Friday, 31 May 2013

Story: The Disappearance (IV)

(Parts III , V)

The night was long and uncluttered with dreams. I rarely dream in the middle of a case, or at least I don't remember it if I do, as reality is so much stranger than any twisted fantasy brought out by the unconscious. That's the way it goes for us out in the 'silly squads', lampooned in the media as 'biscuit twitchers' and cranks of the first order. I wondered then if our citizens would continue to think that way if they knew about Fred and Cheryl lying in the recovery room after an armed evidence grab, or the numbers of disappearances and weird phenomena.

Weird phenomena... I flashed back to what had started this sequence off: A cooling trace on a pavement where a man - or of course a woman - had been vanished from this world into some other time and place, perhaps never here to be seen again. It was a gloomy concept in a farcical situation. Not for the first time I wondered how on Earth any of this could be happening and why it was linked to biscuits of all things. Biscuits! Plain chocolate digestive BISCUITS! It was farcical and ridiculous and even just a little grotesque in its stupidity.

The agents sent in to retrieve our biscuit evidence had proven something though: The situation was real and not just a collective figment of the imagination. That was good to know. Also, there were agents to be involved, and probably somewhere there was an origin to this nonsense. For years there had been discreet investigations into the biscuit makers and their factories. We knew that certain brands were statistically linked to the phenomena but they claimed total ignorance and never a shred of evidence was found to link them to anything. McGonagle Biscuits in particular had a haze of biscuity suspicion baked all over them but were also known to be the most scrupulous in their production. Ingredients were checked, equipment inspected, technicians placed undercover for long-term observation and nothing was seen or heard, or even tasted of smelled.

Lying there, it became clear that the whole thing was impossible. That we were being led a merry chase by a much bigger phenomenon we knew nothing about. Biscuits were just twice baked flour concoctions, with a layer of chocolate melted on top. Something else was infecting them with a chaotic power and that was what we had to isolate and contain. And we had to find the poor vanished man with a minimum of clues, and we had to find those masked agents and apprehend them with a minimum of unacceptable force.

Once you accept that something real is impossible it becomes much easier to deal with. There were conventions of biscuit theorists who wove fanciful webs of imagination and deduction on the subject of the PCD disappearances, when they weren't haunting the back rooms of pubs or corner snooker tables in clubs across the country, or common rooms in Mathematics departments across the country. We had some academics who regularly sent us theories that claimed to answer everything but never quite came through. Maybe it was time to visit someone after work and really get into the grit of the mystery again. Maybe it was time to become a theorist myself once again and go back to the old school.

Before all that though, it would be time to get the update on Fred and Cheryl and endeavour to identify that poor man. Only after would it be time to go back in time and become a professor once again.

There shall be more...

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Adversarial Blues

Some days it feels as if the whole world is against you, that every decision you make will be the wrong one, and that given two options we will always choose the wrong one. It's infuriating to always misunderstand and get the wrong end of the stick! Can there ever have been a less capable communicator than I? Of course the world isn't out to get you and there are worse communicators out there, people so utterly incompetent that they can't convey an interest in cheese or understand your opinions on the relative value of a square compared to a circle, but it's hard to believe.

If you're feeling unnecessarily adversarial with the world then perhaps it is time to commit to general policy 25 and go talk to the sea. Most of the time, the sea is one of the best listeners you can find, and it doesn't charge you anything at the end of the session either, except for a few pebbles and stones if you're inclined to throw them in. Of course there's another option, general policy 25b, which is to challenge the sea and see who wins in the anger department. I'm convinced that people go to secluded coastal plots purely to rage at the ocean and unload pent-up frustrations and stress. The sea doesn't care and will let them win, while doing its best to splash in the best possible taste all over their shoes and socks.

Hmmm... cheese...

Today I am reduced to being guestless once again which means I get to talk to myself more and be less self-aware about the contents of my fridge and what I'm eating. So, in that mean-spirited hermit manner I get to be happy. It was nice to have someone to talk to though, and to whom I show the majestic beauty of Aberystwyth and the environs. It's truly a beautiful part of the world and the guest was thoroughly charmed. Everyone who ever visits seems charmed and most people are a little wistful upon leaving. It's that kind of place. The past girlfriend - that wondrous lady - seemed to adore the place, especially upon the cliffs and down by the sea. It was nice to share it with her too. Everyone should visit here! Everyone!

