Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Story: Wordspace, XIII

(Part I , XII , XIV)

In a world populated by words, Humour often found itself at the back of the queue as portentous characters like Redemption and Deliberation hogged the spotlight. Maybe the more ambiguous characters like Mystery and Revelation would keep it in the loop from time to time but ultimately it was sidelined. Not so then, in the survivor camp, as Pantomime and Humour entertained the small mass of Words, the mini-lexicon that was clustered around in the grand sheltering crater provided by Earth. Earth itself found the whole thing rather tedious but was relieved to feel the general stress level decline a little, even as he monitored the horizons beyond his mass for the destructive force that had scattered the population in their smaller groups.

Mystery watched Pantomime and Humour and let part of its mind drift with the performance. He wondered what had happened to its old friend and mentor Truth, in its solitary sanctuary, and then for the first time it thought about its other mentor Lies. It had been inevitable that Lies would be exiled in its destructiveness but it still hurt. But for the small amount of good will it had earned at the time, Mystery might have found itself trapped in the Zone with the other destructives. The Zone where all their greatest horrors had been imprisoned...

Humour twisted his syllables in a spectacular vault and landed standing atop Pantomime to resounding applause before falling off almost instantly in one of the most ridiculous pratfalls ever witnessed. The crowd began tittering as it dusted itself off. A shadow passed over the ground as something soared overhead, and the crowd looked up curiously and worriedly, ready to bolt. The Sky was shrouding in mist and Earth gathered himself up as if for a blow, flattening out for a moment to give them a view of the horizon. A great figure was approaching and fracturing the ground and its foundations with every step. Mystery was astounded by the scale and then rolled over in the quakes of Earth making speed for parts unknown.

"Earth!" He called out to their great elemental friend, "We must make for the Zone, and quickly!" The ground beneath them shifted and Earth completed a surprisingly swift turn and run, heading directly for the threatening figure. "Good Lord! What in the Space are you doing?"

"Must go faster..." Was all he heard from their friendly Behemoth, and they did indeed pick up speed. "To the Zone we go." The massive figure looked stunned as the whole of mighty Earth torpedoed him at ground level and he tumbled down behind them as they passed by. Looking back and holding on for grim life, Mystery saw the figure of the invader sprawled and then awkwardly getting his feet back under him as Earth sped over the horizon and made a deflection in his course toward the Zone. Never had anyone suspected such speed in their benefactor.

They sped onward toward the Zone, where Mystery knew they would have to open what we know as Pandora's Box, but would they be able to close the contents back in again afterwards? If there was an afterwards.

To be continued...

Monday, 28 July 2014

On the Jazz

You could never trust Hannibal when he was 'on the jazz', riding high on life and planning the things no one else could plan, and that was mainly because he was a pretty awful planner. He 'loved it when a plan came together' purely because it was amazing they ever worked at all! And that was 'The A-Team' in a nutshell. (Good show, don't go beyond season two). It was a show that lived and died by the jazz, as does this very blog. On a day to day basis there's no telling what will pop up in this this august (or demented) publication except that every other posting is a self-indulgent waffle. Sadly, you're reading one of those waffles right now, but there is still time escape if you press the sketched abort button on the side of your computer. Still there? Well, you need to draw that button on a sticky note for next time! Now we shall continue.

Being on the jazz is essentially being in the sweet spot of life, being in the moment and knowing it. It's dangerous, sweet, and ever so slightly serene as you float from thing to thing, dealing with all on the spot and moving on without checking the damage. Oh, to be on the jazz every day! Or even any day at all! It would be lovely to be on the jazz while filling in Job applications, but they are such curious chores; activities you want to be able to dispose of quickly and with little effort but which instead become little works of paranoid perseverance that always manage in my case to exhibit just one vital flaw in the moment after I've clicked 'submit'. I'm sorry, Nottingham Trent, and do know that the environment is not coastal in any way. Maybe they'll think it's metaphorical?

Suddenly, the second holiday of the two this summer is approaching and that more travel is on the way! Holidays would be so much more fun if the travel could be removed painlessly, but at the same time holidays don't feel real unless you've done the journeying the hard way. Hence a marathon train trip to Marseille and Barcelona looms, with accumulated journeying time of about forty hours in an eight day period, almost all by train! At least you get to see the world from ground level and marvel at the great expanse of Europe, that oddball appendage to the greater continent of Eurasia. It will be more fun than flying repeatedly but at the same time the wear and tear in prospect is looming, as is the terror of having to cross Paris between trains for the first time. London is bad enough but at least there are Oyster cards; In Paris it's still paper tickets and buy on the day... Horror! Holidays are truly the ultimate madness! In the novel 'Hopscotch', Marseille was portrayed as a less than desirable place, so let us hope it was exaggerated or things have improved or both.

You might wonder how a jobless person can technically have a holiday, but being unemployed doesn't mean being short of work. At the moment there are three different stalled projects all proving intractable. There seems to be a law somewhere stating that all topics undertaken by an Oliver must be impossible. Still, they're an interesting bunch, comprising a three-dimensional extension of thesis work (going quite easily), modelling foams as elastoviscoplastic fluids (recalcitrant), and refraction of light in foams (stopped at the outset by a technicality).

If any of those work tomorrow then there will be jazz!


Saturday, 26 July 2014

Film: 'Explorers' (1985)

Oh, those old nostalgia tinged goggles! It seems like every Joe Dante movie comes with a pair for maximum viewing pleasure. For those of you not in the know, the whole of humanity is split pretty evenly and dichotomously on whether they prefer 'Explorers' or Richard Donner's 'The Goonies', which was also put out in 1985. I side completely with 'Explorers' due to its incredible smartness in what is supposed to be a 'family' film. Of course it's all let down by a spectacularly weird and letdown of an ending, but you can't have everything. The ending is a legend all by itself, and we'll touch on it before the end.

