Sunday, 30 September 2012

Story: 'Night Trials', I

As I fight my Minecraft addiction, which steadily becomes easier as I run out of things to do for novelty's sake it becomes apparent that I'm not holding up my end of this blogging lark. As a result of this I present...


Night Trials: Part 1
(Part II)

It was a cold night, and Sheriff Bob looked into the tavern from the swinging doors and frowned at what he saw within. It was coolly quiet and civilized. So quiet that he could not help but be irked. How could a sheriff in a frontier town have something to do on a Friday night when the citizens behaved like THIS.

Turning away from the tavern he surveyed the main street, with its quiet nocturnal setting. The blacksmith was silent, and the general store, and even Madame Hong's was sedate and modestly lit. He supposed he should be happy with the easy life of a sheriff of a crime-free mining town, but he sometimes wished he could test himself. In his five years on the job so far he'd arrested one person for being drunk and disorderly and had even gone part-time, fixing wagons in an attempt to be useful.

Down at the end of the street, southside, a light was coming in from the wilds out beyond the town boundary of Wandering Yip. The light was wavering and green, bumping up and down from time to time, and sometimes roaring up into the air for second upon second. The ground began to shake under Sheriff Bob's feet, dust swirling in the air. The light grew larger and larger as the phenomenon approached at a terrible speed. Docile horses at their rail pulled away and bolted for the plains.

With no time to do anything else but panic, Sheriff Bob flinched as the light reached its crescendo, and everything faded to blinding, wavering green. Then he panicked and remembered nothing more.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

There is no <> Life I know <> To compare with <> Pure imagination <> Living there <> You'll be free <> If you truly <> Wish to be

As thinking machines we are often presented with choices, and we make those choices as best we can. Are they, however, the best choices? Well, the answer is that we don't know, we won't know, and that we'd better just plug on and not mind the horses. It's actually nice to write about these things and repeat homilies and sayings that I've heard and read about the place.

Ah, homilies. What is a homily? Is it the correct word to use?

1> a speech, usually given in church, on a moral or religious subject
2> a short speech advising someone how to behave. This word usually shows that you think the advice is boring'

It's nice that there's a special word for pieces of advice or life guidance that you consider to be boring. That's brilliant. It makes you wonder if there's a special word for when you think it's disgusting, or uplifting, or culinary, or too much like a helium balloon. On unrelated topics, I rather like red cabbage.

Ah, it's a pain to be job hunting. Even now I'm focusing on the fact that I've four applications to throw in before Sunday! Why oh why does it have to be so hard! Well, in between doing those applications, writing a paper, doing calculations for other work, and being generally alive there will be more of this ridiculous blog. So what's coming up? There'll be a piece on the movie 'The Hunt For Red October', an apple tart recipe, and a comparison on the movie and novel versions of 'Hopscotch' by Brian Garfield. Oh, I wish Walter Matthau could have made more movies.

It's a sad world where we can no longer have Jimmy Stewarts and Walter Matthaus but we can have iPhones. Sigh.

Onward! Darn the torpedoes!


Sunday, 23 September 2012

Book & Movie: 'The Seven Percent Solution' (1974 and 1976)

Talking to yourself can be of great benefit to your mental health and powers of self-expression. Of course if you do it you may find yourself in a far worse circumstance so instead we write. We write to ourselves in the guise of writing for others and hope it's incidentally entertaining. Nicholas Meyer could write, and maybe can still write, and he wrote the novel that they adapted for this movie. Somehow this man managed to write 'The Seven Per-Cent Solution' and the movies 'Time After Time', 'Star Trek II' and 'Star Trek VI'. That's right, he wrote - and directed - the two best Star Trek movies ever, and the only non-canonical Sherlock Holmes book I have ever really liked. I like this book so much that I have given away three copies as gifts. And it's not even a great novel, but instead a lovely novel. Great novels are only rarely lovely novels and I have yet to come across one except for perhaps 'A Tale Of Two Cities'.