After a period of inactivity, it's probably time to pick up and get in to Film Bin again. We just released the commentary for 'Short Circuit 2' and tomorrow will record another for something very special: 'The Great Muppet Caper'! What a delightfully strange and kooky film. Long before 'Community' and the current 'meta' trends there were the Muppets. They did it all first, and this is the strangest example.

Let's close be serenading Miss Piggy.


Monday, 27 May 2013

The clock ticks on

Once again, it's late. The keys are clacking furiously as I try to put together a Quirky Muffin worthy of its name and time is passing by inexorably.

After so many months of living along I've had a house guest for the last few days. It's an odd experience to suddenly have someone to talk to and play games with, and hopefully there will be other guests before I have to leave Aberystwyth again.


I'm going to have to leave Aberytwyth again.

I really don't want to go. It's so hard to come back to this place I lost once before and now to lose it again. If only there were some way to summon an immediate success out of thin air and consolidate my position as a researcher... but there is not. I'll have to leave again.

There's hope though... some progress has been made in the grand tapestry of research and possible triumphs lurk in the too-distant future, if only they can be teased out and illuminated in the proper fashion. It's possible... mostly possible... maybe a little possible... oh well, utterly impossible but fun to think about. There's always ASDA and writing stories. (Note: 'Possible' is binary, you can't be mostly possible or a little possible, only strictly possible or impossible.)

On story writing there has been progress in roughing out the remainder of 'The Disappearance'. It's hard to make an extended story out of such a silly concept but the potential is now there. Two word hint on current plan: Residual effects. Now, if that's not a tease, then what is?


PS Everything I've said about plain chocolate digestives is true, and we should all be very afraid.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Story: 'Triangles', V

(Part IV , VI)

If the world you knew what was made up of far more triangles than before you'd notice a lot of things. First, there would be many more facets to the shapes you saw, and secondly there would be a lot more sparkles to the world around you. While walking up the hill to what was hopefully the university campus, Delores was constantly being distracted by sparks off unusual surfaces and bizarre incongruences with her own world. Reflecting on things she wondered if maybe her world didn't have a geometric dominance, they just made do with what was most useful and practical. At a microscopic level everything was fractal anyway.

She wondered if things were still fractal at a microscopic level here. How it could not be, really? Why and how could this world happen if there weren't some hidden cause to it all? Were there worlds based on circles and squares and dodecagons? If so, why? The laws of physics would have to be subtly and fundamentally different and that could be lethal to someone from another plane entirely. Was she safe or was reality struggling to cope with her and chaotic nature?

Delores passed the side road to the National Library and paused for thought. In such a copyright library on her own Earth she could find the answers to every question she had if she could but read the language. Even on the campus did she have any idea what she was hoping to find? The world swirled around her as confusing and contradictory ideas crashed in and out a few times before receding back into the distance, and the young woman finally turned right and headed for the library. It was wide open and unlocked as she expected, much like all the other public buildings she had seen. Inside the massive archive she became aware of the challenge in front of her before she remembered something vital: The National Library of Wales was also a film archive back in her own world.

The film archive was hard to find in this National Library. As a Maths student, Delores wasn't even familiar the place in her own dimension and the unfamiliar text and altered geometries made it harder. Finally she stumbled - or possibly broke into with malevolence - a room with a large triangular screen hanging from one of the walls and what was apparently a projector. The projector was an incredibly simple device, with a signicantly coloured pyramidal cartridge loaded into the top and two buttons, one green and one red. She pushed the green button and the room lights dipped as the projector shifted into action.

There was still electricity. Someone had to be around in the world to keep it going.

On the screen a still image of a man appeared, someone in a shambling mustard overcoat and silly blue hat. He was smiling at the camera. At the bottom of the screen there were a row of icons, color coded. Delores Grey touched the green icon and watched as a movie began to play out in front of her.

The man was in a large circular chamber and surrounded by an array of shapes, all resembling doorframes in size and function. There was a light glaring angularly down from the ceiling onto each and a mass of cabling crawling across the floor. The camera continued panning around until the point of view reverted to it's beginnings and the mad looking man grinned a toothy smile and stood on a large triangle in the centre of the circle. The cabling on the floor of the room glowed and the frames filled with irridescent light before settling on to views of... elsewhere. Different places and people could be seen through each aperture, all oddly distinct to her mind. Some of the sights couldn't even be understood, so alien were the rules of reality in place there.