So, to 'Explorers'. The youthful Ben is having strange dreams about flying in clouds above what look like circuitry diagrams and enlists his friend Wolfgang in building the chip. It turns out to be instrumental in projecting an inertia-free 'bubble', so they build a ship with their new friend Darren to go in the bubble and embark on what turns out to be an interstellar trip. It is all endearingly quirky and intelligent, even unto the revelation that the dreams and direction are coming from somewhere out there, which fires the aspirational spaceman Ben into fervours of speechmaking. It's all so smart until they reach their destination, and then...

Oh, there's no judging the ending with my nostalgia tinged glasses. Apparently the movie was already trapped under insufficient time when Dante took it over and he didn't have the nerve to push harder for more, or at least that's the semi-official line. In reality who knows what the truth really is as they never reveal the real inner workings behind those things. It seems extremely likely that that line is near the truth, as the produced ending reeks of a rushed bodge job, especially in comparison to the smartness emblazoned everywhere else. The ending does work finally as the rest of the movie buys the grace for it, but gosh the temptation is there to do a few other things while it's going on. Joe Dante's 'Innerspace' also has a dodgy ending, but I suspect coincidence rather than pattern.

One of the things that makes Dante movies endearing is the shear sense of wonder, the inherent fun, the frequent coming of age parallels, and the masses of references usually contained therein. 'Explorers' is right up there and far beyond 'Matinee' for schlock movie references, and they even make a fake z-list science fiction movie for a drive-in, which of course stars Dante veteran Robert Picardo. Oh, Robert Picardo, you hero you. If you ever want to work out where to start with old science fiction movies then watch 'Explorers' and check out every movie Ben watches or references throughout the movie, and whatever appears in the alien media-sphere at the end. Then go and hunt down Robert Picardo performances wherever you can find them. He's a trashman in 'The Burbs', I think.

'Explorers' is a brilliant warm and intelligent movie, as perceived through the nostalgia lenses. The sense of wonder is almost luminous in places, as is the pioneer spirit, and the Jerry Goldsmith music is incredibly fitting and appropriate at every point. It's even appropriately strange in the alien ship sequence, fitting even the oddest moments. S, 'Explorers', a movie that is recommended with caveats, for masses of charm, humour, substance and style.

Points of interest in 'Explorers': Robert Picardo continues his Joe Dante association, as do Jerry Goldsmith and Dick Miller. Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix get early breaks in their careers. but Jason Presson disappears. James Cromwell plays Wolfgang's dad.


Friday, 25 July 2014


Gosh, now that that holiday-born story is all done it's time to get back to the regular roll of Quirky Muffins until the second summer holiday swings into action. However, today time is pressed, as a particularly length commentary podcast is due to be recorded this evening, so this post might be less whimsical than most.

It takes a lot of effort to prepare for some fan commentaries, and tonight's is a classical example for it is 'The Great Race', which has a duration of 159 minutes. Just watching it to make notes is an effort! But we persevere anyway. The note-taking for preparation is sometimes the worst chore of the whole business, in that you have to concentrate and watch the whole thing through without multi-tasking or being distracted at all, and think about the production on several levels. None of us are trained for single-minded watching or reading of things any more. In any case, the ideas we have to tackle are probably common to typical film reviewing, and include:

The superficial product that you can see;
Underlying concepts and themes;
Unusual structures and formats;
Production design;
Effectiveness and quality.

On top of those things, we also have to put on the Film Bin thematic topic, which is the following question:

"Do we think it is better than it is or was believed to be?".

That question is, after all, part of the original remit of Film Bin Commentaries. In actuality it normally ends up being a long commentary on the wallpaper and moustaches but the intention is there. There will be lots to talk about with 'The Great Race' at least, the most expensive comedy made to date at the time, and a legendary critical failure. How it could be a critical failure is hard to say, but it was certainly ahead of its time on a multitude of levels, and films ahead of their times are often critical and box office failures.

Fortunately the 'Civilization IV' run is now over and work is pressing back into the plans. For the initiated I seem to mesh very well with Hatshepsut of the Egyptians and Gandhi of the Indians. Very spiritual and peaceful. This means that massive amounts of time will be liberated for non-ridiculous reasons and work will resume. Hmmm, suddenly 'Civilization IV' seems more engaging again, if only because the sunny heat wave is continuing. It's so blazing hot out there that even a few seconds could reduce a person to a sweaty mess.


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Story: (The Adventures of Clomp 6) 'Clomp Squared'

Author's note:
A story featuring Clomp von Clomp, that I wrote myself as part of an anthology of odd things inspired by all the toys that used to be clustered around. You may re-post but not use for your own profit, or adapt or copy. 'Tis mine!

Many historical tragedies have been ascribed to the malevolent Clomp: The leaning tower of Pisa, the death of Julius Caesar, Quasimodo's hump, and the sinking of the steamship Titanic. The hairy blue creature with a bright red nose caused them all. He has lived for a LONG time.

Selecting a small number of stories from the pantheon of tales surrounding the mythical little demon is virtually impossible. However, we have done it anyway. Why did Atlantis vanish under the waves? Did Mount Vesuvius really erupt naturally to bury Pompeii? And why did the Empire State Building mysteriously disappear for three hours? The answers are all here.

Lean back in your chair, and enjoy the legendary tales of `Clomp Von Clomp', as the Germans know him. Please be aware that nothing in this volume is in any way connected with our version of reality. Thank you.


The blue furry antagonist that we call Clomp once again appeared in a ball of blue fuzzy smoke. He appeared to be in a park clearing, surrounded by tall evergreens.

``Craak!'' One fit of smoke induced paroxysms later, Clompie looked around from his new prone position on a nearby treetop and wondered aloud, ``Was that worse than Vienna in 1724? No, no, but what about Mudd City in Otto's Century?'' He whipped out a tabulated list and pen from nothing, corrected it and then ate it, and then hopped down to the ground. The odd little being wheezed a little from the horribly pure air and lack of pollution.

``What a disgustingly beautiful place. Why ever would I have wanted to come 'ere?!''

A voice from the dark: ``Boredom, perhaps? Ennui? Hiding out from the traffic wardens? Or was it just to steal picnic baskets from the bandit bears?''

