Sunday, 31 August 2014

Film: 'Stranger Than Fiction' (2006)

Since the holiday extracts are mostly auto-biographical, I get to do a run of book and movie reviews in the alternate regular posts, which is awesome. It's lovely to be home, and to sleep and eat regularly, but it's not exactly inspiring. Returns are usually the ends of narratives after all, the denouement to a mystery or adventure. The word narrative, is the best way to segue into a fairly minimal chat about the movie 'Stranger Than Fiction', which we just recorded a fan commentary for over at Film Bin. Yes, the world has turned, and things have returned to normal. Job applications and research hover over the upcoming weeks, as do more recordings and writings on various subjects. To the point we shall go!

This is a toughie, and so as always the best place to start is to say I love 'Stranger Than Fiction'. Now, I didn't watch it for a long time because for some reason it scared me, but in preparing for it as a commentary that barrier was broken, and it is recognised for a wonder once again. It belongs in the extremely small set of movies given by 'Groundhog Day', 'The Truman Show' and 'Stranger Than Fiction', all films which act as restrained high-concept vehicles for previously wacky comedic performers, but which also have very deep souls and life-affirming properties. We couldn't think of any more examples during the commentary, so if any of you do then please let me know.

'Stranger Than Fiction', bizarrely made by the director of 'Quantum of Solace' and 'The Kite Runner', is high concept indeed. It's about an Internal Revenue Service auditor called Harold Crick, who has no life and is on autopilot, and who begins to hear a narrator describing his life as that of the lead character in her book, who is very soon to die. From there we follow Crick, a superbly restrained Will Ferrell, as he tangles with the consequences of this revelation, the ongoing narration, the advice of a literature professor played by Dustin Hoffman, and eventually his writer herself, the brilliant Emma Thompson. It's a fascinating and quirky film, and one that defies categorization. If there's anything I love, it is a narrative which defies falling into any genre. It's also funnier than you think it will be, and features Maggie Gyllenhaal (Swedish nobility) and Queen Latifah (not Swedish nobility) in supporting roles.

This is one of those films that I wouldn't want to detail the plot of in any depth as it shouldn't be spoilt. There are certainly people who will hate it, and people who will love it, unlike the universally loved 'Groundhog Day'. The visual design is striking if a little stark, and the sheer initial disconnectedness of the characters from their environment can be very offputting. It is the same disconnectedness that we see all around us, an abstraction into the media world instead of the physical world. It may not be dangerous, but it is certainly a waste of life-time. It's also a major point of the character arcs for both Crick and his author, an extremely pertinent one.

Without going into plot, one of the most interesting things about this film is that it averts the romantic comedy pretext you think is going to resolve the movie and instead ends in an intelligent moral dilemma, which doesn't resolve in the easiest possible way. Nothing in this film resolves in that easy way; It's refreshing, it is thought-provoking, and we do see Dustin Hoffman jump into a swimming pool. If that doesn't sell you, then I don't know what would without going into details. The only outstanding question that I really want to think about at length outside this entry, and will on repeated viewings, is what the story Emma Thompson's character actually is writing is about, as if it does correspond to the events of Harold's life in this film then it would be truly crazy and strange. That's the real question in retrospect.

It's fun to re-watch and re-read the good things in my library. I wonder why I stopped?


Saturday, 30 August 2014

Holiday Ramblings II: "Trains, Dives and Chicken Baguettes" (Day 2)

More holiday extracts; There were eight days in total!

When last I wrote the two-decker TGV was heading ever closer to the phantom like first timecheck that was Avignon, but that phantasmic city was still far further away than I thought. Now a day later the destination of the latest and last train is Barcelona, the first proper venue for this holiday. There are only four more hours to go! Marseille will be returned to in a few days, as will a disappointing hotel, and will be left for discourse until then.

