Sunday, 30 December 2012

Story: 'Yoghurt Vat Kids: New Heroes for the Probiotic Age!', I

They thought every permutation of superhero had been done, from Bananaman to the Fonzz, but they were wrong. Somewhere under Paris, a brainstorming session took place, one that would change us all forever.


Some weeks later toys began to appear in supermarkets, little figures in half-pot yoghurt cases: Strawb, Lem, Pina, Peachie and Squash. The Five of them together were apparently the Yoghurt Vat Kids! The back story went as thus:
"Apparently the results of illegal cloning experiments that took place behind a dairy company front, each of the Kids had a special yoghurt power, that they would use to defend liberty and embrace justice in the Probiotic Age! Armed with their gifts, and well developed intestinal fortitude, they would face down the horrors of evil restaurateurs and their nemesis Captain Moustache while plumbing the mysteries of their own existence."

People were amused and even a little tickled by the preposterousness of the idea, thinking it a blatant ripoff of the existing Power Rangers concept but little did they know what those brainstormers in Paris, those cads Jean-Pierre Grimaud, Stanley Tedwin and Ernst Lopner, had really in mind. Soon, and inevitably, a cartoon emerged onto screens all over the world, which predictably lasted less than a full season before vanishing off screens in a rush. It seemed the Yoghurt Vat Kids had failed.


Two years after the last episode of the Kids premiered in North America there was a sighting of a mysterious incident in Madrid. A man with a strawberry patch on his sleeve was seen plummeting from the Heavens and subsequently breaking up a mugging before soaring back to his unknown horizon. The following week, a woman emblazoned with the Squash was seen in Copenhagen emerging from the water with a young child that would otherwise have drowned. What was going on?

No one drew connections with 'Yoghurt Vat Kids' for a few months, after numerous sightings of all five heroes and even a sixth with the badge of the banana. People were concerned, feathers were ruffled, and dairies were looked at as suspiciously thereafter as they should have been before. People began to have conversations about the 'Probiotic Age' and what it might mean in the world as they knew it. Finally, a threat to the world emerged that only the Yoghurt Vat Kids could confront as a group. It did not involve a comedically moustached Swiss maniac, but it would raise questions that would last for years to come.

Most of all those questions? 'Why are the Yoghurt Vat Kids'?

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Merry Christmas

Christmas is a confusing and somewhat confounding time of year for the professed agnostic. What exactly are we celebrating and what are we anticipating? It's best just to let it all drop away and enjoy the fact that it's a holiday. Meaning is only meaning if it's relevant to us. Otherwise it's just a trapping. Woo woo. New Year, on the other hand, is an even odder occasion. It's such an arbitrary date to cycle the calendar but we celebrate it nonetheless, and in far more varied ways. While we are stuck with the dull traditional roast lunch on Christmas Day we are liberated for New Year and it is wonderful. We can eat anything!

<Thinks for six hours>

Oh, I forgot and it's a little late, but here we go: Merry Christmas! We had some fun here over Christmas, with water coming through the roof and busted heating but all is well now. It must be well as I'm watching 'Quincy, M.E.' and remembering just how good that show was. Jeepers, between it and 'Columbo' there's no need to ever watch another detective show. The 70's were a good decade after all for television. There were those two shows, and 'The Bionic Woman', 'The Incredible Hulk', 'M*A*S*H', 'The Muppet Show', 'Taxi' and more.

As you may have noticed I know a lot about American television. It was a haven for me and remains so, a space where we can learn about human nature on some level. As a fully functional Trek Head I watched all of the first three 'Star Trek' series, as well as the shows I've already named, 'Cheers', 'Frasier', 'Alias', 'Community' and a host of other bizarre concoctions and even domestic British television. Yikes. And then were all the books... Oh, why ramble on about all this?

Looking back on Christmas Day I should mention the 'Doctor Who' Christmas special, entitled 'The Snowmen'. It was far better than I expected, and the new companion Clara was rather fetching and intriguing especially as she has now appeared and expired twice. Interesting! The previous companions really lingered on for too long, as in retrospect they had a perfect write-out at the end of series six and their leaving was foreshadowed relentlessly. Also, it seems that the foreshadowing of the eleventh Doctor's end have been dropped for now, which is welcome. Why foreshadow departures every single time? It spoils the surprise and wrecks the mood way ahead of time.

Back to sleep now. Snore.


Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Movie: 'Safety Not Guaranteed' (2012)

Now, there are three movies that I watched for the first time in 2012 that I liked so much that I immediately decided I should buy when the opportunity came: 'The Lonely Guy' of 1984, 'Fish Story' of 2009 and 'Safety Not Guaranteed' of 2012. That last one I haven't written about until now. It's a largely unknown little gem of an independent movie that has captured me by a net of many little ways. It's opening to some kind of release here in the UK apparently so I'll try not to spoil it with details and encourage people to go see it if they are lucky enough to have a screen near them! It's a sweet movie, good and solid, and it features a zither.

Down in the film's story, a Seattle magazine intern called Darius and her two colleagues go to a small town to investigate the person who put the following small ad in a newspaper:
"Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before."

Darius is played by the super-cute Aubrey Plaza who appears in 'Parks and Recreation', and in whom I've had a minor league crush, secure in the knowledge that I'll never have to beat it over the head with reality. I mention that simply to explain any bias that may be apparent. Plaza does well, playing her usual offbeat self, and not leaning into any attempts at heavy acting. It would be interesting to see how her acting demeanour differentiates from what she puts forward as a standup. I imagine it's not too different. Oh, and of course she's lovely in her own unique way, says the bias leaning on my shoulder.

Darius's associates Jeff and Arnau have their own subplots, mainly based on Jeff's quest to meet a long lost flame and impress upon the youthful Arnau the importance of acting young while you are still young. They have a very touching little story but the horrifically foul mouth of Jeff really put me off, which I know is a personal problem rather than a film problem, although as he's practically the only swearer in the movie he really breaks the tone. Perhaps that IS a film problem. Comment below if you have an opinion!

The key to enjoying this movie is holding the idea of a fable in your mind, especially as you approach the finale. In a tiny budget time travel movie you will make compromises. and the time machine here is no exception but I love it. No one knows what a time machine will look like, so why not like this? Seriously? And what does time travel look like? We don't know. Rather this than what they do in 'Looper', where it looks like nothing at all.

Pulling it all together, I will recommend 'Safety Not Guaranteed', and not just because I like Aubrey Plaza. There's something charming about it, a sense of fun that pops up so rarely and should always be savoured. The ending is actually, literally, lovely in an understated fashion and unusually fantastic. On the negative side we have some plot implausibilities, Jeff's lonely arc of melancholy, and some blue sky acting which I personally like. If you tend not to buy into sappy finales then this may not be the film for you but if you can... then watch 'Safety Not Guaranteed'. People can argue that it's not a great movie, but personally I like it very much.

Oh, and I'll say again: There is a zither! That's only my second zither encounter after the music for 'The Third Man'. And Aubrey Plaza does her thing. Sweet but lethal.


Monday, 24 December 2012


A cursory reading of my blog has revealed numerous and egregious errors both typographical and nonsensical. Over the next few days I shall revise as many posts as possible to make them more readable, while hopefully not damaging their essences to any great extent. I apologise for the lack of proficient proofreading in the past.


Book: 'Ringworld' (1970)

This is a story about a man. No, it's a story about a giant ring habitat hundreds of light years away. Maybe not, maybe it is about a woman with extraordinary luck. Oh well, maybe its a story about how flawed the Ringworld is because it has no surplus resources and can only allow stasis or decline on a civilization scale. Urk. Well it could be about how we're not human until we've suffered a bit. Whatever else you can say about Larry Niven's 'Ringworld', you can't say it lacks multiple focusses in its narrative. In fact there are too many, resulting in a lack of focus in the narrative once we've landed on the Ringworld, and that narrative becomes even more diffuse once you include the standard science fiction writer's fixation with human sexuality. I think that back in the sixties and seventies there were hordes of science fiction writers just wandering around in a state of monomania. It's bizarre and incongruous and presumably existed to underline that these books were not for children. Anyway, so we have a lack of focus once we land on the eponymous Ringworld. But what is a Ringworld, who are our characters, and what is driving the plot?

In the far future the invention of teleportation, an instantaneous and ubiquitous form of travel, has rendered the Earth culturally and racially homogeneous. Contact with alien life form has been mostly with warlike and feline Kzin and the eccentric double-headed birdlike Pierson's Puppeteers. The human homogeneity and the advent of longevity-giving boosterspice have made it easier for many and harder for some as the boredom of immortality settles upon them. Our protagonist, one Louis Wu, is such a bored adventurer and is recruited by a Mad Puppeteer along with a Kzin and a genetically lucky companion to go forth and investigate a massive artefact outside of known space. The story is about their recruitment, journey, crash, exploration and ultimately the escape.

So, the idea is great and epic, and the concept of the massive artificial Ringworld is awesome in its scope but the story fails once we get there. Why is that? It must be due to the lack of focus, and the fact that not a lot of interest happens on the Ringworld itself. There's much philosophy and sociological commentary but that can only serve to counterpoint a faster and compelling narrative, which does not exist here. There's some half-hearted romance, which serves mainly to underline how the character with genetically engineered luck has been unconsciously manipulating her companions, but it is fairly nominal. In fact, the revelation that her luck has motivated practically the whole adventure for her own self-improvement totally undermines all the other characters and destroys the finale. The final point of the triangle of disappointment is that the exploration of the Ringworld is rather dull.