Unmoved by the mysterious voice, our Clompie exclaimed ``Good idea! Well done, you shadowy fiend!'' He then popped off for just over a minute and returned with a number of stolen picnic baskets. ``Lovely!'' He conjured up a worn down picnic table and hovered on its warped bench.

The voice from the dark chimed in again with ``Look, behind you, a storm of squid!''

``Oh, shut up!''

``Clomp! you 'ave no sense of humour...'' Clompie stared with a hammy shock as he saw himself emerge from the deeper shadow under the trees and hover over to the opposite bench. After a few minutes, he eyed himself cynically over the worn picnic table. ``You dare?!'' he asked, for once astonished.

``Of course I dare! When have we ever not dared, you dolt?''

``Oh, go snorkel on Mars!''

The second/alternate/future Clomp bristled. ``Why must we always be so argumentative?!''

``Because we are Clomps, and that is our gift from the cosmos.'' Our Clomp (Clomp I), continued, ``What are you doing here, anyway? It's not Clompish New Year yet, that's for sure!'' A moment, and then anger flared. ``Why did you get me that 'orrible tie?!''

* * *

Side note: Clomps are unique in the universe that they only give themselves presents, and then only to their younger selves. They are also quite sadistic gift givers, so the youngest Clomps get deluged with piles of terrible and awful gifts while the oldest get fewer. As Clomps are functionally immortal this means that all the gifts pile up, and are actually used to make car boot sales and flea markets across the universe viable, thus providing more places for Clomps to buy the terrible grot. Clomps are awful.

* * *

``Mwahahaha!'' chuckled the new Clomp (Clomp II), with some coughs mixed in and an odd sounding groan. ``I could not 'elp it! The little cheeses and the monkeys!''

``Urgh! How I loathe me.''

``Now listen, you inexperienced loon, for I 'ave news! News that I received from me when I was sitting on your side of the table.'' Clomp II was evidently a future version of Clomp. ``We don't 'ave much time...''

Our Clomp blew a derisive raspberry. Then he literally blew a real raspberry just to be annoying, if you can picture that.

Clomp II sighed, and rolled his eyes at the trees, fortunately not literally. ``If I could disown myself I would. Listen, Grimaldi's is reopening.''

A second burst of raspberries transitioned instead to a fruity splutter instead.

* * *

The Clomp Parallel - home of the Clomps - has exactly three places not called `Hole of Clomp'. The first one if the Clompfather's gaudy combination castle and slum, the second is the cacophany hall, and the third is Grimaldi's fine Italian restaurant and pizzaria, established in spite two Clompfathers ago, and then equally spitefully adopted by the Clomps at large as the premier venue for indulging in pretentious and erroneous criticism of fine cuisine.

Also, as the only species in the universe to adore anchovies on pizza, the Clomps were never going to let a pizza place fail in the Parallel. The great anchovy shortage that had caused the closing of Grimaldi's was still a sore point that no-one could bear to talk about. Clomps are strange.

* * *

``We must beat the queue!'' shouted our Clomp instantly. Grabbing himself, himself, and the picnic basket he poofed all three to the edge of Grimaldi's 'No Teleportation, PLEASE!' zone in the Parallel. Inside that zone, one of the very few of the Parallel's laws was in place, the infamous 'No queue barging' edict, punishable by extreme hygiene.

They were a bit late, despite Clomp II's getting to his earlier self. The queue of Clomps stretched for several Clompish leagues already, and Clomp II muttered something under his breath, something most wicked, ``Clomp! I don't remember what I or you or we or whoever did. The temporal twiddle factor has hidden my memory.'' He sulked.

``Yes, yes, be quiet, you old fogie. I'm thinking!'' Our Clomp looked moodily around and spotted a familiar face in the queue. ``Hey, you're me! How did you get here? And why aren't you with US?''

* * *

Side note: Clomps can travel indiscriminately in time and space, at their own peril, but whenever they return to the Parallel they return linearly in time. The Parallel is the only place where they can not be chronologically out of step unless they are `dragged' by someone who does belong there. Here ends the note.

* * *

Clomp III looked at them both in contempty. ``After that clog and the woolly cuckoo clock I got for New Year? You must be kidding! Even Flomp is preferable.'' He gestured at the jingly do gooder next to him and turned his back.

``Flomp! You're my nemesis, not theirs! Why did you tell that simpleton about Grimaldi's?'' Demanded Clompie.

``I'm sorry, Clompie, but I only had coupons for two. You weren't around, and you know that even one Clomp is more than enough.'' Jingle jingle.

``Bah!'' was the doubled response.

* * *

The two versions of Clomp struggled with the problem from their beginnings at places 2394 and 2396 in the queue, until they had moved up 2347 and 2348 after a few days. The comparatively timid Clomp who had been between them had been savaged so ferociously that he had snapped and gone berzerk and was currently being given a remedial session under the Lens of All Clomp.

``I can not take it! We will be here still when New Year rolls around again, and I want Grimaldi's special anchovy pizza before then! It is unique! We must scheme, we must plot, and if all that fails we must go insane!''

Clomp II was shuddering in empathy, and interrupted with ``Scheme how? Grimaldi has his methods for spotting Clomps impersonating his staff. How, I do not know, but they are infallible, and we can not use our magic on other Clomps.'' Clomps, being notoriously oblivious, had never spotted that their human impersonations always had big pink noses and ridiculous moustaches, and often even some quite ridiculous blue-ish tinges.

``And if we barge ahead in the queue we will break the only important law apart from 'Don't break the Clompfather's rules where someone can see you.' They would wash us and clean us and groom our moustaches!'' The mad pink-rimmed eyes contracted in horror.

``If we can not jump the queue then we must shorten it. Why don't you tell your boring story about Emperor Zurg again? That would drive them off in droves.'' Clomp II suggested insolently.

``OUR boring story, fluff for brains!'' Clompie grinned, ``You should give them all one of those ties. They would pile onto you with such anger that I would get my pizza!'' The two then argued endlessly until they moved up to 2283 and 2284 many, many days later.