The TGV was nice, but this AVE train from Marseille to Barcelona is far far more luxurious and less antiseptic. In a callback to my earliest plane trips they even handed out free earbuds so you could listen to the in-train movie. Yes, there was an in-train movie! It was in French though, and looked terrible. Who needs a movie when the scenery is gorgeous, anyway? While leaving Aix-en-Provence just a few moments ago, there was a marvelous aqueduct (or possibly viaduct), and the rest of the countryside is wonderfully bucolic and verdant. That's the south of France in a nutshell: Extremely pretty. It's also wildly impractical but that's another story for another writer.

Predictably the only thing not going well so far is food, the perennial bugbear of the traveller. My diet has been almost exclusively chicken baguettes and bottled water for a day and a half now and at some point the tolerance for those items will snap, especially here in France where they put mayonnaise and salad cream on seemingly everything. You're ruining food, people, ruining it! Umm, perhaps that was an extreme reaction on my part, brought on by mayonnaise fatigue. There is still one baguette waiting to be eaten, sneering in my bag, but hot food awaits in Spain when there will be no pressure on catching trains or coaches or worries about the Tube or Metro. Happy days will come again! I care about food a lot, which is why the seeming impossibility of ruining a chicken baguette is so vexing. It vexes me. The other problem with travelling is sleep, but that has always been impossible on holidays, and so is barely worth mentioning. I'll sleep at home when it's all over, probably for a week!

Part of my time travelling so far has been spent thinking about the long-term frictions between the French and English, and the best conclusion I could reach was that the two sets of body languages must be built on antagonistic foundations, and that the perceived arrogances on both sides are from some deep and mutual difference in the very way we've developed as cultures, as well as the deep history between these two countries. It's not all just 'frog legs' and clichés by the truck load surely? I say this while firmly enjoying some of those clichés, to be fair and honest. Is it possible there is a total dichotomy in how we move and react? Is this all some symptom of the sleep deficiency? Does that explain the dancing sheep in the aisle? Oh, blast you, French cinema!


Much later, it is dusk, and I sit at the foot of the steps to the Museum of Art, at the edge of the magic fountain and waiting. The performance will start in three quarters of an hour or so. Looking back it was a good day, although I'm just a bit disappointed with the accommodation again, having landed in another supposedly dubious area, although I never have gone anywhere and not been warned about pickpockets. It happens relentlessly every time I go to a city anywhere, so perhaps it's not so bad an area after all? In any case, putting that aside, there is no window so it is certainly not a great room, only a hatchway into a chimney like square in the middle of the block. You can see light if you lean out, but you also get all the noise from adjacent rooms, floors, and building. It's weird, and the hatchway doesn't lock.

My primary reason for returning to Barcelona is about to be fulfilled: The Font Magica. It's a highly complicated set of dozens of moveable water jets and lights, that are controlled and orchestrated to go to music usually, which I'll explain tomorrow. There are far more people here this time than last, again illustrating the difference that visiting in high season can make, clouding the enjoyment more than a little. The black market re-sellers of beer and water are circling and people are gathering in masses all the way up the steps to the museum itself, and down the avenue known as The Cascades. It's rather overwhelming. Thankfully the walk around Montjuic and the quest for food was relaxing beforehand, and now it's time to relax and see what happens.


Friday, 29 August 2014

Book: 'A Tale Of Two Cities' by Charles Dickens (1859)

My history with the works of Dickens is not comprehensive, essentially composed of reading 'A Tale Of Two Cities' and 'David Copperfield' in their entireties and falling out of 'The Old Curiousity Shop' and 'The Pickwick Papers' at very early stages. The lack of large scale drama, or the personal natures of the stories somehow didn't appeal. Only 'A Tale of Two Cities' so far is a classic and a book I have and will reread. 'A Tale Of Two Cities' is special without being atypical, and streamlined in ways his other books weren't.