What is a Ringworld? It's a massive artificial structure, a ring built around a sun with a radius of presumably about an astronomical unit (AU = average distance from Earth to Sun) which is intended for habitation. It's a variation on a Dyson Sphere, where you would build a whole sphere around a sun and live on the inside surface. They're awesome ideas but ultimately abstractions which may never exist in reality. Such a ring would have the surface area equivalent to many dozens or even hundreds of Earths. It would also have no mineral treasure to allow further development or building and would be dependent on imported minerals for such purposes. It would also require the builders to totally clean out their solar system (and neighbours) of all material for the building and even then would be a huge target for meteors. Note, you can't have a Dyson Sphere or a Ringworld without some plan for dealing with meteors and comets.

Now, I've been a bit negative as I tend to be at times. It's not that bad a classic science fiction novel. In many ways it's actually rather good. The narrative simply becomes a bit disappointing and that's sad. Also, dissension is wrought between the characters as that story goes on and it's never resolved well. The main plus is that does have a massive Ringworld outside of known space and a cowardly manic depressive bird thing with two heads. I guess we can call that an even result. Go ahead and read 'Ringworld', it's not brilliant but it's kind of good in an odd way. For brilliance, always read 'Gateway' instead.


Television: James May's Toy Stories, "Flight Club"

I must admit that I cried during this television programme. It was excellent, heart-warming and inspirational. The original series was wonderful but this special was even better. What am I talking about? Essentially I'm talking about toys and James May. Not just any toys but real toys. The toys you had to partly make yourself, and then test, and then maybe modify or plain destroy and try again. What can realistically be done with such toys on a large scale? In the original series they made a real house out of Lego, a 23 metre bridge out of Meccano, a garden out of plasticene, a full scale Airfix Spitfire, a replica of Brooklands race track from Scalextric and a 60km model railway from Barnstaple to Bideford. The train set episode was an awesome spectacle and my personal favourite but now it has an equal in something very special.

Suppose that you used to like to play with homemade gliders, paper planes, or just about anything that flew. Somewhere deep inside there was an wondrous sense of achievement at getting your construction down to the end of the garden from an upstairs window. You could always wonder, however, how much a better achievement you could accomplish if you could only get a little bit higher for the launch. What if you could scale up your model and launch it from thousands of feet in the air? How far could you get it to go then? As always with 'Toy Stories', James the awesome man-child, starts from a lofty idealistic premise of crossing the English Channel and, after some necessary compromises, manages to get his glider to cross a twenty two mile distance.

Now, you may think this is all rather childish, and from a certain point of view I might agree but in general I don't. It's uplifting. These toys, which have been largely forgotten in the last few decades, are some of the best ever to be produced and have been upstaged only by flashing lights and plastics with no scope for creativity at all apart from some fleeting enjoyable role play. There's something infectious in the idea of building the things you're going to be playing with, or even in the fact that the building is the playing, and it so rarely happens any more. I never made a model plane, although there were many many paper planes, but I was mesmerised by the soaring glider as it made its spectacular record-breaking flight, by the palpable joy of the following helicopter pilot and crew, and by James himself and the people who helped him in the doing. Oh, and by the way, the glider made it. I won't tell you where it made it to, as that would be a spoiler, but it did make it.

The key to it all is James May, the nice one from the 'Top Gear' crew, the one you think is pretending the least. James May, the man you'd actually like to have a chat with, and the man who gets all the unfair treatment from the Top Gear 'Other Two'. James May is the key to this whole show, as he really cares about these projects. It would have been easy to make a second series and milk it a bit more with some half-hearted projects but they didn't. They waited for something they could care about and get behind, and that James specifically could talk about with the emotion he has. Everything that works in this is allowed to work by his presence. He facilitates great television, and that's why I cried as an oversized model glider soared more than twenty miles across open water at vertigo-inducing heights, and then circled as it lost height for its landing, and finally did land. Contrary to outdated thought it is manly to cry, especially after such achievement.

Well done to James and all the people who made it possible. Please don't spoil 'Toy Stories' with half-hearted future specials. Do what you've done so far and wait and see if there's something you burn to do and then do it.


(Program broadcast on 23 December 2012, at 2130, on BBC Two. Long live the BBC!)

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Torching the peach (revised)

What does it mean to 'torch the peach'? Well, as coined recently in a recent Film Bin commentary, to torch the peach is to explain something via a tortured physical analogy with an overly demonstrative finale. "Now, this peach is the world and this flame thrower is the sun. See what happens when we turn off the electromagnetic shield?" Ouch. A necessary component to any scene where the peach is torched is an absence of due subtlety. True peach torching is rare but it does exist. Any examples outside of the movie which may not be named due to prior agreement will be welcome in the comment section below!

Here in deepest South Wales, the Christmas fortnight has begun with rain, rain and more rain. Ah, there's nothing like predictability to soothe the soul. The one thing you can say about Wales is that it's consistently wet. Wetter than anywhere except a jungle or Ireland. Nothing is wetter than a jungle IN Ireland, and that now forms the ultimate example of wetness. A ten on the Oliver Bain wetness scale is now Cork Swamp, home of their world famous tapioca refinery and pogo stick race course.

Ah, best get back on topic before the nonsense takes over. Where were we? Christmas! That's right, I wish a Merry Christmas for all! And a hat for everyone! With that merriment done, it's time to think of what there is to do for an agnostic/atheist with no real attachment to the ceremony of it all? Well, as mentioned previously we can celebrate the renewal of the seasons and be pagan. Hello, pagans! Seriously though, that renewal is the psychological event of the season and something tangible to celebrate. That does raise the interesting idea of what to think about in mid-Summer? As daylight becomes less plentiful do we celebrate seasonal death of all? Yay? It's a confusing time. If I behave festively am I a hypocrite? If I do not then am I necessarily a curmudgeon? There is no winning, so the festive losing choice is surely superior.

Over the next week or so I'm anticipating a massive increase in my reading and watching of things, as well as the writing thereof. You can expect articles on some of the following books

'Timeline' by Michael Crichton,
'Red Harvest' by Dashiell Hammett,
'Whose Body?' by Dorothy L Sayers,
'Master And Commander' by Patrick O'Brian,

and some of these movies too

'The Philadelphia Story',
'Green Card',
'Safety Not Guaranteed'.

All of this will be dependent real work being done. Mathematics is the primary concern, as always. Maths, maths, maths. Well done everyone. We made it through a whole post without torching the peach. Coming soon: News on the Film Bin Sting Project!


Thursday, 20 December 2012

'Yes... but what if we could'

How many things become possible if we could but utter the words 'Yes, but what if we could.'? How many previously locked down hearts and minds become ever so slightly more open to the world of possibility? 'The Core' has a number of nice quotes amidst the cheesy dialogue and this is the one with the best line reading. Well done, actor known as Tucci. I'm going to try and not mention 'The Core' for a long long time now. And 'Fish Story' too should really go not talked about for a while! Gosh, 'Fish Story' was good...

Excuse me a moment while I fend off the frenzied Clomp. He was sprayed with some soap and went into a berserk rage. <Pause. Changes curtains. Removes all the molten marzipan.>

As we approach the end of the Mayan long calendar, which so many people interpret as the end of the world rather than as the end of an era, it's a good time to consider the power of possibility. There are so many problems in the world, apparently intractable, and so many challenges that it seems to be impossible that any of us could affect a positive difference in any way. But what if we could? What if there could be tranquillity in the Middle East, food for all of the world, exploration beyond the stars and time for all to be fulfilled. Wouldn't it be nice? The task therefore seems to be not to fix the problems but to allow people to think it's possible we could. Just that smallest hope would be enough for it all to happen. Kennedy said we would go to the Moon and we did.

<"Bah, I scoff at your naivete!" BOOF! "And I don't like liquorice!">

Sigh. If only the world believed it could be better then it could happen. Education is the key and it's not happening. Maybe the end of Mayan world will cause a change of some kind.

Looking back and looking forward there is much happening. In the next few days Christmas will happen. Even in my atheistic state I do appreciate it as an event, backing up the Solstice as it does. Black Month can be declared over with the advent of tomorrow and daylight shall increase once more. The annual cycle shall be renewed. That's what the Mayan calendar was really about. A long, long cycle that would eventually renew in the creation of a new world, a world unrecognisable from that at the beginning of the cycle. Their world is dead now, and ours shall be when next the Mayan long calendar recycles. I have waxed philosophical and now shall wane.

Bad things happen. People destroy buildings full of people. Planes are hijacked and brought down. Mass murders happen in schools. People say these are unsolvable problems and that we can't prevent such things from happening. Well, yes... but what if we could?


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Movie: 'Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World' (2003)

This movie is directed by Peter Weir, and Peter Weir makes good movies. He is almost unimpeachable. My favourite moment in 'Master and Commander' involves a weevil and a particularly cheesy joke but the actors and the movie itself sell it so that it becomes awesome. We can say the same about the movie overall. There are problems with it, there are always problems, but it pulls off a feat I wouldn't have thought possible and it must come down to Peter Weir ultimately, and to Russell Crowe.

This film is loosely based on two of the novels in the legendary series of historical novels by Patrick O'Brian, centred on Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin and their adventures during the Napoleonic wars. To make the movie they've condensed down the two novels ('Master and Commander' and 'Far Side Of The World') into a solid adventure movie, perhaps a definitive adventure movie, cutting out the dirtier and gritter and muck encrusted bits. It's really up there with Star Trek II as an iconic seafaring movie, with Russell Crowe providing the dynamism and the essential thinking manly man performance of his career. He holds in his ebullience and really makes the character his own confection.

So, what's this film about? Well, it's about a number of things. First, HMS Surprize is on a mission to stop a French man'o'war steaming toward South America. Second, Jack is having some problems with friend Stephen who has signed on as an overqualified surgeon to see the world as a naturalist. Third, a midshipman called Hollam is having problems proving himself. Fourth, the Surprize may be jinxed. Fifth and finally, Jack and Stephen play string duets when there's nothing else happening, on violin and cello. The music is wonderful, and fits intrinsically into the mood of the movie, and perhaps illustrates how hard it is to describe this epic beast of a film. Without Russell Crowe it would be an elaborate tapestry but with him it's an epic beast and deservedly so, balancing practically every aspect of every story and managing to avoid melodrama almost all the time.

