likely novitiates. Little did I know that something quite unexpected was about to occur...

At the time, we were operating out of a very lovely old warehouse in Amsterdam, which was still partly cluttered with the historical detritus of its previous owners. For some reason, a large number of toy bricks were strewn across the floor, possibly as part of stealth or endurance training, just as we began our regular meditation, something seemed to click... and the bricks swirled into something totally unexpected. A pattern!

The Mosaic is difficult to explain. We think it's connected to some unorthodox teachings handed down from the Sumerian meditative healers, which are somehow tied in to the fabric of the cosmos itself. How? We don't know. We really don't, but we do sort of understand it when it's happening, wrapped up as we are in the inner peace. It's as if we sink into the pockets of the universe's comfy old robe and our local environment becomes wrapped up in the process, causing the Mosaic, a visual representation of the universe.

Through our explorations of the Mosaic, we came to learn many things. Never has there been a problem, so well behaved is the cosmos. Well, never a problem, except for one occasion, but we'll get to that later..."

There will be more.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Gently Spinning In The Wind

It's no fun to be sick, especially when it's a mystery lurgy that strikes during vacations and lingers for weeks afterward, leaving your family doctor mystified. Could it be air conditioning, the stress of travelling, the sheer dissonance of stepping onto a vehicle at one place and off at another? What does it all mean? And why are there always bubble machines?

Oh, bubble machines... Is it possible that outside the universe all of our little dimensions are literally bubbles being blown by some vast and incomprehensible bubble machine, being operated by a one-eyed pirate with a scandalous space parrot? The space parrot is scandalous because he doesn't like crackers, therefore breaking union rules out in the great extra-dimensional void. (If you've tried to eat an extra-dimensional space cracker, you would quite readily agree with the poor bird!)

Moving on, reading a mammoth novel can be very daunting at times, as the sheer length of time required sits upon your mind, physically represented by the weight of the volume. The current example is Wilkie Collins's 'Armadale', which weighs in at a hefty six hundred and eighty pages in my copy, and was exceedingly slow going for a long while. Then, as the pages tinkle on, and enjoyment continues, you get to the last hundred and fifty and everything begins to zoom by. Oh, 'Armadale', you've turned out to be much better this time than on my abortive first attempt. Only 'No Name' will be left of old Wilkie's big four after this. That won't last for long...

As this post winds down the inevitable spluttery conclusion, which could be imagined best as the rubber bands running out of oomph in driving a teaspoon propellor, it's time to wonder at the week ahead. 'Armadale' will be finished, six students will be educated or their tutor will be reconverted into a destitute scholar at large, sickness will be conquered or a slimy cough will continue, and we will have another week of negative roughhousing as the EU referendum slowly, oh so slowly, nears and the primary campaigns continue. Please, world, can we have a debate which is actually based in reality? Please? Too unlikely? Oh well.

O.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Book: 'The African Queen' by CS Forester (1935)

I'm not at all sure what to make of this novel, perhaps because I read it after seeing the film or because it's just a little bit strange. On one hand, it's a rather innocent revenge-fueled adventure story, while on the other it's about a repressed woman's liberation and love affair in the face of peril. It's... strange... but I think it must be good. What it doesn't do is add anything that is missing in the film, except perhaps for a dose more of extremely light smut, and an extended run through the rapids.

It's curious to think that CS Forester had a writing career outside of his 'Hornblower' books, which I've not read in living memory. Is 'The African Queen' similar to those, or is it operating on a more adult level? The proof will be in the pudding, when the 'Hornblower' books finally come round again.

As a novel, this is a combination in style between bestseller simplicity and youthful adventure novel, skewed to the female perspective as seen through the mind of Forester. Does he do the lead character of Rosie justice? I think so, yes, as she gains in complexity over the course of the text, although never quite reaching the Katherine Hepburn level of the film adaptation. That movie is the elephant in the room. To me, I think that the movie is the better implementation of the film, almost entirely because of the three-dimensionality and reality of those two lead actors. If only this original novel had some significant additional ingredient to add, and didn't have that film's tonal stability.

As a review, this has been rather frustrating, but it's safe to say that this is a solid and enduring adventure story, with a well rounded lead heroine. All the natural and geographical details sound authentic, as do the military details from the era of the First World War in which the story is set. Ah, the story, I missed out the story. Of course! It's the story of a spinster sister, whose missionary brother dies, and who sets out to take some revenge using the boat of the man who rescued her from her African mission, all while learning how to really live in the process. Yes, just like the film.

Oh, it's a good book. If you get a chance, then read it.

O.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Resumption

Ah, another resumption! Yes, another trip has flown by, once again one crippled by illness, and it's time to get back down to recovery and pondering the grand insensibilities of the nothing in particular that is the world. Alternatively, why not find a darkened room and think about cheese?