Anyway, what we have in 'The Seven Percent Solution' as a novel is a tremendous conceit that serves to clear up, if we choose to permit it, some of the inconsistencies surrounding the death of Sherlock Holmes in 'The Final Problem' and his return in 'The Empty House'. When I say 'clear up' I actually mean 'throw away entirely and replace'. This is actually rather good as 'The Empty House' (TEH) is rather a weak resurrection for our hero in comparison to the stonkingly wonderful tale that is 'The Final Problem' (TFP). I'm one of those people who would quite happily ignore all the stories after TFP simply because they're not so good. Doyle nailed it in the first two sets of stories and then came back because people demanded it rather than wanting to, and it does show.

This review will have a tendency to meander. The broadness of Sherlock Holmes and the strength of Meyer at the time really leaves far too much scope which is why this is a book and movie review rather than specifically one or the other. The novel is an elegant piece of Holmesian fluff which draws you on all the way until the end, mixing references galore with sticky intrigue until the climactic train top duel, and then shocking personal revelation. It is after all, the book which proclaims 'Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud, together again for the first time' loudly in my mind. The central conceit is that Holmes loses his grip and succumbs to cocaine addiction, whereupon discovering that addiction Watson endeavours to get Holmes to Vienna to meet the fledgling psychotherapist Freud for a cure. The novel splits into two parts hinging on the central fulcrum that is the introduction of Freud. That journey to Vienna is very much Watson's story as he conspires with Holmes's brother to get the unhinged sleuth to the continent, and the second part belongs much more to Freud and Holmes, the balance shifting to the latter as the adventure becomes more apparent. It's a well balanced book, and ultimately does a lot more for explaining the great detective's shift in characterisation in the later stories once he's brought back to life. The only thing I find problematic is the personal revelations on Holmes' early family life as obtained under hypnosis by Freud at the very end. Some things are better left unknown and add mystery, although the idea that Moriarty is only a villain under cocaine delusion and was otherwise his maths tutor is rather ingenious.

As is so often the case, a film adaptation's problems are in the lack of physical or emotional colour on screen as opposed to in the imagination, and the presence of the screen character as opposed to that of the page. Every piece of casting in this movie is slightly askew, and yet it works oddly well, once we get past the one irredeemably awful moment which tends to spoil the whole movie for the unprepared. In the space of the first few words spoken in narration it all falls apart before a single person is seen in motion. What are those words? They are the opening remarks of Dr John Watson in narration, as played by Robert Duvall. Robert Duvall's fake British accent is never as bad again in the remaining movie and yet this horrific debacle was allowed to stand unreplaced, as a hilarious talisman dispelling potential viewers interest. Alas, poor Robert Duvall, who has had many excellent performances, stinks it up royally in the space of a few seconds. Nicol Williamson is so weirdly hyper as Holmes in cocaine delusions that you don't warm to him even slightly until well past the halfway point of the movie, but something does click and you accept him as someone who's real and not a caricature. Alan Arkin completes the casting triangle as Sigmund Freud and is solidly reliable, if not very charismatic, as only Alan Arkin can be depended on to be. This movie is close to being very good and settles on being simply solid with good touches. The adaptation is good, even though the more intricate intrigue of the book is left and some odd and more action-filled scenes added, most notably the white horses segment, and a hunt that ends in a house of ill repute. The ending where Holmes goes on holiday and coincidentally ends up with the woman he rescued is sweet in a totally bizarre and idiosyncratic way. The overall impression I get is that this movie has been unfairly unappreciated, which I suspect is related to the Duvall problem, as it is in no way a truly bad movie. In fact, at the very worst it could be said to mediocre, which it isn't really. It is merely a Sherlock Holmes film, and as such is a problematic thing to make. And there is one bad 70's psychedelic dream sequence. Oh, they were crazy back then surely.

To close, 'The Seven Percent Solution' is a lovely novel with a strong narrative drive and central conceit, and the movie is a fun romp with some odd casting and a horrific opening narration that almost sinks the whole show. If you like Sherlock Holmes even just a little, read the book, and if a lot then watch the film too.