The second lead is Paul Bettany as Stephen, solidly pulling off a sometimes petulant role with some gravitas and charm. The supporting cast is incredibly dense with people you think you've seen in a thousand other places. The child midshipmen are as good as can be expected, while the story of doomed Hollam is handled tenderly. I can only presume that the suicide in 'Dead Poets Society' is handled as well, that being another famous movie of Weir's. Gosh, it's hard to categorise Peter Weir movies, they're just one-offs. 'The Truman Show', 'Dead Poets Society', 'Witness', 'Master And Commander', 'Green Card' and probably others don't fit in boxes. Isn't that wonderful?

Getting back to the movie, it's a bit long. I like long movies but if you like movies where a lot happens quickly then maybe it's not for you. The trick at the end that allows Jack to win is not particularly original but what would be? Would officers do such a dishonest thing to win a sea battle? I have no idea. Ultimately it doesn't matter as the movie signs off in the best way possible: In the middle of a new chase. If I made movies, lots of them would start in the middle of action and finish at the beginning of a new caper that we will never see. That is exactly right. That's life. We don't need things set up and explained, by humbug!

There was never a sequel to this film, and if I switch to movie studio mentality I can see why. It cost $150,000,000 and only (any profit is good to me!) grossed $212,000,000 according to Wikipedia. Now to me that's a massive profit but studios aren't people and they really don't understand adventure movies. Studios like cheap comedies and popcorn effects movies and they won't make anything else now. Nothing. Long gone are the '80s where they'd make a horde of mid-budget movies and see what stuck to the wall in the aftermath while making an overall profit. It was cynical then and it is cynical now but in a different way. There is no sequel because they don't get a movie with no bad language, no women and very little violence. I on the other hand adore it for being different, while reminding myself to feel a little bad for being a prude. I would have loved two of three more movies. There were eighteen books still left over!

It's a good movie and I haven't articulated myself well. A good adventure movie, with lots of shipboard dramas, naturalism on the Galapagos Islands, some self-surgery, and string music. It's kind of the way movies should be.


Monday, 17 December 2012

Story: 'Spikes'

Spikes is the mutant cactus currently spectating from the back of the garden. On occasion he jumps forward and tries to get into the kitchen and raid the fridge but we've developed a security system to counter him, which involves tripwires and several low-intensity lasers. Why would we want to hurt Spikes? He's been really nice on several occasions and even drives away the beastly dogs next door!

When Spikes first arrived we were confused and a little perplexed at how an ambulatory cactus monster could have arrived in our garden in South Wales, in the midst of an icy winter, and why he (we use 'he') would stay. As it turns out Spikes is an exile from Bristol Arboretum and we could nothing else about his... peculiarities. I guess it might be something to do with Clomp von Clomp but the little blue menace is remaining silent.

Spikes seems to like the greenhouse, which is understandable, but he also likes the dried up pond feature and lurks behind a bush when feeling modest. He's a nice cactus and he is very hard to anger. When the little dogs breach our boundaries he stands fully upright and plants himself firmly in the ground. His points bristle and the dogs jerk to stillness akin to statues. If they don't bolt, Spikes flexes his forks and leans forward in his most fearsome manner and then the little dogs race away.

In the winter, and indeed it is winter now, Spikes gets a bit brittle and hides in the deeper recesses of the garden or in the greenhouse. Sometimes our dog Tess gets uppity and barks but she seems to have a soft spot for the gangly succulent. When first he moved in to the garden, before we tried the exorcism or called in MUTT labs, she used to run away at his slightest approach but now she'll happily lounge in his shadow. The day that Spikes arrived was in early spring a small number of years ago. My sister had recently moved out and I was staring vacantly out of the kitchen window into the back garden. After an eternity of false nostalgia I returned to myself and realised a strange figure covered in canvas bags was shuffling behind the shed. Extracting a rusty putter from the wardrobe I quietly shuffled up the garden in my slippers and whooped in an attempt to scare off the figure. It went very very still.

Brandishing the putter I warned off the canvassed figure but nothing happened. Then I poked it and still nothing happened although I noticed it was very solid. Finally I lifted a bit of canvas with the metal part of the club. There was green beneath. Spikey green. I lifted it more. And more. Apparently we had acquired a cactus? Yes, Spikes had arrived, and right now he's doing a little dance as I type.

What a dopey mutant cactus he is.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Lots of books

On my shelves there are a large number of books. So many that it took a very very long time to make a list of them all. As time goes by I'm building a virtual listing on LibraryThing, which I'm beginning to rather like. Go, LibraryThing!

I've been thinking a lot about Sherlock Holmes. It seems like the very best performances as Sherlock Holmes have been by people who fit both a performance and an image to the role. Well, that's always true, isn't it? Arguably the best Sherlock Holmes for me was on radio, in the BBC Radio 4 dramatisations where Clive Merrison nailed his performance on every single one of the fifty six Conan Doyle stories. They adapted, and faithfully, the whole canon and even made Watson interesting via the awesome performance of Michael Williams. Great. The other most notable performance for me is from Benedict Cumberbatch, who excels despite occasionally shoddy scripts (I'm looking at you, Gatiss). It seems as if the quest to make a good Sherlock Holmes movie is an ongoing one, and with it there's the quest to find someone to fit the visual on the big screen. Honourable mentions go to Nicol Williamson in 'The Seven-Per-Cent Solution' and Christopher Plummer in 'Murder By Decree' but they're both only ninety-per-cent right, and limited by the movies they're appearing in. Basil Rathbone did well but never seemed to inhabit the role and I won't even mention Robert Downey junior. Robert Stephens gave a very creditable performance in an ironic movie. It's a topic I'll return to many times, I believe, as I love Sherlock Holmes. Oh, and for the record, I didn't like Jeremy Brett on television much if at all. Throw your fruit through the screen now.

Looking ahead, and in response to all the media I've been getting through, it looks as if I'll be writing about the following things in the near future: 'Master and Commander' (film), 'Safety Not Guaranteed' (film), 'Timeline' (book), 'Ringworld' (book) and maybe even writing some stories. It should be fun!

Wrapping up, I can report that the next Film Bin Commentary, see FilmBin, will be for 'The Core'. This epic of questionable quality has long been one of my popcorn favourites and hopefully we'll give it a good examination. Yes the science may be dodgy, and yes some of the dialogue is corny beyond belief but we will be recording tomorrow for fairly prompt publishing. It shall be fun. It was kind of nice to have a corny science fiction movie that wasn't from the 1980's.

'propinquity: the fact of being near to someone or something, or closely related to or very much like someone'

Probably I like 'The Core' for its propinquity with who I am. That's why I liked 'The Last Starfighter', 'Explorers' but not 'The Goonies', 'Independence Day' and of course 'The West Wing'. Oh, the 'West Wing'! Can it really have been so many entries without even a mention of 'The West Wing'! Who's my totem character? Toby of course! I love 'The West Wing'! Right, that's it, the next post will be on Toby.


Friday, 14 December 2012


I graduated yesterday! Hats were flung (by other people) and I even made it across the stage in good order. Actually cocky walks across stages are becoming a speciality of mine. For the people curious to see what a nerdy mathematician looks like, see Twitpic. Yes, that person managed to finish a doctorate in Mathematics! Really!

It was a good trip. Squeezing two five hour legs of car travel into two days is a pretty hard thing and my parents and I are all pretty exhausted but I have the certificate and it's never being taken away. It's mine!

Now, one of the most interesting thing about the Graduation trip was the reading I did. I read 'The Thin Man' over the car trip and even a portion of 'Timeline' and the contrast between the two is amazing. The quality of the writing of Hammett is so far above the pulpiness of Crichton that they shouldn't even be in the same medium. I'll write more about them both in coming days but it is surely time to champion Dashiell Hammett again. For every garland Raymond Chandler received, Hammett should have gotten ten but it never happened. He had Communist sympathies allegedly and it was not a good time to believe in anything.

Everyone should go read the complete novels of Dashiell Hammett. Come back when you're done. Trust me, you won't regret it, especially 'The Glass Key'. Despite a previous bad start I've picked up Larry Niven's 'Ringworld' and started another go at that too. Lots of reading.

It's nice to graduate. This is probably the first time that I've truly felt the PhD was over and that it is time to move on to the next thing. There are so many false endings to a doctorate: First submission, viva, and final submission. There is nothing after graduation. It must be over.

<Oliver departs, smiling>


Monday, 10 December 2012

Book: 'The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher' (2008)

When is a hawk like a handsaw? When is a murder really a murder? And how can it be that some secrets go the grave with their keepers? Some of these questions are relevant to this book, which has the alternative title of 'The Murder At Road Hill House'. In 1860 a child was murdered, bloodily, and the culprit not satisfactorily detected although his half-sister and half-brother were suspected, as was his governess. The case became a media frenzy, drawing attention upon the relatively new detective policemen in operation and their methods and galvanising what had been the conventions of sensational fiction at the time into the more rigid and less destructive detective fiction which had only been pioneered by Poe in 1841. Five years later the half-sister confessed and the furore subsided but there were holes and doubts remained thereafter. This book is that story, with all its framings, consequences and speculations attached.