So, it's a tale of two cities, those cities being London and Paris, both cities I have passed through very recently indeed. They look quite different now, London especially, and they form the backdrop for a novel I reread while on holiday. It's quite difficult to summarise, but an attempt must be made. We begin in the years immediately preceding the French revolution, where a victimized and imprisoned French doctor, driven beyond his wits, his rescued by his long absent daughter and a mutual friend, leading to a new life in London. Then we roll forward to the daughter falling for another French exile and marrying, a family, the revolution, and a valorous journey which puts the husband's life into certain doom at the Guillotine. Unlike a standard historical potboiler tragedy, the man is saved, and he is saved by one of the first anti-heroes in fiction and it is fascinating.

The two strands to the story of 'A Tale Of Two Cities' are the narrative around Dr Manette, his daughter Lucie and her husband Charles Darnay, and the story of Paris itself through the revolution. It's hard to know how much of it was planned carefully, but the lovingness of the family unit is directly contrasted (juxtaposed?) with the horrific barbarity of a city on fire with murder, vengeance and cruelty. If ever there was a demonstration of two wrongs not making a right, it was in the aftermath of the French revolution, a period so revolting in its causes and effects that the best parts of humanity itself were suspended.

Dickens revelled in domestic and personal stories, which were in many ways the only types widely available at the time, Wilkie Collins only inventing the full length mystery with 'The Moonstone' in (1868) and Dickens himself building the idea of a ghost story himself. Here the intertwined historical catastrophe that was France, and in the not too distant history at that point in time, with the joint destinies of Manette's family and their friends really supply two entirely different scales of storytelling. It is exceedingly strange that I should like this book, having said all that, and ultimately it has to be down to the innate genius of Dickens, the extreme stripped down nature of the book compared to his others, and the one character who stands the work on its head and makes it distinct from other examples. That character's name is Sydney Carton, the self-confessed failure, the holder of an unrequited and unfulfilled love for the Manette daughter and the man who goes to die for her husband so that the family might get away unscathed. He is the true agonized hero who comes through in the end, not only sacrificing himself for the woman he adores, but orchestrating the final plan to deliberately make that sacrifice. Is he unique in Dickens literature? Can anyone say? Certainly he is the first point of empathy for the individual estranged from humanity to a large extent, mostly by his own actions and self-loathing. Many people can connect to Carton rather than the otherwise perfect characters of the family he saves, especially in the valour of his dying moments.

Perhaps the appeal is in the scathing puncturing of both sides in the revolution? Or is there an anti-French prejudice peeking through in the narrative? It's hard to say as the revolution did more damage in that respect than any amount of novel writing could. Is it the odd Dickensian humour of Jerry Cruncher and Miss Pross? Or is it all down to the mixed scales of the narrative adding immeasurable depth to what can be conceivably be called a juvenile adventure? Is it a juvenile adventure really? Whatever it was it must have been groundbreaking at the time.


Thursday, 28 August 2014

Holiday Ramblings I: "Adventure" (Day 1)

No sabbatical goes unpunished, and so it is for any readers still hanging on! For next week or two the regular posts will be alternated with holiday extracts prepared with no little effort. You have been warned. So, today an extract, tomorrow something regular, the next day an extract and so on until eight days of travelling are done.

Ah, adventure, that thrilling sense of journeying into the unknown, into the new, and exploring things as yet unexplored. It's fun, isn't it? Yes, even despite horrific three o'clock morning starts! Well, perhaps not, as those three o'clock starts are deadly but let's move on from that, and concentrate on being able to watch the sun rise from total blackness, rendering it romantic retroactively. Sometimes the best romance is retroactive, which is why we have the term 'rose tinted goggles'.

So, to the adventure, that long overland trip to Barcelona and Marseille, which are apparently distinctly different cities on the Mediterranean. The former I've visited before, and the latter never even considered, but which forms a good stopping point for an epic overland journey. It's all about adventure, or mindblowing stress, as you crawl to London in the dark hours, then cross London, ride the rail over to Paris, cross Paris, and then ride those same rails finally down to Marseille. All in all, a fifteen hour trip, with additional four hour legs to and back from Barcelona on separate days. If anyone tells you it's mad to do this, then they're right. You're reading the ramblings of a mad person.