"He did it? This mad person crossed planes? Hopped planets?"

Something was wrong on the screen. Everything was shaking and the mustard coated man was rushing back and forth, trying to shut down power and reestablish safety. Cracks appeared in the camera lens as the chaos intensified and the recording cut off.

"Or maybe he broke it all to heck..."

More shall follow...

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Always watch the audience

If you're not quite in touch with a talk, or too tired to be an active enjoyer of a movie or play then watch the audience and observe. It's often very instructive. I employ this tactic at conferences sometimes, and it is strangely reassuring to see the spectrum of interest and understanding across the people attending. Look, over there in the front right are the organisers desperately trying to get enough to be able to ask questions, and over there is the chair dreading an awkward silence at the questioning time or eager to ask something of the speaker. Further back are the ones who are moderately interested or waiting for the next talk and at the back are the ones using their laptops or messing about with phones. Who's that looking fidgety in the third row next to the aisle? The next speaker of course! There's much more subtle information to be gathered but it's less than relevant.

In my role as mathematician I have just returned from the 2013 colloquium at Gregynog, a beautiful stately house that played host to many of us Welsh maths researchers and invited speakers from - gasp -- outside the Principality of Wales. It's a lovely building. I only wish there could have been more time for exploration and enjoyment but injuries continue to prevail, blast them. Blast and drat to all injuries! I think I've been sick or injured ever since returning from Hungary, which is annoying. Obviously the Universe has declared me a damage zone. Thank you, Universe, and next time I have an opportunity to help you I'll... still do it. There's a giant conscience hanging over me, reminding me to be nice and wear warm slippers and perhaps go to sleep at sane times of night. I'm just a fogey with a mad imagination.

fogey: a boring old-fashioned person

I'm hoping there's a place for new fogies in the world, a place for people who can't stand swearing in movies and often stare blankly at the corner of the room as they try to work out what on Earth they were doing ('I came in to get something...'), a place for the most resolute of smart idiots. Essentially I hope there's a place for me! Well, it's looking certain that there isn't but one can only hope. Things can turn around. Even the weakest of fools can gnaw away at a problem until it eventually succumbs. Unless they die first of course. Now, there's an optimistic/morbid thought. Swearing is really getting to me in movies at the moment as I try to get through a mini-season of Ron Howard movies. He's a great and solid director but he has never shied away from foul language where it would be fitting in a film, except for some of his early movies of course. 'Swearing in movies' is an interesting topic, representative of many others, in that the question is whether film-makers should try to reflect reality or inspire a change? Any ideas?

The weekend lies ahead and I hope to make up for the recent cessation of Quirky Muffins once everything has settled down properly post-Gregynog. Job hunting is now in full swing and taking up the expected amount of time but I think it may well come out alright as I have a cardboard box to sleep in and some swimming shorts. That's all anyone needs really, especially if there's chocolate cake in the works. Hmm... chocolate cake...


PS Deja vu continues as I am convinced I've written 'watch the audience' before. It's really very interesting to see humans when they're distracted by something. Such a lovely/disgusting species are we.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Conferences II

As I write this, yet another conference departure is on hand. Who can know what will occur at the fabled Gregynog in the next few days? Could the whole of Mathematics be revolutionised? Could biscuits overthrow the government and institute a bakedocracy? There is no way to tell...

I already covered conference lifestyles in a previous post - summarised by 'slow poison' - and now it's time to dive in again. This time the conference is at a country house, which is nice, and nowhere near so long as the BAMC so it could even be enjoyable! As these days in Aberystwyth dwindle to a close I would quite like to be spending time in this awesome place but instead there's a conference. 'C'est la vie' and 'Gather your rosebuds where you may'. We make the best of what we're given.

It's tough to concentrate on writing when work is at such a bizarre place. Both the existing work strands are in ruts and I can't find the correct lever to get them out of the mud. It's frustrating to be so stuck by technical problems, and that is what is blocking both my articles. Technical problems are the curse of any computer worker. Don't ever do applied mathematics unless you really enjoy programming!

Yesterday I watched 'The Great Waldo Pepper' from 1975, and that really struck me as a great forgotten movie. Everyone talks about 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' and 'The Sting' but no-one talks about this film. It's like the forgotten half-sibling who continually misses the beginnings of meals as no-one thinks to call them in. The flight sequences alone are astonishing! It's a story about heroism/ability and how some people are frustrated by not being able to show or prove that capacity within themselves. Since heroism is often more true in a quiet context it probably is more a movie about ability.