When reading a historical crime narrative it becomes hard to categorise what it is we're reading. This is no novel, nor does it pretend to be. It can be called a historical text, albeit it a rather populist one or a group biography as it has those trappings, or even an organised scrap book of all the things connected to the case, or a narrative on the formation of detective fiction seen through the lens of Road Hill. I think that perhaps that is the problem I have with this book: It's trapped between rocks, hard places, beaches and sandy coves. The detective fiction aspect is fascinating, as are the references to Dickens and his close examination of detectives and their methods. Things pop out that I hadn't considered previously. There was a time when witnesses were believed to the extent that physical evidence was of a low priority. Confessed criminals might be asked to sign the charge that was being levelled at them, and syphilis was rife in an era where people didn't know enough to protect those close to them. It was a strange time indeed. Taken all together the historical portions of the novels, and analyses of how things worked and what kinds of things happened, work for me. It's the biography that I don't like. Much as portraits have no appeal to me, nor do histories of people.

Writing about a book is harder than writing about a movie. It's a more intellectual process. As I sit here, it almost seems futile. I think some 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea' is necessary to counterbalance the intellectual trauma. Go Nelson!

In any murder, the human element is the most distressing and is the part that people get past to enjoy the mystery. Someone is killed, again bloodily, and someone kills. Perhaps some people get separate themselves from such things better than I but it's very uncomfortable to think about the people who could have done such things, their reasons, and their possible insanities. In the end, maybe Constance Kent didn't kill her half-brother but we will never know. Maybe she was covering for someone else. Maybe her family was horribly abusive and scarred with numerous child deaths and stillbirths due to a negligent syphilitic. It's all so tawdry and that's thematically where the book begins and I end, in the crudeness of it all. The newly formed detective forces were disapproved of and feared by the public, whose homes were inviolable and had been in living memory, and now there were spies. Spies who in unusual circumstances could get permission to investigate and poke their noses into mysteries and murders. It was a turbulent time and we have a lot to thank those brave early pioneer detectives for.

It's a well written book, excellently researched, and with a well established narrative that touches on many different aspects of history and biography. I find biography dull but maybe you wouldn't.



zing: a lively and pleasant quality, taste, or feeling

The world is a mad, mad place. I can say this for certain as I can feel the zing in the air when chaos rules and all we can do is smile and wait for the cocoa that follows. We can delude ourselves as to patterns in the madness but only some of them are true. As a mathematician it's often supposed to be my job to work out which are the true ones and write the formulae that fit them best. That's maths.

In my subtitle it says, at the moment: 'The Quirky Muffin: The mental meanderings of a maths researcher with far too little to do, and a penchant for baking'. I have never said a thing about baking in this blog! Here in the deepest meanderings of Black Month I must confess that I bake a lot, although not as much as when I was in Hungary. In the last few weeks I have committed some acts of bakery both successful and not. I shall confess only at this time to the chocolate cake with melted chocolate topping that excelled and the carrot cake that really failed on many many levels. Apple tarts and rhubarb tarts are amongst the best things I can make, and the best recipes can be pinched from public domain books on Project Gutenberg. For example, in Mrs Beaton we find an excellent mix for sweet short crust pastry:


1211. INGREDIENTS.--To every lb. of flour allow 8 oz. of butter, the
yolks of 2 eggs, 2 oz. of sifted sugar, about 1/4 pint of milk.

_Mode_.--Rub the butter into the flour, add the sugar, and mix the whole
as lightly as possible to a smooth paste, with the yolks of eggs well
beaten, and the milk. The proportion of the latter ingredient must be
judged of by the size of the eggs: if these are large, so much will not
be required, and more if the eggs are smaller.

_Average cost_, 1s. per lb."

while in 'Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking' there's a rather too sweet apple crumble pie:


6 tart apples
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
pastry for 9" shell

Pare apples and cut into thick slices. Mix half the sugar with the
cinnamon and sprinkle over apples. Put into unbaked pastry shell. Blend
the flour, the remaining sugar and the butter and work into small
crumbs, with your fingers. Sprinkle the crumbs over the apples. Bake in
hot oven (425-f) for 10 minutes then reduce to moderate (350-f) and bake
for 35 minutes more. Serve with cheese."

If you combine the pastry and eliminate the crumble you come out with a rather excellent apple tart. Or substitute the apple for rhubarb, or add berries. Trust me, I'm a doctor. There may be more baking in the future so please take notes.

Shifting topic, 'Fish Story' has reminded me of how sometimes movies can be good. Can you believe that movies can sometimes be good? It was based on a Japanese novel apparently, which probably has never been translated. I may have to go back to learning Japanese. Also, on rare circumstances I've finished a book that I was less than interested in: 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' by Kate Summerscale. I finish lots of books but often times the less than interesting ones become blocks in the book pile and nothing happens for weeks. This book did that for a few days but knuckling down occurred. I may write more but in essence it's a good historical overview of a landmark detective case which illustrates how detective fiction developed as an art form around it. It ends in a very humdrum manner though, descending into biography. Ho hum. The last book that I stumbled on was Carl Sagan's 'Contact' which left me cold for a stretch in the third quarter and really had to be relearned. Maybe it had no zing.


Saturday, 8 December 2012

Movie: 'Fish Story' (2009) [spoiler-free]

Wow. Amazing. I really appreciated and even loved this movie. It was endearing, misleading, non-linear and fascinating without quite being a masterpiece. I love that it was not a masterpiece. You can't love masterpieces; You can only admire them. To love something there have to be flaws to latch onto and adore. 'Fish Story' has flaws and for that I really quite like it. (I've said this before for something, but it remains true.)

Now, how does a failed punk band's iconic swansong in 1975 manage to save the world from a cataclysmic meteor in 2012? Well, I can't tell you as that would spoil the whole thing. 'Fish Story' tells four flashback stories - which may or may not be connected - within the framework of a present day story of three men in a music shop. Two of those men are happily talking music as the rest of the word futilely seeks refuge from the meteor, its ensuing deadly consequences and the end of everything, while the third has been tootling around on his wheelchair and knocking over motorcycles with his stick. Why is he so stroppy?

The mystery behind this movie is what drives it onward. Why is a ship's cook who calls himself a Champion of Justice important to our plot? What is the relevance of that guy who hears a scream in the infamous minute of silence within 'Fish Story'? Why did Gerekin break up after recording that song? Does any of it mean anything at all? Rest assured that it does mean something, and that it's an excellent movie in the unravelling. The unravelling is all once you've seen it and that unravelling is sweet.

Now there are many things that naturally remain mysterious in a foreign language movie. One has no idea of how well the actors are performing or whether the spoken dialogue is much superior or inferior to the subtitles or whether it's an authentic representation. These are all things that get swept away by the language barrier. It's entirely possible that this is a cheesy mess of a movie for someone who speaks Japanese but I really don't care. The different mini-stories are all interesting, the movie as a whole is arresting for its running length of 112 minutes, and the actors all seem solid. As a British person I was confused briefly by the 'is that the same guy I saw earlier?' confusion of similar Asian features once or twice but they're mostly quite distinct.

The narrative or narratives are straightforward, although there are misleads that you don't realise until the end and that makes it all the sweeter. The best misleads are the ones you don't spot as misleads for a long long time. What else can be said without spoiling? The music consists of almost only one song, 'Fish Story', which is played many times and doesn't ever wear. That in itself is very interesting and revealing. The atmosphere of the movie stops the song from wearying in our minds, and that atmosphere actually transitions between each story. It's fascinating. The atmosphere actually changes numerous times. Sometimes the director's horror film background dribbles through effectively and sometimes a fairy tale glimmers through and it all works. There is a flat period in the middle, as there is in every movie but it never entirely lets you go.

Summing up, 'Fish Story' is the best of the (two) Japanese films I've seen and now I'm really very curious about all the others. 'The Seven Samurai' really didn't work for me but it's due a re-viewing as circumstances on the last were less than ideal. Here the acting is great, the plot fascinating and intricate, the direction solid, production values excellent and the music arresting. In short, I think you should go get it.

'Fish Story' rocks. And it's hard to write a non-spoiler review.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Movie: 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' (1971)

It's hard to write reviews of movies you wholeheartedly like. Let's state outright that Willy Wonky is a fantastic movie, and one of the most wonderfully dark family movies ever realised. It simply is. It's so good that it looks like a movie much later in time with sensibilities of a much from much earlier. It's just that tiny bit transcendent. Amazing.

Chief amongst the strengths of this excellent little movie is Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, a giant amongst screen stars and more evidence, if evidence were needed, that we just don't make movie stars the way we used to. Genuine or not, the mark of all-knowing wisdom in Gene Wilder's eyes can captivate whole rooms full of people. He also gets to deliver a very freaky monologue on a speeding paddlesteamer ferry.

The rest of the cast is a mix of solid supporting players and character actors, with Roy Kinnear as the most recognisable. The story runs thusly: Impoverished Charlie Bucket lives with his mother and bed-ridden grandparents in a dilapidated house in a generic British town which happens to contain the site of famed chocolatier Willy Wonka's factory. Willy Wonka has been a recluse for many years, with an unknown work force but one day he announces a competition involving five golden tickets hidden inside Wonka bars and the grand prize of a grand tour around his factory...

Now, if there are flaws to be picked at we could easily point out that Charlie's family is so impoverished as to be totally unrealistic. Living on cabbage water is not possible, nor is supporting four bed-ridden grandparents on a single laundress salary. Perhaps all my tiny problems are with the portions involving Charlie's family, even the one dull song which his mother sings. Are we also led to believe that the saintly Grandpa Joe was fully ambulatory this whole time and simply lazing about in that bed? The cad!

Hmm. Music. The music is good and the kid performers well suited to everything asked of them. The main bulk of the musical heave lifting is born by the Oompa Loompas, who were wonderful and I will not spoil for anyone uninitiated into Oompa Loompa-dom. I miss Oompa Loompas. The Effects are extraordinary and not at all dated in that way that good practical effects can't expire. In comparison CGI effects have an incredibly short shelf-life. What's more to say?