* * *

There now follows a selection of the musings and mutterings during the next stretch of queueing.

``I should never have traded in that favour from the Clompfather for the radioactive chew sweets.''

``Do you think they'd believe I was Otto von Bismarck again? It did work once before...''

``The last time I ate at Grimaldi's my review was so cutting that they used it to cut cake for a week.''

``Hey we're gaining on us and Flomp! Get the slingshot ready! Oh, how I wish I hadn't traded in my Centauran boomerang for that book on tragic crochet blunders.''

* * *

All of a sudden a comparatively rapid burst of progress moved the two Clomps up two hundred spaces in a matter of a week, mainly due to their frenzied spoon duet in b-flat. No one was entirely certain why Brahms had written a spoon duet in his life but Clompie made good use of the quirky musical artefact. They were then at about place 2050.

Twenty places were skittled away sorting out the invitations for what purported to be a 'Grimaldi's Grand Reopening Queue Party', and by the end of the celebration three hundred Clomps were out for the count and either unconscious or locked up in post-party recriminations. Clomp III and flomp were now in bawling range, and a natural yogurt explosion put Clompie and Clomp II directly in their wake.

``Now, Clompie, you know none of those silly tricks will work on me, surely?'' Jingle jingle. There was no apprehension, only sincerity, and it was infuriating to the cynical blue fuzzies.

``Not now, Flomp, we are rehearsing!'' Savaged our Clomp. ``Once again with the slug balancing...'' The third and youngest version of our Clomp couldn't resist joining in and the group of four moved up to about 1400 over a squadron of hysterical supine blue fuzzies.

At this point in proceedings, the quartet's ideas began to run dry, especially as the formerly incapacitated Clomps behind them began to recover and grumpily re-queue far behind them. In contrast the Clomps ahead of them became ever more suspicious. There were even counter-offensives and Clomp III was almost knocked out of line by what would have been a crucial error in insult table tennis before being saved by the far wiser Clomp II, who successfully vollied a wicked lob with a zinging riposte of ``Ha ha! That sounds more like YOUR family reunion!''

A planned trapeze act to push them even further collapsed and our protagonists were suffering from level three dejection when Flompie finally showed some pity and advanced them in another burst for culinary glory by reciting selected treasured passages from the Book of Clomp until everyone within earshot except his prepared companions collapsed from the utmost tedium.

``You know, sometimes I almost - ALMOST, mark you - don't entirely loathe you, Flomp.'' Confessed Clomp III.

Jingle jingle.

``Urgh. This is now not of those times.''

``No, don't eat my little bell!''

* * *

The current diners were evidently taking their time. The queue didn't move for three days and rumours circulated down the line that the Clompfather had crashed in with a VIP squad and the line undulated in bitter discontent.

In the far distance the restaurant could now finally be seen, the great `G' standing high on its pole above the now ubiquitous pizza slice totem.

``It is almost within reach... We must be less than a thousand places away by now! We can do it! I will get to those awful anchovies at last! And the sauce, oh, the sauce!'' Clomp II was practically frothing at the moustaches, and our Clomp merely looked at him suspiciously before returning to his machinations.

The innate beauty of the Splamchian peace yodel made not a dent in the determined queuers ahead, although it did turn the stomachs of the the two Clomps performing it, and derailed some of the barely recovered queuers behind. The Clompfather's gala apparently continued undisturbed. Worries began to gnaw at them that he might exhaust all of Grimaldi's stores, even those in the extradimensional pantries set up by the builders after the last closure. Clompie ignored them all and continued his massive scale balloon modelling of the Great Wall of China, pushing each section out into the surrounding landscape as he completed, until a massive winding airy wall could be seen to stretch for miles beyond their horizon. The surrounding Clomps could not resist some ferocious critiquing of course, competitively, and soon formed a judging committee. Then they formed a second judging committee and a third and so on until the committees began to judge each other and reached critical opinionation mass. Unobtrusively our four moved up to about 800 in the queue.

Jingle jingle. ``I would like it noted that I disapprove very much.''

``Bah!'' was again the bored response, but this time in triplicate.

* * *

``Good grief!'' Exclaimed Clomp, ``Did you know that tomorrow is the Bank Working Day? And I've been here so long that I haven't managed to complete my faked expense accounts or the fraudulent tax audit. This is cataclysmic!'' After a panic they duly moved up another hundred spaces due to gullible eavesdroppers. It was however true that the Clompish bank only had one working day each year, when it was manned in five minute shifts so that each Clomp could submit his own paperwork and fudge the accounts appropriately.

Only approximately seven hundred Clomps now stood or hovered between them and their objective, the great culinary bastion of Grimaldi's. In the distance they finally saw the Clompfather's stretch limo take off and the food queue began to move naturally for the first time in weeks.

Flompie consulted his calendar, ``If I had known how long this would take... Ooooh, I might have to leave for my nephew's bell ceremony soon!''

``Oh, for crying out loud! We will make it! Even now I am hatching a scheme!'' Clomp III hiccuped the customary blue smoke and continued, ``All we need is a bathtub, some wheels and a gullible bystander...''

* * *

The tricks and schemes went on and on, and Flomp became ever more uncomfortable. The wishy washy bathtub pursuit moved them up to 650, the Toadstool Mesa Mardi Gras to 550, the standard Nine Tree Scam to 400, and regular queue movement to 350. This close to Grimaldi's they could even smell the pizza on the strongest breezes, appropriately burnt to Clompish taste.

``If only Clompish magic worked on other Clomps...'', mused Clompie III, ``We could have been there months ago.''

``Or the whole Parallel would have gone up in petty squabbles eons ago,'' uttered Flomp quietly, ``and this queue would have degenerated into a massive mystical mire.''

``However,'' Clomp II continued obliviously, ``we are in no such luck and at any moment the stress of being so near but so far may drive me totally berzerk'' As he uttered those words through his foul moustaches he realised the same must have been true of all the other Clomps ahead of them and sensed the tension in the turgid atmosphere. ``This lot could go off at any moment...'' The nearby eavesdroppers edged away nervously.