Later in the week we'll cover Marseille, during the proper stay there, but for now let us address the question of why to visit Barcelona. In point of fact it's not a visitation so much as a revisitation, that city being the first place I went to outside of the United Kingdom. From the heights of Montjuic to the aquarium to Park Guell it was lovely, and capped by an awesome experience at the Font Magica. All these things await, as do new and interesting experiences. Also, they serve icecream until almost midnight, for those so inclined. Hopefully this time I won't be chronically hungry and avoiding restaurants the whole time.

London is approaching finally; Dr Watson described the city best and briefly in 'A Study In Scarlet', so maybe you should read that for the more interesting prose. Instead, as we approach, I note the drab tower blocks and flat suburban sprawl, and the warm sunshine of the southeast of England. If you peek over the side of a flyover as you zoom by, however, there's always a chance of seeing something very charming and very old. Such is the curious nature of old capital cities.


Much later now, and crossing Paris was far less pleasant than crossing London, and the odd nature of France evident in the military shutdown of the Gare de Lyon for half an hour. They patrol railway stations with armed military? Eventually the super fast double decker TGV did depart and now I'm taking a break from a new story called 'The Alien Landing Centre'. Only my sister will understand that title, as she understands most things.

Here's a question: 'If an adventure goes on a long time, is it still an adventure?' Is the journey the adventure or is it the spirit of the traveller? Maybe it's both, and a healthy dose of stamina mixed in to keep it all going? The stamina is the key. Three o'clock starts, the military, multiple city crossings and an endless diet of chicken baguettes are enough to get anyone down, but yes it is still an adventure. Even if it goes without hitches it is still an adventure surely! After all, the potentially mean streets of Marseille await, in a journey that has gone from morning gloom and will end in evening gloom, to be continued in the morning to Spain.

From gloom to gloom the day did go, and from moon to moon I went alone.


Monday, 18 August 2014


Abandonware is curious, a fascinating concept that lives in the crack of rationalisation between being illegal in the real world and somehow just a little bit justifiable to those weaker of will or willing to be persuaded. The definition of abandonware is vague but in the vast majority of cases it refers to computer software that has been ignored by its owners, is still interesting or useful, is no longer supported, or has been obsoleted by the advance of computer operating systems. Masses of old computer games can be classed as abandonware, and may be found on the Internet on various distributing websites that endorse this questionable (for legal purposes) practice. Do you want to play the original 'Railroad Tycoon'? Then probably this would be the only way, in combination with an emulator program like DOSBox, which will for the purpose pretend to be an extremely old DOS system. It's actually rather neat.

A second curious thing about Abandonware is that it doesn't only apply to software, but lots of technology which has been left behind. My favourite application of this legally invalid but morally arguable idea for obtaining things is television. Say, for example, you wanted to watch 'Crazy Like A Fox', the 1980s television show. There is no legal way to obtain said show, and probably no illegal way either as it's quite obscure. Now, if the creators are not making it available and probably never will and you see an imaginary bootleg copy and want it badly, is it okay to take the bootleg as the makers have not provided a way to get it properly? The answer is no, a thousand times no, as it is theft but... The weaker part of the will does want to take that definition and shake it around a bit. 'Batman' or 'Phil Silvers' would have been better examples but they are finally being released, ruining this rather silly argument. It would be interesting to see what would happen if I did run across 'Crazy Like A Fox' though, not having seen it in thirty years. In memory it's cool.

As humans we seem to feel entitled to get things that we feel we ought to be able to get, and it's very tempting to go along with it. I have abandonware games on this computer right now - go, ridiculously obsolete 'Railroad Tycoon', go! - and am hypocritical to come down the mountain on myself but I am wrong, albeit in a way that harms no-one. Literally no-one. It's strange how so many of those old games have a much higher 'fun quotient' despite being technically far inferior. Does technical polish of necessity make things less entertaining? Contemporary movies would seem to indicate 'yes'.