It's dark, it's dank, it has a chocolate factory and a standout performance by Gene Wilder. The music is good, the effects are good. There is confectionery. And at least one of the kids is a bad egg.


PS Don't trust Slugworth.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Story: 'The Shed And Spirit'

I was crawling through the undergrowth toward the shed of notorious repute. The shed lay at the bottom of a school headmaster's garden and had been seen exhibiting unusual behaviour on numerous occasions. I had been sent by the local bishop to examine the behaviour and probe the reasons. The headmaster looked nervously from his kitchen window, twitching the curtain from time to time.

Colours shifted and swirled on the periphery of the shed and finally I was close enough to peek in the window and see the truth of what lay inside: It was a Spectre. Spectres are not wholly dangerous or even violent unless provoked and there were tried and tested methods for dealing with them which I was always ready to use. Sneaking back to the kitchen I explained to the Headmaster how I would deal with his visitor.

"You'll WHAT?" He asked after the first telling.

"I shall use my Carrot."

"Ugh?" As Headmasters go, this one wasn't all that articulate.

"My carrot? My sacred carrot that was blessed by the Bishop this morning?" I waved my carrot at the man, oblivious for a few moments more as to the layman's ignorance on these matters. "The Invalidation Operatives always carry a Food Parcel for these missions. The Carrot's always coming in useful. Got a steamer?"

The man passed over the steamer in a confused state and I got to work, cutting and preparing. Finally a bowl of steamed carrot, covered in paprika, lay before me and I prepared myself for one of the more amusing Invalidation procedures. Slapping a cover over the concoction I left once more, openly went down to the shed, and finally knocked brazenly on the door. The Spectre opened the door in an agitated state and I lifted the cover from the bowl.

At this point it seems opportune to point out how Spectres are not unique in their irresistible passion for steamed root vegetables. Indeed, vegetables had lowered the mortality rate of Invalidators in the line of duty to ten percent since the steamer took hold in households across Britain. Banshees love parsnip with a touch of parsley even at the cost of their own existence and Grimeballs can seldom stay in their dank basement when red cabbage is being wafted about above them.

The Spectre's eyes widened and he looked at the carrots. Sweat formed on his half-translucent features and his claws tightened on the wood hammer he had been using, apparently on the chair being built in the shed corner. Finally it gave up all control and devoured the carrot, despite all the paprika that would end its time here and send it back to its own dimension in time and space. A blue aura grew, the Spectre faded, and then all was done. No-one had ever worked out where the Creatures went specifically, except that God doubtlessly treated him well, as He did all things.

I handed the wood hammer back to the Head Master as I left, handing him his donation slip should he feel generous.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Story: 'Night Trials', V

As I sit here uploading film review podcasts to Film Bin, I wonder what on Earth is going on today. It feels like the last few days have been some hideous ordeal instead of the reality of being quite pleasant. Humph, best to try and relax and stare vacantly at equations with no clearly defined intent! Film Bin is diversifying and has incorporated the 'Spoiler Filled Film Conversation Hooray' review podcast that was in fact its precursor and now peer! Check out Film Bin for reviews and commentaries of varying sense.

And now, with no further ado, let's continue 'Night Trials'. When last we checked in with Sheriff Bob he had just invalidated his guard and is stepping through the slimy doorway into Wandering Yip, knowing not what he will encounter.


Night Trials: Part V
(Parts IV , VI)

Leaving his prison behind him, Bob, stepped out into the world he'd left behind. The town looked different but hauntingly familiar. The houses looked the same except for the unshuttered windows in the darkness. Something was wrong. He looked behind him at the house he'd left; Mitch Scanlon's place. Where was Mitch? The ooze could be seen through the open doorway but none was seen outside in the street. Bob closed the door and sidled down the street in the shadows. There were lots of shadows as the lights weren't lit.

The night was quiet, far too quiet, and the boards of the surrounding houses creaked in the cooling air of the night. Where should he go? Finally, he went northward to the Sheriff's post to evaluate his position. Moving up the street on the sidewalk away from the town hall he reached his office and gingerly pushed open the door. A mass of ooze slimed out of the door and he pulled it shut with a shudder. The office was probably gunked up to the ceiling. Ducking off down the street and then through a side street he went up to Duck Evans's door and repeated the process he had used at the office. There was no gunk here at his deputy's house and he slipped in.

The place was deserted, but Duck's spare weapon and ammunition were under the boards as usual. Bob snooped around and found some cold meat and bread that weren't in too bad shape and ate quietly, wondering what to do. What can you do, he thought, when you didn't know where the enemy were, how many of them there were, if they had the towns people captured somewhere, or even what they looked like? The lack of townspeople worried him enormously. With no better ideas he settled by the window and watched awhile.

Some time later he roused himself from a hazy reverie and realised a thirst was growing quickly and daylight was approaching. The saloon was over on main street and the nearest water pump was two houses away here on this parallel. Grabbing a flask he snuck out for the pump and worked his might, filling the flask with water of life. Light began to trickle down the street as the sun emerged over the horizon and Bob knew that soon a lot of his questions would be answered. He ducked back to Duck's house and went back to his window vigil.

The sun was fully visible before action commenced for the day. A few people emerged from the houses - far fewer than normal - and walked woodenly about the town fetching water, food and everyday materials. Mostly they were women. There was the sound of a disturbance over on the main street, with some shouting and crunching, which Bob assumed was the discovery of Zack. He gathered some necessary items together in a sack and got ready to run or fight. Rainbow lights scattered above the houses that separated him from the scene of activity and a few moments something totally unexpected came down the street and stopped outside his door. It was an alien, a short wide alien, oozing through some metallic clothing of some kind as it floated. A baleful eye looked at him directly through the window.

Bob made his decision as the alien pointed a green scatter of light at him. He ran.

To be continued?

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Look, up in the sky...

Reflecting on various things I have come to the conclusion that it would be very nice to be Superman. Not the modern Superman who has a range of horrible fistfights with demigods and alien warlords but the old-fashioned Superman who lived in a constant state of wonder and occasionally nabbed some crooks. That would be nice.

Superman is a natural outgrowth of our wanting there to be heroes and more peaceful ways of life, and perhaps for some he represents their need for a power beyond their understanding which will care for them and take some of the harshest parts of life away without any effort at all. He certainly has been a metaphor for saviour figures on several occasions. I just want to fly and save cats from trees.

Looking ahead there's a movie review of 'Master & Commander' coming up, the long awaited movie review of 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' and some ramblings on the book 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher'. There may even be some continuations on 'The Carrot Man' and 'Night Trials', both of which have gone too long since their last instalments. Paper writing has abraded the old creative muscle over the last few weeks but now it's starting to fire again as I start to dig into new calculations and research instead of chewing over the old. Now if only I could work out how to build flow impedance into selected channel portions as part of a Stokes problem.

As I type this I'm listening to the movie 'Cat Ballou' in Spanish and it's hard! Getting some Spanish listening comprehension is going to be harder than I thought but working out which DVDs have alternate Spanish soundtracks is a good way to start. Coming upon the stack after 'Cat Ballou': 'The Fortune Cookie', 'The Apartment', 'The American President', 'Sleepless In Seattle', 'Mr Smith Goes To Washington', 'The Taking Of Pelham 123', 'Sneakers' and 'Groundhog Day'. Maybe I'll begin to understand un poco. Pero me parece que es imposible. De nada. Si no intenta entonces no triunfa.

<waves a shaky hand>


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Stars and Dramas

A misleading title for a post mostly about astronomy and my favourite Star Trek films! I have just begun an astronomy course on Coursera and the introductory video was rather interesting. It actually brought to mind some of the excellent free software out there for educational use. Most specifically for this use I would really recommend anyone who's interested in Astronomy to try out the free planetarium software Stellarium. It is most excellent.

Thinking back on my favourite movies I had the strange realisation that my four favourite Star Trek movies are, in no particular order, 'Star Trek II', 'Star Trek VI', 'Master & Commander' and 'Galaxy Quest'. Even someone with a walnut for a brain such as myself can spot the contradiction in that list, but the reasoning is secure for those four movies are all what the best Star Trek aspires to be... Adventure movies. A lot of the reason I disliked the newest movie from 2009 was that it wasn't an adventure movie and was a fairly rubbish action movie instead. The distinction between an adventure and an action movie is fuzzy but I believe it lies in the amount of characterisation and plot compared to action. Star Trek has always favoured plot and characterisation over action, even when the plots and characterisations are awful. It's really kind of upsetting two of the best Star Trek movies aren't even part of Star Trek! There are probably others too. Crikey Nora and Great Shades of Elvis! Star Trek is very much like Superman, in that the tone and consistency required is really hard to hit even with experience and are really not suited to modern day productions due to the lack of action. I really have no hope for the next Star Trek and Superman movies for that very reason. Where's the adventure? Where's the optimism? Why am I a fuddie duddie? What is a fuddie duddie? Master & Commander is a truly wonderful movie and backs up the glory that is Peter Weir as a director. Bring it on, people, none of you can stand next to Peter Weir!

Last week I was really happy because a good friend of mine passed her viva and I became obsessed with writing limericks. Then I went away to Aberystwyth and forgot about it all but I'm back now and I feel a limerick is in order. It's a shame that none are working out though. Oh, oh, I have one, and it's terrible!

The scientist stared blankly but with vigour
As the orange peel resisted his finger
He wielded a knife and then a hopeful spoon
But the peel rebelled and he became a loon
Until the orange gave up with a snigger. 

Dedication:This post is dedicated to Eleni for being a lovely friend and passing her viva, Elena for being an excellent and very patient language swapper and Hannah for being the best college friend possible under these current laws of physics.