Our Clompie chuckled evilly, and then began to rave. What he lacked in malicious competence he more than made up for in melodramatic hammy intensity. He raved about the burnt cheese, the anchovies and chilli peppers, linguini, and rubbery squid in white sauce. The greatest over-actor of the whole ludicrous species, he let go with a performance unequalled in his recent history, and the effects rolled outward like a wave. Flomp's loud assertions of his fakery came to nothing, only adding to the emotion, as the Clomps ahead succumbed in turn and frenzied out of the line, all but the first twenty or so. Those first twenty or so seemed to be immune and so Clompie reined in his theatrics with a chuckle and Flompie finally vanished in mute disgust, his bell disappearing mid-jingle, and Clomp III vanishing with the departure of his temporal anchor.

``I wonder why I don't remember that?'' mused both the remaining versions of Clomp simultaneously, and then they moved naturally up to 15 and 16 in the queue respectively. The two Clomps fidgetted restlessly despite all their successes, but they held their nerves and their spaces with great dignity. The monumental egos of the Clomps inside Grimaldi's would require hours of opinionating on every count, so that they might spend a comparative eternity waiting still.

The minutes passes, then hours, and a day. The two moved up a grand total of two spaces. They could hear what seemed to be an outrageously epic speech persisting inside, something about tasty charcoal and cement and attempts to conquer the world. The two became resigned to a long wait, now exhausted of ideas.

* * *

Some time later, Clompie became suspicious of the Clomp immediately preceding them in the queue. Unlike all the others he had never glanced back even once, or so Clompie thought. He was very obviously hiding, but for what reason? As Clompie considered the suspicious Clomp's back it seemed ever more familiar. Suddenly he had it! ``You!'' he exclaimed, ``you despicable fiend!''

The suspicious seeming Clomp revealed himself and smiled diabolically. ``So, we meet again! And you will lose again, as you always do!'' Then, for form, he shouted ``Mwahaha!''

Swords flew in from nowhere, puncturing a section of the Great Balloon Wall in the process, and there then commenced one of the greatest standing sabre fights in history. Clompie was facing down his oldest enemy apart from himself, the Clomp who had cheated his way to the top of their graduating class at the Conservatory by thwarting Clompie's own cheats, the Clomp who had managed to get the Clow Noodles favour out of the Clompfather by sabotaging Clompie's own half-hearted efforts, the Clomp who had gone out of his way to be a nemesis when none was needed.

The exterior lights of the Grimaldi's splashed and splattered off the clashing blades of the two Clomps as they battled without moving a fraction from their spots, determined to not even hint at abdicating their places. The mental exertion in wielding the blades was virtually palpable, and several entrepreneurial Clomps were bottling it for later resale. As it continued, the duel became ever more controlled instead of frenzied and a chilliness eked out into the vicinity. Finally the rival Clomp missed the minutest of marks in a clinical parry and was knocked to the side.

``Curses on you, Clompie! Revenge shall be mine! And anchovies!'' The rival hovered off in a huff, presumably to the back of the line or to a sulking space.

``Ha! He hasn't changed! Still a rotten loser!'' Clompie looked at Clomp II, and got even louder, ``Hey, wake up, you missed all the fun!'' Clomp II had indeed slept upright through the whole thing. Clompie sighed and on they went in the queue, filling the now vacated space and then moving on again three as a party of three finally left after a few weeks of chair restaurant hogging. Time was viewed very differently in the Parallel. ``Aha! I'm finally in to the single digits!'' exclaimed our Clomp and stuck his (horrible) tongue out at his future self.

Clomp II mostly ignored him, and only commented on their maybe being able to make it in before the looming New Year after all.

In actuality they made it in as the Clompish New Year's Eve was chiming in. Once seated at a plush table for two they immediately turned to the waiter and demanded menus, but he hesitated. Finally, he made the following statement: ``Of course, sir and sir, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow to order, the cook has run away for New Year's Eve.'' He then backed away uncertainly to fetch the lists.

Clomp II could not help but begin to chuckle as our Clompie stared at him balefully. The elder Clomp twinkled mischievously. ``Happy New Year, me. How is this for a gift?''

``You bounder! I think I preferred the tie! Get lost!''

``Maybe after the pizza...''

Monday, 21 July 2014

It takes longer than you think

My original plan was to have a huge and weird story for today, but rather predictably transcribing handwritten story notes and rewriting on the fly takes far longer than you would think. Such rewriting very much like life itself, as all your plans gets revised down to more manageable or realistic ideas as you go. It takes much longer than you think, as it should, but you end up with something reasonable. Something marvelous would be nicer.

So, instead of that pre-ordained content, it's time to write about whatever comes to mind This is a week that includes the dreaded clearing of the office, and the requisite trip to Aberystwyth to do that, which will be both a relief and another curtain call in the odd relationship I have with that place. Aberystwyth is the second home, the first place I ever stayed away from the parental home, and the place where I fell in love with the sea. It is also the place I have left most often, which is vexing indeed. At least this time there were porpoises, and last year there were dolphins. The first time I left there were neither, just an anti-climactic final exam and then an anti-climactic graduation.

Leaving places takes longer than you think, the physical departure being extremely abrupt and the mental departure lengthy indeed. Little tendrils of your person remain behind long after you've been gone for ages, or even for years, those formative experiences being amongst the most important ever. Perhaps it is all romantic drivel, on the other hand, but sometimes it's romantic drivel that makes the world go around.

There's a movie playing as I type, the Gene Wilder film 'Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx' from 1970, and I just can't tell if it's going to end up as romantic drivel or not. It's hard to judge. Looking through Wilder's filmography it seemed like a good idea to check out something little seen in his purple patch between 'The Producers' and 'Young Frankenstein'/'Blazing Saddles', the road less travelled so to speak. It's a fascinating and odd little film, a new experience at least in a world of endless days of unemployment. What is it trying to be? Is it right for me? Quackser's life is changing, but again it takes longer than you think.