So, two days of conference to come, and the only thing there is to be proven is ability and concentration. Gosh, I hope the sandwiches are identifiable this time.


Saturday, 18 May 2013

Movie: 'The Muppet Movie' (1979)

Oh, 'The Muppet Movie', you are one of the treasures of the cinema. It's astonishing what you do and how you affect us. Strangely I didn't see this properly until I was an adult and it still struck me as magical. That's the thing about the Muppets: They are magical. In those first two movies - this and 'The Great Muppet Caper' - they took the power of the still-running television show and condensed it into film form with an attending mass of cameo power. Once Jim Henson moved on it descended into far more formulaic fare but for those two instants of film legend there was... magic.

'The Muppet Movie' functions as a fake prequel to the television show, a meta sendup of movie-making, a mockery of advertising, a buddy movie, and a joke fest of the first order. It was also a state of the art movie with respect to puppeteering. The most famous example of that is Kermit's cycling which was expanded to everyone cycling in 'Caper' but if you watch it and try to remember to think about the puppeteering - which I never do - then you'll realise it's a monumental achievement! There should be books written about these movies! Perhaps there are. I don't know.

Note: This is being written in the aftermath of Eurovision 2013 and my mind might be a little addled by now. Sheesh, it wasn't as rough as usual but it was still rough.

Now, back to this half-baked assessment. Did I mention there were songs? Well, of course there are as this is from the classic Muppets era! 'Rainbow Connection' rules supreme and the Electric Mayhem are still rocking like the addled troupers they were always meant to be. Rowlff is still the best though, the most musical and funny Muppet there is. Rowlff has not been shown the spotlight over following years and it's sad as he is the awesome one and one of the earliest Muppets. Some of the fondest 'Muppet Show' moments come from his piano playing paws. Oh, how could anyone not love Rowlff.

I could go on about the plot and the lovely little ways each of the Muppets is introduced into the story and into the company of the other Muppets, and how the day is saved by a giant Animal scaring off Doc Hopper of fried frog legs fame but it would be redundant. Charles Durning and Austin Pendleton (Yay!) are the antagonists and do sterling jobs.

Ultimately every Muppet story comes down to Kermit. As much as Ray is the heart of the Ghostbusters, Kermit is the heart and soul of this troupe of furry and fuzzy entertainers. This time he finds his calling, and his pig, and brings happiness to millions of people. Who can ask better than that? 'The Muppet Movie' is a fantastic family movie, which layers more than enough content for people of every age to enjoy, and can even dissolve a few cynical hearts in the process.


PS Incoherent ramblings are excellent, aren't they?

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Straight from the Heart

As my female friends start popping out babies by the dozen and marrying off to people most unlikely it seems like a good time to wax philosophical about what it means to be a parent, from the point of view of a hopelessly single bachelor. In this era of overpopulation it seems that people are incredibly principled and righteous about bringing new people into the world, right up until the point they get married or coupled up and then something happens to their brains. It's slightly disconcerting to see people reverse opinions and ideals on the head of a dime but it does happen.

It's an odd thing to write about, in that the creation of a new life is an innately immense idea, and indeed it is the only thing I call sacred from my atheistic point of view. Yet is is sacred and should be undertaken with the greatest of thought and the greatest of intentions. I probably won't ever make a person as there are too many weak genes to pass, and bizarre character traits. The duality of the motivation is quite confusing too, as it seems to be simultaneously selfish and selfless. Selfish as people just want to have children but selfless in that you mostly stop living for yourself once you become a parent and live for the kids instead. Two things at once. Duality.

I'm too detached and cold to do the job, but what is the main duty involved? Nurturing? Yes, nurturing is a large part of the idea but there's another thing that doesn't get talked about so much and that's enabling. Enabling is important. I've been associated with innumerable people of differing beliefs and mindsets and the thing I always wonder in this circumstance is whether they'll be good enablers or not. Whether they be nationalistic or religious, or just plain goofy, will they present their children with the background to operate in a global multi-religion society or try to restrict them to the things they want them to experience and try to limit them? Will they brought up to only function in the local sandbox or the global beach? Ultimately reality lies imbetween those extremes but a large part of parenting, to my ignorant and frankly cynical mind, seems to be in enabling instead of limiting. Here in mid-Wales people would wonder what to do about learning Welsh versus English and bilingualism. Well, teach them both and Spanish and Greek to boot. And why not Swahili too. They're all important. Don't make it a choice of two but offer everything, a patchwork of ideas and cultures from everywhere. It's probably time to start bringing the people of the world together instead of reinforcing how we're all different. Still, what do I know?