Monday, 26 November 2012


While rumbling through 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' by Kate Summerscale, a diverting enough read although it is rather dry, I've stumbled across something interesting: The history of the word 'clue'. Well, I find it interesting so you had better all do the same. The word 'clue' has its origins in the Greek legend of Theseus and the Minotaur and is a mutation of the word 'clew'. 'Clew' has many meanings but the one we're interested in is archaic: 'A ball of yarn or wool.' As Theseus ventured into the labyrinth he laid his yarn behind him so he'd be able to retrace his steps and solve the puzzle and from then on that thread of salvation was a clew and now hints and data that help us to solve puzzles are clues. It's all rather nice actually. Stealing from Wilkie Collins, a plot is a knot and the clue is what unravels that knot into the denouement. I like Wilkie Collins.

Mysteries are wonderful things, and they have keys that are so special that they have special names: clues. When I was growing up books were all about clues and mysteries and intrigues and they are still now to some extent. Perhaps the only books I've ever enjoyed have had clues; kitchen sink stories have no appeal at all. Perhaps that's the key to the mystery that is Oliver.

Dactyl: A poetical foot of three syllables (— ~ ~), one long followed by two short, or one accented followed by two unaccented.

That word dactyl is truly random but we can pass over it to the alternative, poetic, meaning of 'foot'. Apparently this foot is a basic metrical unit that is used to generate a line of verse. This leads us into the classical forms of generating poetry. When we consider such patterns of short and long syllables we are considering quantitative measure and it is fascinating! There are more than twenty base foots, spread across two, three and four syllable combinations. If we consider the iamb,

Iamb: A metrical foot in verse consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

then a verse in iambic pentameter is one where each line is made up of five foots, the majority of which are iambic. That's right, you can mix prosodic foots! Now, I never thought I would write a post that touches on Greek mythology, the origins of the word 'clue' and poetic measure but here it is. Maybe tomorrow there'll be a verse to accompany...


Saturday, 24 November 2012


Aberystwyth is a lovely place, and coming back is sweet pleasure indeed. Sometimes I wonder whether the alumni of legendary universities are impressed by their colleges as I am by mine. It was a lovely time as I look back through my rose-tinted glasses. Awww. Surely people can’t feel as finely as I do about this place?

This is a natural time for introspection and self-evaluation as I return to the scene of previous misadventures and that is a necessary and dangerous ting. Hovering above your timeline is somehow the same as confronting a dragon in your bathroom. The dragon may be large, and it may be fearsome, but if you want to get back in to do the necessary you’re going to have face down that dragon or sell the house wholesale. My, what a forced analogy, and it’s not over yet. Much like the future, the far side of the dragon is out of sight and you can only hope everything’s still there and not too bashed from the thrashing.

Dragons are romantic things. You wouldn’t think a giant, fire-breathing lizard with a predilection for eating fair maidens would be romantic but it is. Dragons represent the ultimate battle to be fought before love’s fair battle is won. Perhaps the most memorable lines from ‘Press Gang’ when I re-watched it as an adult involves dragons. Spike says he would kill a dragon for Linda and sets his romantic lance with that one line before metaphorically following through one and half series later. One and a half series! Maybe dragons are archetypal. Big scaly lizards are archetypal? Yes, they must be for dinosaurs are archetypal too. Godzilla was even a cross of the two. I don’t know enough about archetypes but isn’t that fascinating. Well done, Spike.

As a Welshborn I can’t help knowing about dragons. They’re romantic. Blasted dragon murdering saints should be disbarred.

In the past lie murk, misdeeds and quiet glories. In the present we see introspection, action and reflection. What lies in the future though? And why? Well, we can’t know until it’s done and then it’ll be too late. That’s the fun.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Two modes of writing, both in opposition

After a few days of finishing off the first draft of my paper it seems obvious to me that academic writing and recreational writing are totally in opposition to one another. It seems as if doing one inhibits the other and vice versa. Today, as an example, I wrote a large number of topical limericks on the subject of a friend's viva and struggled mightily with the last section of the much muted Article. The Article has been in preparation for so long that I can't believe I've been anything but negligent in its production.

Limericks are awesome, by the way. As I write this I'm watching 'The Brave Little Toaster' and it's really freaking me out. There's something so honest about it that I can barely stand to watch it, just like those times when you resist committing to things because they'll break your heart in the end. It seems to be a fine animated movie, charming in every way, and it scares me to death. Oh my gosh, a blender just got murdered! This should be certified '15'! Gosh, film certifications are a mess, and I can never tell what to watch anymore. Star Trek II is about my limit and that's nothing any more.

Last weekend I went to Cardiff and this weekend I'm off to Aberystwyth. I miss the old place almost constantly. When I was in Hungary I longed constantly for the sea and a cool walk along the prom, a longing that was only partially satiated by the University Lake while in Nottingham. There's something so relaxing about walks by water, especially at night. They are simply acts of detoxification for the soul.

Detoxification: the process of removing poisons from a substance

Detoxification occurs on so many levels that it's almost impossible to list them all, but the most important one to me is the spiritual detox that clears our minds of all the stresses and toils that encompass us in our weary little worlds of work and fate. The pressures of living life as we're expected to live it are almost insurmountable in their persistence and overwhelming thrall. It seems that people should relax a whole lot more than they do, and sleep more, and nonsense more. Nonsense is the best way on Earth to relax. Spikes the Mutant Cactus agrees with me, even as he huddles in the garden shelter. It rained so much today that the paths and roads were streaming water and the valley is sure to be flooded. Even Spikes had to reinforce the Rain Bubble. I hope Aberystwyth is still viable for tomorrow...

Ping, hippopotamus.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Movie: 'The Caine Mutiny' (1954)

The main difficulty in reviewing 'The Caine Mutiny' (or TCM) is that it is a mere shadow in comparison with its source novel. This fact is inevitable when you consider the length of the milestone written work, and how much detail must be lost in translation to the screen. The character who suffers the most in this respect is the protagonist of the novel, Willie Keith, who is purely one of an ensemble here on the screen. But who is Willie Keith, and what is the movie about?

'The Caine Mutiny' follows the officers and crew of the archaic American destroyer/mine sweeper 'Caine' in World War II under the command of Captains De Vriess and latterly Queeg. Queeg swiftly becomes erratic and unstable upon assuming command and is ultimately relieved of duty by the executive officer Maryk, this being the mutiny of the title. Following the mutiny a court martial takes place and is by far the most well executed portion of the film. The narrative is told nominally from the viewpoint of Ensign Willie Keith, fresh out of officers school, and secondly from the views of Maryk and communications officer Keefer, the last of which ultimately backs out and betrays the mutineers after instigating the whole endeavour.

The novel is a masterpiece, but the movie seems rather tame in comparison. Perhaps the casting is partly at fault and perhaps condensing a masterwork into two hours is simply not a good idea to begin with. It certainly seems as if we are supposed to accept Humphrey Bogart's Queeg's descent into nuttiness rather too hastily and we quickly march into Keefer's (Fred MacMurray) supine plotting to remove the inept and cowardly commander without anywhere near the required amount of setup and character building. This film would seem to be built on the idea that people will already know the story and so little background is required. They were wrong. From the first the two year narrative of the story is shredded under the confines of movie making and we gain no sense of characters being people at all. Bogart sketches in Queeg as best he can - and I do believe he was miscast - but the descent is simply sudden instead of a gradual lunacy leaping into view and Ensign Keith can be considered to be a cardboard cutout as played by a wooden Robert Francis. The whole character of Keith is awkward in fact as he is robbed of almost all of his personal story, with but a remnant of his romance left. That remnant should really have been excised too, simply to reinforce the guiding tale of Queeg and the rusty ship Caine but instead it pops in melodramatically from time, with too little time to be endearing and too much time to be emotional scenery. Van Johnson as Maryk is the standout success, Fred MacMurray is slimey as Keefer, and Lee Marvin jumps out as a crewman in one of his earliest roles. Coming a close second in the acting stakes is Jose Ferrer as Maryk's defense counsel, even if he does ham it up a little.

Considering the movie as a whole, it's solid and unremarkable. The seagoing shots are good and the trial sequence is exceptional but the pacing overall is rather dull and the progression in story rapid while being dragged under by Keith's melodrama. Apparently Bogart campaigned mightily for the role of Queeg but he doesn't seem to know where to go with it and remains simply Bogart with a cowardly streak and the movie suffers more than a little for that. His eccentricities in the book don't seep through to the screen sufficiently for us to believe he needs to be relieved and so the drama is lessened, especially in that critical corresponding scene where Maryk does that necessary deed. It is simply a flat film until we leave the Caine, albeit a well visualised flat film. The director is notable mainly for being one of the Hollywood Ten, and is far more fascinating for that than for this movie.

It's solid, it's flat, it's now happily sunk. I heartily recommend the Pulitzer prize winning novel by Herman Wouk of 1952 before watching this and then you may well agree with me! If so or if not, please feel free to comment and say so.


Sunday, 18 November 2012

The First Rule of Splatting

The first rule of splatting is to not panic until the end, when the splat has almost reached you. This rule is always applied, irrespective of which of the two distinct modes of splatting are approaching or being approached. These two modes are comedic and terminal splatting. We shall omit terminal splatting from the remainder of this text due to the immense amount of custard required. You can identify terminal splatting by the fact that you will normally be approaching the splat rather than vice versa.

Comedic splats can be said, with some generality but not universality, to come to you their own accord. The most vigorous of comedy splats are often associated with Mondays but not always. The second rule of splatting is to always expect the worst of splats when you're least able to defend yourself. Pierre Dupont, an otherwise unnotable Parisian suffered the severest comedic splatting of his career in early May of 1956, on returning from a conference on the croissant and its importance to French morale. While walking alongside the Seine he was splatted with a custard eclair by some rowdy philosophy professors and was forced into extensive therapy for the next thirteen years. Upon his release he was known to eschew custard for ice cream thereafter. It was a sad and ignominious end for that former lover of the splatty yellow goo.