So, soon the office will be cleared and room will have to be made for even more stuff in the parental home. There may be more washing up sponges than specks of dust soon, as befits someone with paranoia in his blood. There can never be too many washing up sponges, never.


Sunday, 20 July 2014

Charles Addams

My long holiday-written story still isn't out of the editing down stage so instead let's think about something else entirely, or rather someone else. In the annals of sketchdom there are many unique artists who found their niche in sketches for periodicals like 'The New Yorker', which seems like a publications that the interesting people could get published in then. For the record, a lot of Woody Allen's prose appeared in 'The New Yorker', and it is hilarious. Buy it if you can, if only for 'What if the impressionists were dentists?', but I do digress.

Charles Addams developed the masterwork of his the life, 'The Addams Family' over a number of years, various different characters appearing separately in macabre or mocking settings until finally being united as a unit quite late in the game. It's interesting to note that it all started with Morticia, the icon of the set, and then flowed from her. Oh, Morticia, speak French some more! Ahem, to get back to it, on many levels Charles Addams was just as impassioned about the eventual Morticia image as many of the fans of the sketches and television show seemed to be. From Morticia and her butler Lurch his opus and range of work would become concentrated around that Addams 'family' and nothing would ever be the same again.

Addams had a gift for inversion and satire, while still maintaining an absurd reality. Or perhaps his gift was for gothic slyness, but that doesn't exactly capture the essence either. The curious thing about the sketches (of those I've seen), is that this oddball and strange family seems to function. They might all be sadistic or twisted in strange ways but they do all get along. The television show made this even more blatant in its loose adaptation of the characters, amusingly making it the least dysfunctional family on television at the time and perhaps in history to date. Gomez and Morticia were the most loving and affectionate married couple to be found anywhere!

Darn, stalled again. Excuse me while I crib from 'The Addams Family: An Evilution' for a moment...

Some day, once fully exposed to the works, the man himself will become clearer. Apparently he was criticised for not being fond of children but youths feature heavily in the Addams family in positive roles. I can not claim to even barely have researched the man, but the most important facet is clear: He was funny. As someone who doesn't react well to humorous sketches in general this is almost revolutionary. It's not just a long sequence of Morticia adoration but actually a fondness for the humour on display, and the intelligence underlying it. The man becomes clearer through his works than he ever will in his death, evidently being clever, funny and individual. In the contemporary morass of muddied identities, the discovery of an individual and distinct talent it always to be appreciated. When next I make money, the books will roll in. The television show sits quite close to me, however, an adorable monument in itself but one that runs parallel to the source material. It is so close though...


Friday, 18 July 2014


When dredging about for a post to entertain oneself while putting together a triumph for the next day (hopefully) it is all too easy to fall back to rambling on about the grand mighty river of time, the five great pineapples that fell to Earth and set the world a spinning, or the real reason why people will never understand the mysteries of making fragrant rice.

Oh, if only 'Civilization IV' and a visiting sister hadn't derailed my monster one-part story for today! One of the most enjoyable aspects of the recent holiday was the outward ferry trip where I began to rough out the first of the stories from the dormant stash planned out during the HND all those years ago. Of the seventy or eighty, only two or three were ever worked on in earnest, and now seem incredibly simplistic. Stay tuned, dear readers, as either tomorrow or Sunday will see the holiday story go up as a giant trial balloon. Who knows what might come of it all?

Away from the Five Great Pineapples, today was a day dominated by apple tart making and 'Civilization IV'. Reality sure does land with a bump when you get back to 'Civilization' and 'Diddy Kong Racing' and realise just how much less effective you are so many years later. That's more true of the latter as I was always terrible at the former. Being ardently pacifistic is rather a disadvantage in 'Civilization', as you almost always end up next to Genghis Khan or wedged between Stalin and Winston Churchill. It's all meaningless in the end! The apple tarts were a return to baking after a long absence (see subtitle of blog), and were partly reminiscent of the entry entitled 'Zing'. And they seemingly went well!

Right, before getting back to the important job of sleeping for the government, it is wonderful to report how wonderful holidays are for reading time. I may not have read anything personally new, but any excuse to get to Brian Garfield's 'Hopscotch', Nicholas Meyer's 'The Seven-Per-Cent Solution' and James Blish's 'Star Trek' adaptations is always welcome. It would be nice to have a new author to read though, someone just as good, to supplement the annual event that is the Jasper Fforde release. Oh, oh, perhaps it's time to get back to his 'Nursery Crimes' novels again...

Looking back, the appeal of holidays is still somewhat perplexing. It was unshamefully wonderful to meet the people I did meet but oh the tiredness! Perhaps it's time to dig out some more iron and toughen up the sinews before the next service interruption that will be Marseille and Barcelons?


Note: All recommendations for Marseille and Barcelona gratefully accepted. Also, desserts.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Resumption in Green

And we're back.

Another holiday ends and this time the code word was 'green'. Ireland is very green, a magnificent wet emerald landscape that was only marred by my already being from a damp green part of the world! My jadedness didn't stop it being a beautiful country covered by an apparently impenetrable layer of monasteries a mile deep, of course. As might be guessed, Ireland has an extremely religious history. There are more abbeys, churches, cathedrals and the aforementioned monasteries than you could ever to stumble over in one trip. A troubled country's life told by ruins.

Also, there is a lot of potato, or at least that was my twisted and biased perception. If you go seeking potato, potato you shall find. And, and mark this carefully world, they name their roundabouts in Ireland. It's groundbreaking. I wish every country did it. Of course if roundabouts were named in Britain it would just turn into a sponsorship circus but it's a nice idea. Oh, what a busy week it was, and now it's time to settle back into reality once again.

The aftermath of holidays is a tricky time. All that expenditure of energy on people and being out and about has to be recovered somewhere and it's not easy. As a dedicated weirdo it's doubly true in this case. There could be sleep for a week if work didn't remain to be done, and blogs to be written, jobs to be applied for and even podcasts to be recorded. These are busy times, even more so than when in the throes of employment. Actually there are good times ahead in Film Bin Commentaries. The next two movies alone are 'Troll Hunter' and 'The Great Race', and more is to come!