In many ways this is the most patronising piece I've ever written but I quite like it. It's topical. At a certain point in life single people do end up getting surrounded by couples and sometimes their progeny and you're left wondering: 'Why?' There's a curious paradox in the world that we worry about overpopulation on an idealistic level but then disregard it completely on a personal level. It's probably partly because of the location: Western Europe. We're surrounded by aging and declining native populations so we don't see overpopulation locally but can point it out over the seas and worry. I'm a big fan of immigration. It's necessary. We need people to do the jobs we won't or can't do ourselves.

It's a mad world.


PS 'Call me patronising, but call me.' It's a quote and I can't remember what it's a quote from.
PPS Viva Film Bin! I just recorded anothe 'Due South' commentary. Keep an eye on the Film Bin player at the bottom of the page for fresh content.
PPPS Roughing out future plans for 'The Disappearance'. Write three portions and then plan is the usual panicky strategy!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Story: The Disappearance (III)

(Part II , IV )

In other police divisions, the disappearance of evidence would be automatically assumed to be theft, but in the Plain Chocolate Digestive Detectives we have to take things much more slowly. Those blasted baked good were dangerous and caused more disappearances every year than the public knew about. Every town has an operative in our line of duty and no-one outside even suspects.

Sometimes the evidence spontaneously combusts, or does a quantum curtain call and vanishes, and even sometimes someone will just eat the biscuit before it goes completely off. One of our previous lab technicians did that very thing and has now not been seen for three months and then was insisting everyone call him Geronimo. Sometimes it all seems so blasted silly.

On days like these I miss my ex-partner Wiggins. She was always good with a reality check at times like this.

Fred and Cheryl were in the recovery room downstairs. Their colleague Randolph had taken some diagnostics and pronounced them safe from the things that normally ailed us in the line of duty and they were going to for a full set of regular checks once they felt up to it. Brockel was going to debrief them en route to the hospital and work out just what has happened to them. Carter and I were dusting the lab and doing some basic forensics and Swanson was checking the security tapes. We were coming up with nothing when Swanson called on the telephone and we went across to the security hub.

While out equipment can be a little antiquated in places we do have the best people available. Swanson had combed through the footage quickly and efficiently and we were not witnessing the last few moments of Fred and Cheryl's analyses before the incident occurred. Before our eyes three people in black burst into the lab and quickly mesmerised the technicians with PCDs before trying to wipe the computers and making an exit. I looked at Swanson, trying to ignore the ridiculous moustache. "Where was the guy on monitor duty?"

"Laid out on the floor right over here." Swanson pointed at the floor next to a nineteenth century filing cabinet. "He was chloroformed."

"Chloroformed?" Why use chloroform when they had PCDs? Perhaps they only had limited powers? We never knew what was going on with those blasted biscuits. No other baked item caused this kind of trouble! Not even gingerbread men, and there was so much scope for their use as automata or ninjas. Swanson shrugged; He had always been a man of few words. Carter looked at me, seeking guidance. "We'll sleep on it. Nothing to do now until we get Fred and Cheryl's accounts." I looked back at Swanson. "Try and run some matches on the video. Do some research. Usual things." This time the man nodded. We were up to three different expressions from him today, he must have been in a positive state of mind.

Then I went home and to sleep. Sometimes sleep is the only useful help you can get.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Clomp is always watching

The film 'Backdraft' is running to my right. Sometimes divided attention is the best way to boost creativity and I suspect it shall always be thus. Is it possible to be too divided, though? When a lunatic Clomp is always overlooking your shoulder you never quite know where sanity begins and madness ends. Oh Clompie, you dopy mad toy villain, you!

There'a a reason to watch movies and read novels and listen to music and radio: To be able to write and produce you also need to read and absorb. You can give too much and then have nothing left to give. Sometimes you need to take in and observe, experience and react. As much as this is a repeat of previous material it's still true.