Back, you blarney hounds, back!

Theatre: 'The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time'

Theatre can get you into trouble, as it really likes to know no bounds. On the whole this is a good thing, and theatre is really the only medium where full artistic expression is allowed in acted drama. Sometimes it turns into an ego trip though. The question is this: 'Where did the National Theatre Live production land in this spectrum of expression versus ego?'. This is a tough question, and perhaps is not so much about the play rather than about the original book. Ah, the book.

From the back cover:
'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger's Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour's dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down.'

The play is incredibly closely adapted, and in those terms is a brilliant production. The minimalist stage is wonderful, as are the cast and the fantastic effects on the graph paper stage. Oh, I loved the graph paper stage. It falls down on my personal bugbear issues though, which in this case are swearing and volume. The sound was really loud, and the swearing was incredibly faithful to the book, which I hated there too. It's so out of place, and yet culturally very accurate, in a book which could be a classic for all ages and all times, and that's where this play goes off the rails for me personally.

Sidebar: I've never liked swearing anywhere as it's physically upsetting and can even bring on nausea. Senseless violence is somewhat more tolerable but still a terrible waste of film and most examples of intimacy are tonally unwelcome, especially in the cinema of the 70s and 80s. Those people would break the tone just to avoid a PG rating and that frustrates me to this day. How many many movies are there which could have been perfect for everyone to watch that had their rhythm shattered just to avoid a PG? Ugh. I know I'm a prude. End of sidebar.

So, now the question becomes 'How do I separate the fact that this is a great production from the fact that it does something I hate?', and it's the same question I ask of the book, and the answer is ultimately the same. That answer is that I can't separate it entirely, but I can express how jarring the language is, and then move on and talk about the good things. I won't talk overly about the story, as I'd rather people go and read the book, but more about things specific to the production. Oh, go and read the book, it is a magnificent portrayal of what it's like to be different, and if you don't like swearing then marker those bits out or star them.

As a theatrical production, the main decision is to place the story onto an unfurnished plain square stage which audience surrounding on all sides. The stage itself is covered with a graph paper pattern which is used for visual cues and pictures throughout the play using cunningly placed super LEDs. The actors are all wonderful of course, if a little too gushy in their emotions. We can't be a little angry or upset here, we must be really really angry or upset and then morph into huge green rage monsters. In many ways the stage was more the star for me than the actors although the lead who plays Christopher is excellent in his portrayal. As with the book, the lead character is both wonderful and slightly upsetting, and I think the whole production could have been improved by being less faithful tonally to the book.

Oh, and Una Stubbs was in it! The Stubbs recurs again - watch 'Sherlock' please people, episodes 1, 3, and 4 are by far the best - and was rather good. I like Una Stubbs because she never overacts and has a heart of gold. Presumably I missed an experimental phase in the 70s and 80s which would scar me for life.

Right, where were we, ah the stage. There's one more thing about the stage that I liked which I'm going to share at the end. Well, perhaps this is the end. Throughout the first of the two acts, Christopher returns to building a model railway track around the stage, probably covering three quarters of the perimeter, and there was an obvious question of what it was building up to. Yes, the character is a little compulsive as would be normal and should be doing something, but why this model train? Why? At half time we found out, as it was there to illustrate his decision to take his journey. Fade to black, light up the train, and watch it go choo choo. As part of the National Theatre Live experience it was wonderful. I loved the train.

So ends this review of the broadcast version of 'The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time' from the National Theatre Live. I recommend that if you have a chance you should go to one of their live screening at cinemas all over the country, and even world.

From here in Wales I salute you, and I salute the Stubbs!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Story: 'A cautionary tale'

Look to the left. If you see a three-headed monkey you're in a graphic adventure game and must be very quiet. If you don't see the monkey then proceed to your left until you reach a hedgerow. If you don't reach a hedgerow, then you have been abducted into a deep space scenario and must tread very carefully in case of the deathly dull Vogons. If you reach the hedge unscathed then congratulations, there is now a marginal chance you are in fact safe.