The Quirky Muffin is now resumed. The quirkiness may be tired and half asleep but it shall awaken. Now, if only the blog can survive a relapse into 'Civilization IV' it will all be wonderful. Yes, video game season is back in business, and 'Diddy Kong Racing' has even been sighted. It's all very ominous.


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Plan to be surprised

Oh holidays, the grand journey into the unexpected. A fitting topic for my last 'Dan In Real Life' tag-line. When you go on holiday, you really do 'plan to be surprised', at least if you know what you're doing. Once you step out there into the wider world, anything can happen, and all you can do is reach out and accept it for what it is.

Plan to be surprised, expect the unexpected, or expect nothing at all and stay inside. Those are the choices presented to us by society, with nothing in between. Well, there are other ways! I would be lying if I pretended to have any theme for this post, other than closing down the Muffin for a week. It's time to go away, open the eyes bravely, and step off the world into the scenic danger of 'being somewhere else'.

So, Ireland, the green country: The land of make believe, home of the leprechauns and gold galore, the island of trails and country pursuits. Is there more to Ireland than Terry Wogan, Chief O'Brien, and a million cultural stereotypes that have been exploded over time into perceived truth in the outside world? Presumably it's not really a country of James Joyces stewing in their liquor pots, homes buried under the number of potatoes required at every meal, and hordes of people habitually dressed in green. What is it really like? I'll let you know. Whatever it is, it's bound to be surprising...

Oh, how I wish my history of holidays were happier. Somehow they always end up so stressful as to be more draining than relaxing. However, there's no more time for doubt, and departure is here!

The Quirky Muffin is hereby suspended for a week. Have a nice time, world at large!


Monday, 7 July 2014

Story: Oneiromancy, X

(Part O , IX , XI)

Helen lay in bed shivering, while a few streets away Stanley lay in bed wondering. There wasn't much else to do at two o'clock in the morning if you couldn't get back to sleep or didn't want to. They both desperately wanted to talk to one another, and wouldn't, not until their rendesvous later that day. It was all just too strange.

Stanley sat in bed and wrote down everything he remembered on the pad he had prepared for the planned 'report' the following day. Toward the end he remembered the message of the shells, and paused. When first he had seen them passively they had written "Help me", and then later when he had been awake the message had been "Run". Something else was going on beyond even what they had thought.

While Stanley analysed, Helen acted. After detailing her experiences, she pulled out the computer and went looking for what the Internet had to contribute on the matter. It was like opening a Pandora's Box of unsuspected silliness and drama, and all the more confusing as it was uncertain which of the stories were about real shared experiences instead of regular dreams. And hovering behind it all was the spectre of Jung and his collective unconscious. Did that tie in to it all?

The hours passed, and dawn approached. As is always the case, our two protagonists succumbed to light dreamless sleep about an hour before their alarm and then tumbled about their rooms rapidly in their quests to make it to work on time. Stanley's thoughts jumbled on enemies and breakfasts and mysterious strangers until he finally settled in at work, and Helen on the unknown process that was somehow at work. In between shifts at the cafe, she made some phone calls. We will come to the phone calls later.

Eventually, after some truly embarrassing moments of sleep deprivation, the two strangers met once again. Both were early at the Blue Monkey, both were crammed with nerves, and both were full of theories. They sat at the counter and didn't look at each other, much like two people both trying to not be the first to go for the food. Helen finally broke the silence.

"You know, I think we are in a lot of trouble."

Stanley nodded. They truly were.

More shall follow...

Saturday, 5 July 2014


The world abounds with conspiracies. Was the King of Rock and Roll behind the murder of JFK? Was Roswell connected to alien encounters? Is a shadowy elite out to take over the world as puppet masters of existing governments? Was tofu created as a means of pacifying the male population by hormonal control? Is the BBC hoarding massive numbers of missing 'Doctor Who' episodes? There are so many more conspiracy theories out there that I could go on for pages more!

What are we meant to believe? Personally, I have come to the conclusion that it is best to either believe none of the theories or all of them, the latter option being more entertaining. So they're all true, there is no smoke without fire (a patently false old saying), and the world is an incredibly interconnected mess of conflicting, competing and contradictory conspiracies that would make any theorist sob in joy at the levels of deceit to be unravelled. How fun.

Upon looking up conspiracy theories on the ever perfect Wikipedia - accept no substitutes and help keep it going! - the list of conspiracy theories delivered is monumental in its size. At some point upon reading through it all, a lot of the theories sadly being too serious to mock, you begin to wonder if some of them must be true just on statistical grounds. Certainly technology suppression is, with new models of various devices being held back until maximum profit has been reached on the current versions, but what else? Where do conspiracies end and begin?

<puts on 'fraudulent paranoia' hat>

Maybe the conspiracies have always been there? Wouldn't that make sense? Right from the beginnings of time itself... Yes, it all makes sense now, all the way from cottage cheese to yo-yos. The question is not what is being hidden, but what is lies and what is truth. Ha ha! Cottage cheese! Ahem.

<takes off hat as it's proving to be an incoherence promoter, and incurring a tendency to burble>

The real conspiracy that goes on all around us isn't primarily political or social, but commercial. Advertising is the conspiracy I fear the most, designed as it is to convince the people that all sorts of things are necessary that really aren't. Millions of gadgets fly all over the world that aren't actually needed purely on the basis of advertising. Gadgets which then need fixing, upgrading, replacing and so on, all of which begets more advertising. It's monstrous and manipulative beyond all belief. Less debateable than that though is the conspiracy of food. The great food conspiracy is appalling. When freezers came into being, so did a whole new industry of processed gunk which would be 'just as good' as own prepared food, so instead of people maybe buying frozen vegetables and freezing their own meals a world of awful nutrition was founded and promoted in many cases by certain institutions. In this world that has now seemingly acknowledged tobacco for what it is, ready meals are surely what have to be faced next.