The Clomp, being a mad toy villain, feels no need for a balance in life and will do whatever he wishes. In many ways it's a shame he's not real. Fortunately he's been in many a story written during university days and will show up in print sometime. It would be nice. There's enough material in my mind for a dozen children's books, where Egbert the Albino Elephant crosses paths with Professor Rip van Bramble, and Robinson Bear's Cafe is an incognito meeting place for all manner of bizarre networks. It will happen.

'Backdraft' is actually quite a good movie. Ron Howard has a knack for these things. I think he's probably the 'go to' director for tricky and unlikely ideas. Maybe I'll write a thing about it tomorrow. You can expect that, and more instalments of 'Triangles' and 'The Disappearance' soon. And some book reviews too. It has been a rich time for novels recently. There's far too much swearing in 'Backdraft' though, and odd goriness.

Sometimes the writing is so easy that you can't stop. How do the words stop tumbling, especially in the late night hours when nothing is moving and people are asleep all around in the quiet villages of Carmarthenshire? The combined sleep in evidence nestles over us all and adds to the spirit of reflection and contemplation. Yes, there are sometimes natural places to stop.

Good night.

PS I could have gone on far longer. You're lucky, you people!

Thursday, 9 May 2013


Can dilly-dallying and procrastination ever be useful? Does hesitation provide the key to wisdom, or does it prove that only the unhesitant get ahead? As a hesitant person... I don't care. Dilly-dallying is the way, or indeed The Way, and allows for a much more enjoyable experience. Why waste time crushing yourself under a burden of pressured preconceptions if you don't have to? Most of humanity seems to labour under the idea that we all have to be the same in any case and that alone is unfair pressure.

So, the lurking question is 'Do we all have to be the same?' The idealistic answer is 'no' but the practical answer is not as nice. In the world of work, and the world of social interactions, we are far less likely to succeed or be treated nicely if we don't conform. It's a sad truth. In particular, and I speak from experience, the idea of a single man, a bachelor, seems to be a phobia to society in general. Solitary men aren't trusted. We're not all weirdoes but it is true. Being different isn't acceptable, even if it's not by choice, so we take it and go on bravely. There's no point being maudlin!

Dilly-dallying has many purposes. It allows us to enjoy the scenery, for one thing, and plan things more thoroughly. Dilly-dallying is clearly most important, except of course at those times when dilly-dallying is absolutely the worst thing you can do. Sometimes dilly-dallying is deadly! It can destroy whole plans, disrupt agendas, and lead to missed opportunities of the worst kinds. Knowing when to not dilly-dally is part of the process, perhaps the most important part.

Hmmm. Enough dilly-dallying. Hopefully there'll be more positivity tomorrow. It's not always easy but it is always vital.


Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Movie: 'Night Shift' (1982)

It must be a parallel dimension. This is the only way that I could find myself recommending a comedy about night morgue attendants who set up a conscientious prostitution service outside of the said morgue in the wee small hours. It's a parallel universe, yes? I'm waiting for a quantum flip into the inter-dimensional foam and nothing's happening. Blast.

'Night Shift' came out in 1982 and was directed by Ron Howard, almost at the beginning of his feature film career. It features his 'Happy Days' colleague - and probably good friend - Henry Winkler in a rare film leading role, with Shelley Long as a prostitute neighbour and Michael Keaton in support. That's a very interesting trio to have at the top of your movie in 1982. Of course, Ron Howard would go on to direct Keaton in 'Gung Ho' and 'The Paper' with excellent results but how did this first time do? As it turns out Ron Howard then is just as self-effacing and solid a director as he is now, the workman who won't fail you and won't choose a crummy project to begin with. He does well with Keaton here although he's still a bit too manic, handles the always delightful Shelley Long well in a curious role, and lets Winkler pull out the performance of his career probably. He's an unlikely guy, that Henry Winkler, and 'Happy Days' was a blessing with curses fringes, just as long running sitcoms are for lots of people. For nerdy steel decency, Winkler was the man, but he didn't get to show it often.

On to the film itself, which is based around Winkler as Chuck, a stockbroker who was too decent for the corporate jungle and is playing it safe as a morgue attendant, and who has just been 'promoted' to night shift alongside newbie dope Bill (Keaton). Bill would love to be a super successful man about town but really he just doesn't have the steel. Chuck's worries about his prostitute neighbour Belinda, the encouragements of Bill, the belittlements by his fiancée and general discontent lead him into agreeing to set up Belinda and her friends with new management run conscientiously out of the morgue in the wee small hours. Cue some risque backgrounds - this must be a parallel dimension - and a romantic arc between Chuck and Belinda as well as comedic shenanigans from the morally dubious Bill. Of course there's a happy ending where they get out of the racket and out of danger from the real mean people, but is it a happy ending? All of Belinda's colleagues will be back to their old crummy lives, surely? Unless Chuck really did invest wisely on their behalf?