Returning to the rules of splatting, it has often been said (or never at all) that the third rule is no longer current and should be officially termed obsolete. Since it reads 'You may only splat when the tablets command it', many people agree with this notion while others declare it ironic and a metaphorical reference to the dopey things people do while medicated. The author wishes to refrain from further comment. The second, fourth and fifth rules are now very often relegated to incidents on trains involving tea and marshmallows but the last principal rule is as prescient now as it has ever been. The sixth rule is very clear and succinct: 'Splat not when life splats upon you; splat when the splat is the right thing to do.'

How can anything top that?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Free Writing

The art of 'free writing' is simply to write in a stream of consciousness, and has two main advantages, both of which I enjoy. The first advantage is that it helps to break writer's block, for which I am eternally grateful and the second is that such 'free' writing helps tremendously in the formation of writing patterns and articulatory enhancement. To put it simply, it allows you to put your thoughts into words far more easily with the prerequisite amount of practice. This piece itself has been free writing so far, and will probably remain so until the topic shifts naturally or an interruption occurs.


An interruption just occurred, and now my flow is gone but with enough free writing practice you should be able to get it back again pretty quickly, and I think I have. This just goes to show that nothing is beyond the person who can write with impunity, irrespective of the actual content of what's flowing from the fingers. Mmmm. Chicken pie. Yes, that is a non sequitur.

'The world is merely a great big onion and all of us are rings' is not a quote from anything but I really wish it were. As a non-quote it makes just as little sense as if it were a quote by Kafka or Stan the Used Ship Salesman but as a non-quote it has a certain value in its obscurity. Stan the Used Ship Salesman allows a lovely segue into the Monkey Island adventure games of computer lore. Oh, those halcyon days of graphical adventures haunt me stll and I wish those glorious odysseys from LucasArts still emerged at a regular pace. It seems that even their illegitimate offspring Telltale Games has shifted away. Anyway, Stan is one of my favourite supporting characters, especially in the pre-voice actor days when all he did was wave his arms about and tap his foot while we read the clunky green and pink words above his head. Oh, how I wish I could scam The Sea Monkey tomorrow and sail away to a far away shore...

I love free writing as it also encourages total nonsense; the nectar from the writing heaven that allows us all to be dopey and happy and even occasionally euphoric. It's amazing. Sometimes I can just talk about the mutant cactus that's been growing in the garden for the last three weeks. Not only is that an unusual plant to be growing in November in the United Kingdom but the fact that it sneaks into the kitchen to take yoghurt at twenty past two every afternoon is rather irksome. If only it wiped up the floor behind it would be acceptable but who likes muddy floor in the kitchen really?

Free writing has an unwholesome, and mostly unenjoyable, opposite: Structured writing, usually for some serious purpose. Structured writing requires far more effort, a far less easily accessed flow of words in that first draft, and lots and lots of editing. As is obvious I hardly ever edit these posts at all. Structured writing is effectively my job at the moment, in supporting statements for job applications and in academic papers. The first draft is okay but all is tedium after. Maybe I should get Spikes outside to do some proofreading for me.


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Book and movie: 'Contact' (1985 and 1997) (Revised)

I finally finished reading 'Contact'. It took ages and was cursed by an incredibly long interruption due to life, Minecraft and the prevailing problem I have with the book. It's a good book, with a strong single narrative centred on a single character and how she progresses through the tale. It's solid science fiction, with realistic political shenanigans and a solid basis in science. It is in all respects solid, reliable and at times vast but what it isn't is gripping. As narratives go it sits there and if you go away you don't mind, and if you come back it's take it or leave it. Perhaps I've been prematurely coloured by the movie from Robert Zemeckis, which has its own problems but a rather more gripping story which is somehow less prosaic. Yes, prosaic is a good word.

'prosaic: Overly plain or simple, to the point of being boring; humdrum.'

Now, the story of the novel is not prosaic but the way it is told IS prosaic. Romantic subplots are thrown in and left to fade, characters move in and out with no rhyme nor reason, and betrayals occur with no payback nor repercussions. It's like real life, and real life is already dull enough without reading more of it, even if it's backlit by a mammoth science-fiction story.

The movie 'Contact' on the other hand is rather grandiose in nature, an epic but somehow small-scale science fiction movie with a warm human core. It streamlines a lot of errant happenings and downsizes the cast so that remaining characters are given more to do, and it does so with an excellent cast. Even Matthew McConaughey, who a lot of people seem to loathe is serviceable if a little vacant. Director Robert Zemeckis has tended to be story-driven in the past and the revisions that occur under him and the screenwriters really serve to bring the centre of the story into much more of a focus, with a far more human story at its centre. It takes more of a 'snapshots through time' method of narrative than the novel's more continuous structure, which is probably necessary as the main bulk of the novel takes place over more than a decade!

Writing a comparative piece can be tough at times. You can lose focus, ramble on at length on trivia and even drift off into whole other topics such as vegetables and the quest for peace. Let's knuckle down to plot. The novel and movie revolve around Dr Eleanor Arroway, an astronomer on the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, and the consequences of a signal from outer space and the instructions therein. Overlayed onto that there are political repercussions, religious contemplation, and romance. It's a giant epic. Ellie moves through the story on a mission to the stars, alone in the movie and as part of a team of five in the novel and ultimately comes to terms with parts of her life she hadn't known were out of order. Against this backdrop of a cosmic trip we have political shenanigans and cover ups, theological discourse on the nature of faith versus science and family drama as Ellie struggles to comes to terms with the loss of her long-dead father. That last is given even more weight in the novel but ends up diluting the rest of narrative while the movie simplifies and amplifies it. Zemeckis has made an excellent movie in that it at times gripping over its two and a half hour running time, gripping more than the source novel. I hope that I'm not conveying a bad impression of this novel; it was simply less than engrossing to me, despite a cosmic aspect.

'The Music Man' is playing in the background. Go, Harold Hill, go! Gosh, Robert Preston was amazing.

Thinking further about the movie in contrast to the novel, it does feel as if the narrative structure is simply stronger than the novel while the science fiction is stronger in the book at the expense of characters. Of course, when you have Jodie Foster in the lead role there's almost no way for the movie to be deficient in character, especially when you add Tom Skeritt, Angela Basset, James Woods and even Bill Clinton in an integrated stock footage appearance that the White House did not react well to. Still, it works in the movie and that's what counts.

Summing up, whether it's an above average science-fiction novel or a sterling political science fiction epic with a twist of heart 'Contact' does satisfy. If you don't care about meeting aliens you might want to go water the greenhouse plants instead.


Saturday, 10 November 2012

Story: 'The Carrot Man'

Two men sit in a darkened room, glaring at each other across a table underneath a single bare lightbulb. We observe from a shadowy recess to one side.

The man on the left puts on a glove puppet, which resembles a talking carrot in form with a big tuft of green sprout. He mimes the carrot jabbering away while the man on the right looks confused. Eventually the confused man rummages under the table and withdraws what seems to be a large metal block and two drum sticks which he uses to achieve a metal drum rhythm on the block.

Puppet man is angry at the interruption and lack of attention and stands up, thrusting his chair back behind him.

"Carrot hater!"

"No, man, I just prefer to play the cube."

From the recess it seems obvious that the men are quite insane. There's only problem though, as we're the patients and they're the doctors.


Today is Saturday, and as with all Saturdays, there are things to be done. Mostly today's thing to be done is to write the introduction to my paper and that is hard indeed. Distilling a chapter's worth of reading into two or three pages at the very most is complicated especially when there has been reading since then! However, it is coming together, which is surprising to me somehow.

Intermixed with that writing is some reading, namely the novels 'The Caine Mutiny' and 'Contact', the latter of which is finally nearing its close after an extremely interrupted and intermittent effort. It seems to be very good, but I somehow lost touch with it about a third of the way in and had to make a concerted effort to get through an obstacle, which could either have been of my own invention or a problem in the narrative. Also bubbling under is still 'The Specialty of the House' short story collection which is excellent. I just have a problem with short stories in that they're really tiring whereas novels are engrossing. Oh, 'The Glass Key' is in the pile too, as a testament to Dashiell Hammett and his invincible ability to write stunning prose.

Oh gosh, if I finish reading 'Contact' I'll need to write a review! That would be a really hard review. The kind of review that busts you into numerous pieces and sees you being washed out to sea in a conflict between the benefits of single stranded narrative with a clear scientific vision and a strong personal need for complexity and interweaving plot strands. We'll see what happens. It's certainly very different to the movie with the dreaded Matthew McConnaughey and more welcome Jodie Foster.

<moves 'Contact' to bottom of pile, then back to top and finally to its original place in the heap>

Now, back to the fortnightly viewing of 'Zulu', which really only seems to get better!


Thursday, 8 November 2012

Movie: 'Innerspace' (1987)

Movie: 'Innerspace' (1987)

Having grown up with this movie, loved it, and watched it on many many occasions it is surprising that only now do I watch it with a critical eye. Even more surprisingly I still love it, albeit a little less in the final stretch, which feels so compressed and rapid that it can't be anything but a consequence of someone realising how long this movie could be otherwise! This movie could have been a two and a half hour epic and still be squished in the pacing, but what happens here is that it goes so screwball as to parody itself. Perhaps it is simply a characteristic of the great director Joe Dante, his penchant for the absurd overtaking his better judgement, or something of the late screenwriter Jeffrey Boam shrieking in gleeful insanity? In any case, once the faces start shifting, reality goes out the window.

'Innerspace' sees deadbeat test pilot Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) get shrunk down in a submersible pod and injected into the body of supermarket worker Jack Putter (Martin Short) by a scientist desperate to avoid his being captured by the mercenary enemies on his trail. What follows is simply the chase in which Jack comes to terms with the tiny pilot talking to him, the mystery behind it all becomes unravelled, Tuck's ex-girlfriend Lydia (Meg Ryan) enters into the caper, and eventually all is solved.