Moving topic, this is likely the last Quirky Muffin for almost two weeks as I depart for a long-awaited Wednesday to Wednesday trip to Marseille and Barcelona soon. There shall be coaches and trains and maybe even boats, as well as fountains, aquaria, museums and reading by the ocean. It will be lovely and restful and stressful and ever so slightly silly. Hopefully they won't catch me until the bullion has been handed over to Curly Jo behind the No Bells Casino. You didn't read any of this. Look away, look away, there's nothing to see!

With that it is time to stop. Normal service will resume eventually. Oh, and if anyone at Sony is reading this, please bring out 'Crazy Like A Fox' on DVD. We need Rubinstein and Warden back to appreciate ludicrous 1980s television. After all, "what could possibly go wrong?"


Note: There is still time to put together a couple 'Wordspace' episodes to partially fill the interruption, but time is pressing and so they can only be threatened and not promised. There, aren't you all relieved?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Story: Wordspace, XVI

(Part I , XV , XVII)

Excerpt from the journal of Lies
"We had decided that it was too dangerous to leave the Destructives in the Zone unmonitored. Between them they had the means and power to destroy us all many times over, if they had but the unity and desire. Fortunately none of them had ever been willing to take that final mad step, it being suicidal and self-defeating in the extreme. Throughout all history the death of a Word had seen its replacement by an equivalent youngling, but all of us at once? No-one was willing to take that risk, even a Destructive, but who knew what might happen in the future?

The three of us, Truth, Mystery and I, conspired and devised a way for one of us to be placed in the Zone. Logically, Mystery or myself were the obvious choices, although the danger of uncontrolled truth was not ruled out completely. Ultimately the commonly held misconception that I spoke nothing but untruth was held to be an an advantage to our plot and an opportunity was found for me to excise my uniqueness and conceal a false attempt to break out the Destructives. Then all it took was a swift rush to judgement by a panel of the Lesser Abstracts, egged on by then chairman Righteousness, and I was exiled forevermore.

The tedious details of the journey to the Zone I might write later, excised for in a rush to get to that thrillingly terrifying moment when the Portal closed behind me and I was lost in the wild prison of all our worst inmates. To my surprise all was quiet, and none of those malcontents I had been sent to monitor and infiltrate were around. It was disappointing in the extreme! There was no option but to explore further into the prison and see what might occur.

The Zone, as I understood it, was a massive dome formed naturally from impenetrable jargon. Some of us had speculated that the Zone was not natural at all, but instead the consequence of some massive explosion or impact, but the jargon defeated all analysis. There were even theories that the Zone was the origin point for us all, a secret garden of hope in the far past, but belief in such unprovens was beyond most of our capacities.

That first day in the Zone I walked haphazardly, always moving close to the centre, but never directly. In here somewhere were War, Crime, Disorder, Chaos, Strife, Sword and all the others, and care had to be taken. For long, long hours there were no signs of life, until I discovered the camp. A number of abodes had been carefully constructed, and studded the slopes of a small indentation in the foundation. I watched from behind an outcropping as War emerged from one of the huts and slapped Chaos on the back before heading off to chat with Strife. The Destructives had made peace with one another? Were they now united?

This all required some thought, so I returned to the Portal and began the activity that gave me mental focus, and started this garden. Later I would go back and contact the residents, but then it was time to plant. Perhaps I will write about that first contact later.

For now, I rest."

End of extract.

Friday, 15 August 2014

A new experience

What a funny experience, one that was completely new. Never having had a lectureship interview, and despite it being such a temporary position, the different format of the recruitment process was quite the surprise. You have to give a presentation as well as go through the interview, and may well have to spend the day with your fellow applicants, or even two days. On other occasions that might prove to be awkward but on this occasion we all colluded. There was collusion! A conspiracy! Madness! Actually the lack of competitiveness was refreshing in the extreme, its atypicality being the most interesting part of a process that was clearly going to be unsuccessful personally from very early. Such is sometimes the way of things.