This movie lives on a knife-edge. There are points where you wonder if the moral lead that is Winkler is going to vanish into a pit of sleazy villainy but he never does. Keaton does his slightly seedy bozo performance but sabotages it with his innate realness, and Shelley Long is just too classy to be a prostitute. but does well in a role where her natural funniness is not exploited. It does feel like there's danger though, that there's a slippery slope that never materialises. Thinking about Long, this movie was just before she hit it big in 'Cheers' and it's probably before people realised she could be funny. To this day she's on my incredibly short list of funny actresses. Why is it short? I have no idea! It shouldn't be but it is and she's at the top. She did awesome things in Cheers before the cast was shaken up by Nicholas Colasanto's death in combination with the departure of the showrunners the year before... But I digress.

What's at the core of 'Night Shift'? Well, maybe it's a slightly raucous early 80s romantic comedy? Maybe it's a moral lesson about the decent guy winning out once he has determined to not be a pushover for more domineering jerks. Maybe it's a life lesson in the moral grey area that is prostitution? I'm not sure where I eventually settle on these questions, and maybe I won't until I've seen it a few more times. Ron Howard doesn't answer questions; He poses them, leaves some hints and leaves after making a fun movie. It's only peripherally about issues but they are there. Making movies isn't about explaining every little thing, it's about being entertaining and hooking the audience. We, the audience, are supposed to answer questions and think of even more to ask.

It's a good movie, the cast is solid, there's probably a little too much toplessness for me personally but then I am a prude, a prude who liked 'Night Shift' anyway. You don't get many opportunities with Henry Winkler so check him out in this.


PS Come on, quantum foam, save me!
PPS Interesting things coming up on 'Film Bin'. Stay tuned on that channel.
PPPS I expected cookies, and got only cake. Blasted karma.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Wibble wobble

We type the words and see what comes. It's always the way it works. Sometimes there's a vague idea and sometimes it's all just a stream of consciousness. That's the fun. I could be thinking about a commentary that I just listened to, or the Glen Cook novel that I was just reading, or even the friends that I've been missing and then a random idea about the Muppets, or Doctor Who, or the correct way to write a scene about a woman who's emerged into a world dominated by triangles. I mean, it's all just cabbage in the ears of a random soldier of rationality. Or perhaps it's a random soldier against rationality.

One of my many fascinations in the world is about how people are different but in some ways the same. It's true and not true at the same time. I'm as unlike other people as I can be in a myriad of ways but there's always that grounding of what's similar between people to unite us. It's strange to think that that has to be true for even the most hideous and disgusting despots and criminals, and that maybe we despise them is because there's a commonality. Gosh, humans, we stink. A terrible species, but still the best of the best.

Humanity is quite well defined in the movie 'Night Shift' from 1982, which is a film that teeters on the brink of falling into a nightmare zone of unacceptability without ever falling. I'll write a piece on it as I was genuinely surprised by its effectiveness. It seems as if Ron Howard was born to direct Michael Keaton and poke me into tears from time to time. Darn you, Ron Howard!

<pauses, and then misses random word generator>

'If you don't have the capacity to feel bad then you also can't feel good.' Is it a truism; A self-evident truth? Is it? It certainly seems as if depression is a suppression of both misery and joy, leaving one in the grip and neutral murk that lies between, and never falling into the light soaring into the abyss. This too is fascinating. What does it mean though? That we have to pay for the moments of joy with tears of sadness from time to time? Maybe, maybe not. This bears further thought, and for that there will need to be pie.

Mmmm... pie...


Friday, 3 May 2013

Story: 'Triangles', IV

(Part III , V )

In the alternate universe Delores was getting down to the basics of survival in an angular world. The place appeared to be deserted but surely there was food of some kind somewhere? Food that wouldn't turn her into a triangle or be bizarrely poisonous in a geometric manner? Even for a third year maths student it was all quite, quite bizarre.