Yes, let's think about cheese for a moment. Hmmm. Okay, enough of that.

Normandy was a lovely place to visit, and packed full of all kinds of history. It's one of the few places in the world where William the Conqueror is a local hero, and the region is packed with all kinds of medieval goodness as well as the far more recent legacy of the liberation of France during the Second World War. (Note to self: Who decides when things finally become important enough to be capitalised?)

The most notable aspect of the trip, apart from the utter kindness and virtue of my friend J who hosted me, and introduced me to her family, was undoubtedly the majestic Mont Saint-Michelle, a monastery on top of a little islet which could well be described as a hill sticking out of the ocean. It's a fantastical juxtaposition of medieval wonder with capitalistic horror to walk up the scenic little alley that is the high street of Saint Mont Michel and be faced with the barrage of tourist shops, but overall the medieval wonder wins by far. Oh, and you can get a horse drawn shuttle over the causeway. Doesn't that tip the balance just by itself?

Yes, a great trip, with some board game conversions made in the process. I will convert you, world, to the joys of 'Fluxx', 'Bohnanza' and even 'Ticket To Ride'! Oo la la! Now to consolidate and not let them get away... and get better...

O.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Film: 'Superman Returns' (2006)

(Pre-planned holiday cover post)
I wasn't sure about 'Superman Returns' at the time, but it grew on me. It's an underrated gem, and it could easily be the last good Superman movie to hit theatres ever. Yes, it's derivative of 'Superman: The Movie', too much so, but it is the only one out of 'Superman I', 'Superman II', and the rest, to not have a bodged ending or be sabotaged by producer or studio antics. It's the only one that is complete in itself, unless you count 'Supergirl', another one of my guilty pleasures and one which is criticised by the confused for similar reasons.

'Superman Returns', and 'Supergirl', both capture the essential non-violence of the characters, and tap into something else instead. If we use the dreadful and meaningless term 'action movie' - normally used as an euphemism for 'violent movie' - then Superman should never ever be in one. He's from romantic adventures, not the land of bullets and punches. He's the character so archetypal that he's utterly wasted in anything so superficial as the modern blockbuster. He needs to be in an actualised and coherent film. 'Superman Returns' is that, for all its flaws.

'Superman Returns' is mainly criticised for its lack of action sequences, and an overdependence on reusing elements and patterns from the first film. The second is a valid criticism, and the first is problematic; Superman stops a plummeting jet, saves Metropolis from all kinds of problems due to a tremor and EMP pulse, lifts a small island into orbit, and almost drowns while stabbed with a shard of Kryptonite in this film. There is no shortage of action, only a shortage of fisticuffs and gunplay. You can make a point that it's all drowned out by the meditative atmosphere of the film, though.

Perhaps the story is a problem, or the sheer length of the film, but I love it anyway. Again, as in 'Flash Gordon', sometimes there's not much point in trying to be impartial. The overall concoction works, but it may not be the concoction the modern movie audience, or that of 2006, would expect. It's one of the great pities that Bryan Singer, director, never got to make his planned next film. It might have been extraordinary. Instead, what we get is something far worse, repeated over and over, with less and less content.

What is 'Superman Returns'? An homage too far to the Donner versions of 'Superman I' and 'Superman II', or the culmination of both into something partly new? A strange exercise in odd casting? A rehash, pastiche, or launchpad? It's only for the viewers to say, but I liked it, and it was the last of its breed, which is sad.

O.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Television: 'Quantum Leap: Colour Of Truth' (1989) (Episode 1x06)

(Pre-planned holiday cover post)

'Quantum Leap' is a series with very mixed associations in my mind. On the one hand, it was definitely one of the prime shows of its era, and one of the rare time travel shows to actually work on any level, but this is counterbalanced by it essentially being an anthology of domestic dramas. Domestic dramas are the curse of television, but they work here, with just the correct amount of genre tweaks to be interesting, or perhaps it's the combination of Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell that does it. They are dynamite when written correctly.

'The Colour Of Truth' is the first episode which lets Dean Stockwell out of the comedic box he had been originally placed in, and confronts one of the greater social crimes of the United States, both while running a much smaller story about Sam's current leapee. This time, he leaps into the guise of an elderly black chauffeur, and the story revolves his relationship with his employer, the wife of the former governor of the state, in the deep South of the 1950s. Racism was rife, and slavery a barely forgotten crime of the ages.

This is really the first episode that completely clicks, and it's largely down to the subject matter and the reimplementation of Al's character, which boosts the dynamic to a whole new level. Yes, he may be a hologram, but he's also the heart of the series, and the reason why we kept on watching. Sam Beckett rarely changed, but Al Calavicci had level after level of character, being slowly peeled away, and always explaining his normal behaviour as a cover...

This is the template for future seasons of the series, and it's where many things begin. An excellent show, and one for the ages. There will be more about 'Quantum Leap'...

O.