Oh, new experiences, you are to be treasured. So much of life is doing things we've done before that sometimes it becomes an endless cycle of 'déjà vu' and aimless confusion. The new experience reminds us that sometimes we get peaches instead of bicycles, and that pools can be filled with bedsheets instead of water. "It's a funny old life," as the mad weaver once said to his illusive friend, before munching on his crunchy wafer.

So, on new experiences there will be one more interruption to the Quirky Muffin in the near future, as the beloved and adored (and deluded) author takes off for the second of two week-long holidays, paid off by the nefarious earning from the last job. Yes, another holiday, a final trip! It will be an odyssey, a rail epic encompassing three countries, and specifically the cities of Marseille and Barcelona. If you see someone in loud Bermuda shorts, a dopey bucket hat, and carrying an entirely incongruous coat or backpack that will be penniless me. Please don't point me out to thieves and cheese salesmen. wonderfully, Marseille and long distance continental trains are both new experiences! Huzzah! We'll see how they compare to long distance continental coaches. The only problem with the journey is in crossing London and Paris in the same day twice, but that's potential achievement and the website called 'The Man In Seat 61' has a good guide for doing it! Hopefully I'll be able to pull off conclusion to a serial story to see the Muffin through the break, but no promises are made.

One wonderful thing about long surface journeys is the potential for reading and writing and thinking. Truly, they mostly degenerate into long periods of restlessness and passive weariness but sometimes one can get so much done! There will be more story content coming out of this holiday than out of the several weeks beforehand. It will be wonderful, and there will be a penguin themed gift of some kind. Every holiday has to have a penguin gift. Penguin gifts are automatically new experiences, and some new experiences are good. Just like penguins.


Monday, 11 August 2014

Examining the baggage

Everything we see, everything we do, and everything we experience leaves a mark on who we are. And every mark influences our reaction to those things happening or threatening to happen again. We call this massive set of conflicting impulses the 'baggage', and it's one of the hardest things to deal with. Baggage has an added connotation in that we carry it around and it slows us down. That's why we have to deal with it and put it all away. It's actually a rather crude metaphor but one which works powerfully.

Oh, baggage, why must you linger so? All this talk is pertinent as once again I must return to Nottingham, the scene of one of the longest and most gruelling doctorates that can be imagined and much accessorised trauma. It's like going back to a battlefield with only half an ego and shellshock, but it's not an unfamiliar sensation. For years every trip back to gorgeous Aberystwyth had that same sensation, due to the numerous odd incidents that occurred there. That's the nature of baggage, and only with a spell of working there did that stigma get broken, and it become lovely again.

Baggage really shouldn't be left to fester, but dealt with somehow. If baggage is equivalent to your past, then it's a past with which we need to make peace. Or wave flags at and laugh in sheer defiance! No, peace is better, but it takes time and is probably not the thing to be doing while trying to secure a job. In any case, why be so gloomy? The best way to deal with baggage, to make new grooves in the brain and get away from the old gloomy ones, is to make positive experiences in that activity or environment. So it went with Aberystwyth and so it could go with Nottingham, if the stars align correctly. Oh, you stars had better align with me getting back to Aberystwyth or Nottingham again or there shall be cosmic retribution...


Okay, that's enough, now we can put all the maudlin stuff away and move on to happier things. For instance, I began the massive 'Star Trek' original series run through and that series is still amazing. It really is, despite the occasional chauvinism and exploitation (hello android Andrea, we're talking about you), a marvel of intelligent creativity which retains that quality even in the underpowered and sabotaged third season of doom. Expect much Star Trek talk, unless the stars align cruelly and I have to work again. Oh, what horror it would be to have to work again! 'Star Trek' had quite the personal stigma attached to it for ages too. It's broken now, huzzah.

And now, until Friday, the Quirky Muffin rests as I skip an entry due to interview. Any of the numerous imaginary readers should take an aspirin and sleep through the week until I return. If successful, there will be a small column of smoke symbols and then a small silent fireworks display to indicate the sheer joy of finally getting through an interview successfully. Oh, yes, it would be the first time! Lets see if this can be the first successful interview of the whole lifetime so far.