Walking down the street away from the promenade and into town she looked into the shop windows - assuming that they were shops - and wondered where the people were. She headed out to the site of the supermarket in her own world and found... a supermarket. It seemed as if there were plenty of congruences between her world and this one. The supermarket was closed and the car park empty. The main road next door was devoid of traffic and there was no sign of activity in the nearby houses.

Finally, Delores tried to force the doors to the supermarket but failed to budge them. Then she tried to smash the glass but they were impervious to her force, even to the ensuing flurry of feminine fury. Delores slumped onto a bench and cried from frustration. How on Earth could anything like this happen? Great floating triangles that were one-way doorways to other worlds? What kind of insane story could that be?

Summoning some coherent thought, and drinking some of her precious stock of water from her midi-backpack, she went round the back and tried the deliveries entrance. The gate was wide open, and doors into the structure ajar. Evidently the abandoning of this triangular Aberystwyth had been unexpected. If had been abandoned in the conventional sense. Delores wondered if there might be less than pleasant scenes within most of the surrounding dwellings.

Within the supermarket the fresh produce section was incomprehensible but full of at least fresh-looking unidentified items. The tinned and boxed items were slightly more understandable, if pointier, and the chocolates almost unbearably tempting. "First things first," Delores said out loud, "it's water or death". She opened a bottle of water and took a long swig. It was water, simply water, and quite refreshing. It reinvigorated her mind and she realised the mystery of the shop. The fresh produce was fresh. Whatever had happened had happened very recently and suddenly, as had her arrival. Now, was that a coincidence or was that something chilling?

She decided to be chilled and shivered at what might have happened.

Opening a tin of something vaguely familiar looking, she ate something that turned out to be somehow analogous to chicken, so she splurged on something else that turned out to be similar to cheese. Cheese is good.

Gosh, the cheese was good, almost as good as the cheese in her fridge back home. Home, unimaginably distant but closer than a bus ride, a few streets away. The sudden memory of the whirlpools in the sea distracted her from self-pity and a desire to see her 'home' in this world. Delores scooped up some snacks, wondered how best to manage the perishable food supplies and set off to explore and work her way up to the University and the massive National Library. If there were answers anywhere they would be there.

To the University up the Hill she did go.

Note: Why don't I write dialogue? Well, because I can barely speak myself! Huff. I pity those Ffiesta people.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Late Ramblings

It's late, and this blog post has been stumbled around many times already. Some times they just don't come together until you've smashed them together a few times and rearranged the pieces a few times. What's it going to be about? Well, working late, and bemoaning the absence of my old choice of random word generator. I miss it. So many posts have been inspired by apparently nonsense combinations of words. None of the alternatives I've found have been overly useful.

Recently I've been reading massively, like a person who hasn't read novels in years and is thirstier for prose than anyone should be. It must be a result of doing a PhD where you just don't feel you have time to do anything as you're trapped under a cascading cavalcade of tasks that never seem to end. And then you keep that attitude as it has become normal. It impacts your existence thereafter. It's awful! Reading Glen Cook (new for me!) and his 'Garrett P.I.' series, re-reading Hammett, and stumbling around some other things has been amazing! I've virtually stopped watching or even wanting to watch television and film, which is not good news for a Film Bin founder.

The Muppets have also been on my mind. Somehow the world needs more Muppets; There should be a Muppet Sherlock Holmes movie, and there should have been a Star Trek crossover with The Muppet Show. Miss Piggy and Uhura could have had a really, really awkward singing contest for Kermit's heart while Kirk stands there looking bemused and Spock has a very strange interlude with Fozzie and Gonzo. Why, oh why, was it Star Wars that visited The Muppet Theatre instead? Oh, woe, the silliness!

'The Muppet Movie' is a fascinating movie, being many things at once, and all of those good. Its sequel is almost equally fascinating and the parent series is awesome. Everyone should watch 'The Muppet Show' once and Disney should really release series four and five on DVD while they're still more relevant in the aftermath of the newest film. It would seem as if their purchase of LucasFilm would render one of the last major barriers null and void, as the 'Star Wars' episode apparently and allegedly blocked by LucasFilm forever and a day, and that same company is a problem for releasing 'Muppet Babies' too. Oh, 'Muppet Babies', why can't you ever be released on DVD?

I miss 'Muppet Babies'. It's too late. Sleepy sleepy time. More 'Triangles' coming soon.


PS It's need to be said again: Where is 'Muppet Babies'? Please, Disney or whoever, please!