Hmmm, that turned out to be more serious than I thought, probably as a consequence of having to eat far more healthily recently. Hopefully it will pass. Did you know that cottage cheese was actually designed as a primitive air-to-surface anti-tank weapon but was deemed 'too hideous for military use' by the Soviet Air Force and then pushed over into dietary use instead? You don't believe me? Conspiracy!


Friday, 4 July 2014

Story: Wordspace, XII

(Part I , XI , XIII)

Club, Mystery and Cloud surveyed the Wordspace from on high, looking for clues of what had gone on and looking for the perpetrator of such destruction. Below them was a wasteland of shattered landscape and dismembered alphabet terrain. Much of the decorations and wonders were strewn about the remaining foundations and even mighty Earth himself was nowhere to be seen. Where was Earth anyway? Even if had been unthinkably destroyed evidence would remain, but there was nothing. Where was Air too? Where had they all gone?

"I think I can sense something to the east." Muttered Cloud and slowly they moved over toward that direction. The devatation below eased as they moved onward, the foundations becoming more and more pristine away from the fixed population centre of the settlement. Suddenly Earth appeared on the horizon, with air hovering above him. Earth had drawn up a crater at his center, as if to provide a protection. Surely enough, as they crested the edge of the crater a number of survivors could be seen in the crater. They seemed rather worn and beaten down. Cloud deposited Mystery and Club within the crater and then ascended to speak with with Air, his father. Zephyr was there already, looking ragged about the edges, and Wind lurked disconsolately around the edges of Air. Of Sky and Cloud's cousins there was no sign.

The survivors of the Council of Lesser Abstracts gathered about Mystery: Deliberation, Revolution, Regulation, Wimsey and Medicine. Some more from outside the current rotation joined them, the rotation no longer seeming relevant. And then Time and Life joined them, apparently the only Greater Truths to see him arrive. Life looked so pathetic, and Time as stern as always, and both had dismissed the formalities that kept the Truths mostly aloof from all the other words. Decision and Doubt arrived, arms intertwined as they always were for the twins.

"Where on Earth have you been, Mystery? Do you know what's been going on? Do you?!" Deliberation was so far out of character as to be in the middle of a breakdown.

"I can guess. We have much to tell you. First, tell us what happened to you all, and then what happened to the cause." Mystery's calm voice of command only seemed to aggravate Deliberation who seemed to be about to lift him off his syllables until Club intervened and stood between them. Then Medicine unfolded the story in clinical abstraction:

"He came from beyond the landing site of the one we called Sorpresa. He wrought havoc, exerting massive blows against Earth himself and destroying whole precincts of the settlement. Even Earth had to retreat before his power and we thought that perhaps we were all doomed. We separated in several direction. Our group came with Earth, another group went with Sky, a third with Water and Ocean, and a final group went to guard the Zone of Gibberish. There were few casualties as far as we could tell but such fatalities would be unavoidable in a confrontation, just as they would be with the Destructives themselves."

"Our aggressor is one of the Destructives, but not one of our own." Explained Mystery mysteriously.

"This is no time for cryptic comments." Snapped Decision.

"I know. I'm just worried about the lengths we might have to go to to save ourselves. No-one living knows how we imprisoned our own Destructives after all. Except perhaps the Destructives themselves."

Now that was a sobering thought.

There shall be more...

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Fame, or something similar

For just a moment, we were almost famous at Film Bin. The crossover commentary we did with Tysto for 'Flash Gordon' crept into the top 200 podcasts on iTunes, and for a few fleeting moments there was a sense of accomplishment before I realised that it meant nothing! Oh, yes, we were receiving congratulatory rice pudding from our imaginary sponsors, but the glory faded (as did the pudding) and now we're back to normal. We remain unspoilt, as far as we know. Go ahead, iTunes, do your worst!

Every fifty posts or so - this is number three hundred and fifty - I remind myself that this blog is not for anyone's benefit really except for perhaps my own. It's a personal challenge rather than an exercise in quality control or publicity, but it is so easy to lose track of that fact. Over on Film Bin it's worse as there are more of us and it's far worse to have no feedback on a podcast than it is on a blog. We just keep on going, and try to do what's fun and interesting, and sometimes it feels really good, while other times it is extraordinarily hard. It would be nice to know if we're doing anything really bad that could be improved upon. We put it all out there for some reason, but it's not for fame or popularity so much as... hope? This needs some thought. No, I remember now that the reason for Film Bin is that I or we wanted there to be a commentary series that everyone could listen to without fear of swearing or rudeness, where we could talk about practically everything as long as we did it nicely. In short, it's a demonstration of naiveté being made real and sticking around. Again, take that podcasting world!

Away from mostly pointless introspection, the theme of this week is writing and calculation. For weeks now exploding code has been thwarting my intent to get to grips with last year's postdoctoral work, and it is still driving me mad! There has to be a way to get this to work! There must be! Research is a job where you confront your own ineffectuality on a daily if not hourly basis, and it's frustrating as anything you can imagine. Hence biscuit addicts roam the corridors of Mathematics departments seeking the light, and every success is a diamond in the rough glimmering in a bed of coal. Apart from that I've been cranking out e-mails to friends long neglected and mid-way through the week it's becoming more than a little difficult to keep writing the same things over and over, remembering who already knows what and why. At least Ireland will provide a bit more material. Ah, Ireland...

Yes, holidays loom next week, like icebergs in the mist. Ireland, the green island, home of the maddening Loon, will take it's turn in trying to break me down into having fun. Will it succeed? We'll all find out in the aftermath. There might be fun, there might be inevitable rain, or ruined castles. There will probably be potatoes and wandering in the mist looking for things to do. Oh good grief, holidays strike again! Help!

Finally, for the interest of cyclists in the Kidwelly to Pembrey area of Carmarthenshire. Please check an up to date map before committing to national cycle route 4. It doesn't lie where you think it lies, is mostly an overgrown dirt track, and it is very very annoying. I release another sigh into the wind and close.