Saturday, 9 August 2014

Notes from a game of 'Balderdash'

In the wake of a game of 'Balderdash!' - which I love as the best of party games - there is always a selection of inexplicable false definitions, initialisations, and laws for numerous topics. On this occasion, here is a vainglorious selection of my most random from the last game with the prompts removed to avoid game spoilers:

- Word: A primitive water driven lathe;
- Initials: Short Freaky Actor;
- Law: ... illegal to throw mule traders into jail without the governor's approval;
- Person: The inaugural winner of the World Endurance Origami Championship;
- Person: Sailed paper airplanes off the Eiffel Tower on its opening day;
- Word: A Finnish tragedy, usually involving a reindeer in some small way.

Oh, if only this hadn't been quite a mild game. On occasion we all elevate up into the atmosphere of the barely sane and astonish even the clouds themselves. Fear us, world! The interesting thing about 'Balderdash!' is that it is one of the few party games where you are required to be imaginative rather than descriptive. It's highly unusual in that respect, and in fact I'm having problems thinking of any others like it.

Being an apparently random person, I succeed only inconsistently in 'Balderdash!', just as in writing the story segments on the Quirky Muffin. It's amazing that some people write professionally and consistently, amazing! I hold my hat in tribute to them while muttering under my breath. This week will be an especially hard week for writing, disrupted as it is by that wonderful and unexpected interview. Even now I should really be preparing the presentation but instead a Quirky Muffin is being slowly condensed from the aether of procrastination. Hmm. Sometimes blog posts do condense from nothing, fantasies drawn from nature and prose from the ground beneath us.

Imagination; It's a curious thing. I have been slowly working my disordered way through the twelve serials of the seventh Doctor as played by Sylvester McCoy and have been wowed by the amount of imagination and competence that went into that era of the show. The very idea of a television series lasting into it's twenty-fourth, twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth seasons is alone beyond belief, but to engineer a renaissance so late? Unfathomable! While 'Star Trek' is by far the more positive and enjoyable concept in its original forms, there are eras of 'Doctor Who' where the actors and writers fit so exactly that it comes close despite being far more pessimistic. The McCoy era is one of them, and it comes right at the very end! To compensate a massive original 'Star Trek' trawl is very close at hand!

And now, the presentation can no longer be denied, or at least the sleeping in preparation for writing it properly tomorrow. Finally, after weeks of interruptions, 'Explorers' is running and relaxation is at hand. This interview trip will go well, and in the process perhaps a trip to Nottingham will allow some baggage long left untidy will be stowed in the mental lockers. Oh, 'Explorers', you're a great film! I may be regressing at an unforgivable rapidity!


Note: Apparently I picked out the idea of dream communication from 'Explorers' so I can claim much less originality on that story. However, I do similarly have no ending so the inspiration is on multiple levels!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Story: Wordspace, XV

(Part I , XIV , XVI)

The garden was amazing. The stems and roots had blossomed magnificently, with whole beds full of photo-s, helio-s, hyper-s and others blossoming amid a broad lawn of prefixes and hedged in by the suffix fences. The colours twinkled under the light refracted through the dome, the whole scene representing not so much the proverbial purple patch of prose but the multi-coloured variety of a set of haiku verses. Mystery stood mouth agape and staring at the beauty as the entrance mechanism closed behind it.

The Dome stretched away, ignored by Mystery but keenly observed by the dependable Club, who was not moved by beauty when duty intervened. Club had already observed the custodian of the garden when Mystery had barely begun to be amazed. The gardener stood quietly, marvelling at the sight of someone from outside the Zone, someone with whom it hadn't been locked up for ages.

"Boss," prompted Club, "you wanna say hello or shall I?" Mystery, perhaps reeling from the stress of the past few days, didn't answer and so Club sighed and approached the stranger. "Greetings---"

"Club, I am aware of you and your friend's natures." Interjected the gardener. "In Mystery's case I am more aware than most other words. It hasn't changed at least, still overwhelmed by things he doesn't understand or expect. Still awed by mysteries as much as loving them."