Ultimately the movie is all about Jack, played by Martin Short in the role of his career. Short is brilliant in this movie, acting his socks off and finally breaking your heart just a little as Lydia reunites with Tuck and his love goes unrequited. Happy and sad and resilient all packed into a man finally enjoying life against all odds. It's really rather magnificent in a fun movie! The stories behind Tuck and Lydia are much less important, as are the madnesses of the magnificent Kevin McCarthy and Robert Picardo as the main villains. Kevin McCarthy... magnificent as an unhinged criminal lawyer who is criminal in most senses of the word and Picardo suitably daffy as the fence who imported velcro into the Persian Gulf. Beware pink office spaces taking up small fractions of warehouse floors. Anyone who's watched knows what that means.

'Innerspace' is a fun, light movie, a broad caper with a heart of gold which does fall apart as I previously said. So does 'Explorers', Dante's preceding movie and the only other I can remember seeing clearly. It's too early to call a pattern which probably isn't there. He's an excellent director who makes fun movies, mostly horror themed, and these two plus 'Matinee' and 'Small Soldiers' constitute all I wish to see. 'Matinee' will be up for review soon in fact! I'm looking forward to seeing it again! Umm, this review has gone clearly off the rails... Special effects!

The special effects in this movie are amazing and totally - welcomingly - free of computer graphics. CGI is best to be avoided in my opinion, as practical effects done well beat it every time! Some of the shots are awesome when you think about how they must have done them. There are even old fashioned tricks involving doubles and running around sets I won't spoil further. The acting is excellent and the supporting cast is stellar! Below Quaid, Short, Ryan, McCarthy and Picardo we find some superb character actors in Henry Gibson, William Schallert, Orson Bean and even Dick Miller as a cab driver. It's a deep bench, featuring a host of Dante regulars that add fuzzy warmth. It's such a wonderful concoction while the pace is slow and adorably in many respects.

Oh, to boggles with it all, reviewing a favourite movie impartially is ridiculous. If only the ending were better! If only there were no 'eat me, drink me' riddle for the re-enlargement! If only there could be a reason for Jack's friends to be at Tuck's wedding! If only there were a reason why Tuck would have a manual for changing human faces in his pod intended for an experiment in a RABBIT! And if only Lydia didn't get all unexpectedly dopey once she realised Tuck was inside Jack! We hope Tuck is good enough for his girlfriend now he knows she's carrying his (?) baby, but is he really any better at all? We'll never know, but perhaps that's realistic for life. We're not meant to know. Maybe she ended up with Jack anyway after he rescued them post-credits. Ah, it's a good movie that leaves you at the beginning of a new adventure.

I'm prejudiced. It's a great movie with a flawed ending.


PS Thank goodness Obama got back in!
PPS Film Bin fan commentary now available at our lovely webpage!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Story: 'Night Trials', IV

And now, because no one demanded it, the latest thrilling instalment of Night Trials! Previously, Sheriff Bob was knocked out by a cloud of light and woke up first in a pitch black cell and then again in a slimy container. His guard told him that the town had been taken over by aliens!

Without further ado, it's time for another portion of bad dialogue, poor plotting, insufficient volume and giant cheesiness!


Night Trials: Part IV
(Parts IIIV)

"Invaded, Zack, invaded? You can't be serious! And you're working for them?" The anger was really testing Bob's bonds but they held. He couldn't see what they were actually, but they felt... slimy. "You sold out your own kind for a few coins?"

"Nope. I sold you all out for twenty bars! And some new teeth!" Grindle grinned suddenly and there were a whole new set of teeth on display, replacing the yellow tobacco stained tombstones that had been rotting there previously. "Heck, I even quit tobacco just to keep 'em nice! Hey!" Zack jumped up. He didn't like being spat at. "Watch it, Sheriff."

"Get out, stooge, I need to meet someone who calls the shots."

"Heck fire, they don't talk to dirt like you. I'm amazed they didn't kill ya. I sure would like to." Zack fondled his sidearm and moved to go for the draw.

"I'm alive, Zack, and you're a lackey. You would have shot me already if you could have. Don't get yourself in a spot with the Big Guys by bumping a tied up lawman. You couldn't take me even if I were standing." This time he didn't miss and Zack scowled, getting closer and closer.

"You're riling me, Mr Sheriff, and I ain't known for being nice when riled."

"Go jump off a railway bridge. Might raise the average intelligence around here."

"Rrrraahahhhahahahaha! Huh?" Getting close to someone with a free head is not a good idea, especially when their nut is pretty solid and heavy enough for a good old-fashioned butt. The bonds were secure but Bob had had far more leeway than he thought. The odorous Zack collapsed down on the reclined captive and Bob wondered what he might have achieved. He could get into one pocket with his left hand but found nothing. Levering with his knees he managed to move Zack further up his body and made it to the second pocket. Still nothing. Had he achieved nothing at all? Finally, as Zack began to stir he got to the jacket and found something sharp, sawed furiously for a few minutes and was free at the hands, if slimy. "Ha!" he muttered.

Bob rose, shoving Zack off, and wiped his hands on the stooge's jacket. Looking at his feet, he winced at the slime and sawed through it cleanly before getting up and stumbling to the door. He paused for a moment, and thought, and then took Zack's gun and bullets. Reaching for the door, he opened it and stepped through...

To be continued...

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Miscellanous Ramblings end Esoterica

When is it time to start Christmas shopping? No matter what year you consider, the answer is always "Two weeks ago". I'm stealing from Henry Beard and Leslie Nielsen but it is a good answer! Still, as always, I have a nice stack of books lined up to buy for people and an insufficient budget. Shopping around shall commence!

Today has been an interesting day with an awesome fan commentary that we just recorded for 'Innerspace' of 1987, a favourite movie of mine from before the Great Depression and which I now love all over again. I'd forgotten how Martin Short was awesome in this movie, managing happiness and sadness at the same time and being generally great and doing some amazing stunts. This movie deserves a full review and it shall come!

While November continues to be cold and grimy there is at least hope on the horizon as the Winter Solstice approaches, that time when the days shorten no longer and the psychological burden lifts. It is quite unusual to be afflicted from solstice to solstice instead of the winter months in general but I'm an unusual person. We're all unusual people, and it's only when we try to generalise that it all goes to pieces. Generalisation outside of Mathematics is bad, I think.

Looking back on the last week, I can see it has been full of disruption and minimal work. There's a problem with unemployment benefit in that one feels the need to 'earn' it and I spend far too much time applying for positions and writing the long long statements instead of doing the work which would really help. The same rationale could be put forward for the radio station in Carmarthen and I feel big decisions looming. Of course all these pressures could be eased by giving up Minecraft... Blast this ridiculous compulsion and exhaustion!

Coming up on the Quirky Muffin:
Movie - 'Innerspace' 1987
Prose - More 'Night Trials'
Novel - 'Going Postal' by Terry Pratchett

Please note I am perfectly willing to dump any of this content in preference toward drivel!

"It worked. You just digested the bad guy."

Thursday, 1 November 2012


It's November! The steadily darkening month of October is over and now the incredibly dark month of November is here, as is the spectre of Christmas shopping. I didn't grow up with Christmas shopping; it was something that started with university as I suddenly had flat mates and people who expected things and then it grew over time. As a result, everyone gets BOOKS and sometimes a dvd. My friends usually have a small pile of tomes they may never read stacked in a corner, which would benefit them in some way. Gosh, is that why people avoid me? Anyway, it is Christmas shopping season and it's a tiring thought when you're temporarily seeking employment.

November is also the month of tedious darkness that can be very draining for those of you with seasonal adjusted disorder, or the winter blues. The best thing to do is go for a walk every day in the middle of the day and be reminded that there is light and also to go get some exercise as regularly as you can. It's a dread time but it is possible to get through without special lamps and medication.

Oh, job hunting is so hard! Yesterday I wrote a supporting statement for a really interesting job which had to cover ten years and be relevant the whole time. Writing with such a purpose is ruining my ability to write without a purpose in a senseless way. Writing in a senseless way is the birthright of a civilized person with no sanity on a Thursday night and the ability to do so must be preserved at all cost! And rice pudding should be free for all!

On other notes, there's a bike rack for the car now! I plan some trips down the cycle route into Llanelli and may even replace some job centre bus trips with it... Huzzah! Going to the job centre to sign for benefits is one of the most humbling experiences there is. It's hard to be pompous (unless you're arrogant) about being educated and a doctor when you're surrounded by the great mass of unfortunate humanity, all in the same boat as you and all ever so embarrassed about taking the money they have to take. I hope it will end soon. I hope. In these times of austerity, the people at the bottom seem to suffer a lot. Perhaps cuts shouldn't be seen at this level. I hope they won't be seen at this level. Oh, this passage is making too much sense. Sense must be combated. Bring on the Gouda Monster.

'nebulous - not developed or clear enough to describe'

I think that the best therapeutic blog post is nebulous to the point of madness, a route of consciousness that allows pressure to blow off and the world to become more manageable as your inner thoughts and conflicts with the outside world merge into words and concepts on a page and so much smaller on the outside than they are on the inside.

Coming up soon, I'm planning reviews for the movies 'Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory', 'North By Northwest' and 'Stranger Than Fiction', as well as pieces on the novels 'Gateway' and 'Contact'. Some of these reviews mean rather a lot to me and I hope I can do them justice while labouring under the load of application writing. 'Gateway' especially is a novel that everyone should be made to read. It's amazing! I wish Pohl hadn't written sequels as they dilute the mystique of the thing, although I deliberately haven't read them for that reason. Leave the questions unanswered.