The hedge has a number of stiles which allow you access to the far side. Follow the hedge in either direction until you reach such a stile and then cross. If you face a river then whistle sharply and jump on one leg, until help arrives. If you face a shallow incline either upwards or downwards then caution is advised. Watch out for toads in motor cars and crashing space rockets as you advance slowly. Be not afraid of darkness as at least you will then be safe from the carnivorous stinkers and will be escorted by chimney sweeps. If is still daylight, however, you must take your chances.

Reaching the end of the incline you will find a giant living chess board. Take a seat as black and play the game to the end. Either victory or defeat is fine but stalemate means death by Tolstoy. If Tolstoy is unavailable then death by Hugo will suffice.

Proceeding beyond the chess board, if you are so lucky, there will be seen several mountains in the distance. Certain and inevitable safety is at hand before you unless, unless, a conical carrot is seen hanging from a tree. In that case, run like blazes, for the gloomy donkey is a sight impossible to resist.


Saturday, 15 September 2012

On tree sap, coral reefs, and avoiding topics completely

That was quite the week. Amidst some heartbreaks, some farewells to dear friends returning home, and many, many, far far too many train journeys the theses were finally deposited at the University of Nottingham and now the PhD can be declared absolutely, irrevocably, determinedly and catastrophically over! What does that mean, though? It means... unemployment! Huzzah! Time to catch up on rest and reading!

Now, how to get back into the stream of unconscious writing of utter drivel? It's hard since the last stream was so long ago, and was interrupted by thesis events. Actually it was interrupted by a sudden attack of apathy surrounding thesis events, but that apathy is temporarily at bay. I've named it Dolores and wave a cabbage at it from time to time. Strangely Dolores Apathy doesn't like cabbage, which is sad.

Coming up in the next few days I hope to write about the movies 'Seven Percent Solution' and 'The Hunt For Red October'. In addition I would like to write about the National Theatre's production of 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time' and the novel 'Hopscotch' by Brian Garfield. That sounds like a lot, and it will have to fit around many other things, Dolores permitting.

Now, the question that arises is this: Why do monkeys play the blues? Well, I believe that the answer is due to the little known fact that blue marbles were named after the Blue Marble Monkey of East Canzu, which were well known for the peculiar games they played with the local peculiarly tinted hedgehogs. It's a shame that these have been extinct for more than a century and that no evidence is around to provenance their very existence. Oh, how wonderful it must have been to be on that voyage with Spinker and Knopper as they heard the delicate clack, clack, crunch of Blue Marble Monkey play.


Thursday, 6 September 2012


If life were a grand buffet and all of us complimentary diners, what would we all eat, and why? This question, posed at it was mere seconds ago in my mind, has consumed me since to the point that I can barely stop reviewing the elementary calculus in my paper. Oh, what philosophers of old would have guzzled at the ice cream dispenser and who would have loitered at the salad bar, swapping anecdotes of their grand triumphs in pumpkin cultivation. It boggles the mind. Would Einstein have supped at the lemonade with Genghis Khan and made bad jokes about anchovies? We do not know, nor can we ever know, but perhaps we can credibly suspect that there would never be enough oranges and that the bananas would be a bit woody.

Looking to the figurative left and moving topic, I should be squeezing out a couple of movie reviews soon: 'The Hunt For Red October' and 'The Seven Per-Cent Solution', both of which are barmy in their own small way! In at least one of those reviews I shall be POSITIVE, thus alarming many people of my acquaintance. No responsibility is accepted for the consequences of any accidents that ensue.

Onto a more relevant topic we shall now move, which of course is chocolate biscuits and the optimal type. It has long been my contention that the best chocolate biscuit is the plain chocolate digestive, and that the best subset of that is the *****bury's own brand. Some doubters would perhaps espouse the bourbon however, which is an inexcusable error in judgement. Discuss below if you're any of the robo-readers who check out this blog looking for spam.

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If you're not a robo-reader, then please be aware no sense is to be found this page. Thank you kindly.