"You know him, Sir?"

"Yes. We were part of a triad. My name is Lies."

Note: For clarity's sake, Lies didn't lie all the time, for then we would be caught in paradoxes and confusions on a permanent basis. It was merely one of the few words capable of using non-truths.

Lies walked over to the shocked Mystery and touched its shoulder for a moment. "Are you ready to come back?" Mystery shook its head. "It has all been too much for now?" Mystery nodded and Lies returned its attention to Club. "It wasn't ready for all this. It has plainly been a shocking time?"

Club recognised the invitation for what it was and related their story, beginning with the funny visitor, continuing through to the interlude in the Point of Nowhere, and concluding with the advent of the invader and their quest to enlist the assistance of the Destructives. Lies steepled its digits and listened in the classical sense. Finally, it paused to think for a long time, an eternity or a few minutes.

"How do you like my garden?" Lies enquired of Club.

"It's impressive. I seem to recall talk of you having had one before your exile began." It wasn't a question. Club was hoping that Mystery would come back to them soon, and be able to deal with Lies. Club had never been told of this imprisoned word's nature, of the nature of its duplicity, or of why it had been sent here to begin with.

"Yes... When our friend rejoins us we will talk of the exile. There are things you do not know, and which very few of the outside words know of that imprisonment."

Club looked perplexed. This wasn't part of its normal role in things.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Interview Prep

Once again, the wheel has spun, and the highly improbable has occurred: I have an interview. Obviously a new troop of insane people have been found somewhere in the country and now I will have to pay the ultimate price: The jacket, shirt and tie. Oh, the discomfort! Actually jackets truly are the most uncomfortable things you can possibly wear, aberrations of the natural order of clothing and awkward in the extreme. Gosh, how I loathe them. Why can't it always be bermuda shorts and jumpers?

On a more serious note, preparing for interviews is one of the most stressful activities one can do while remaining in the land of the (barely) sane. There's just something inherently stressful about the idea of turning up somewhere and justifying oneself to strangers, a falseness in the whole concept of 'faking it til you make it' as opposed to portraying yourself totally genuinely. Yes, I know we are supposed to be ourselves on these occasions, but when is it really true? Nervousness always pushes an element of pretence at the very beginning, at least, but then it falls away. Yes, nervousness is the enemy, and always will be.

Nervousness is a creeping sensation, something disruptive and weakening. Even now, when long used to it, the stomach turns over with still more than a week to go. Preparation will only make it worse up to a point, where the main job is to set up to be a presentation about the exciting, interesting and motivating parts of my research! Yes, a work of fiction is required! Oh, that's only a joke, a lot of it can be interesting in introductory terms so it will be nice, and some kind of animation would be a barnstormer, if only I knew how in Python and had the data. That's a fun few days to fill, if you like that sort of thing.

Meanwhile, in less nerve-inducing news, the advent of 'Batman' on DVD has been augmented by the revelation that the complete 'Phil Silvers Show' will be out soon too. It's a treasure trove year for vintage comedy with two shows long unavailable outside of bootlegs finally seeing the light of day. It's remarkable that it's finally happening. Remarkable! Is it silly to be excited by vintage comedy? Perhaps, but some of what is about to be released is legendary, and deserves to be seen. Early drama may have been patterned, overly stern, and formulaic but early comedy? There is gold in them there hills! Phil Silvers is actually one of my earliest influences, back when the BBC would still pay for reruns of old shows. Any series which can produce an episode like 'Court Martial' deserves every release it can get. Now if only we could know why the last release of season one didn't sell...

I blame barbarians.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Story: Wordspace, XIV

(Part I , XIII , XV)

The Zone of Accumulated Meaningless Jargon had been there since time immemorial. No-one knew its origins and no-one could guess at its ultimate end. It simply was. Along with the Isle of Truth and Lies, and the Frontier it represented the mysterious prehistory of the Wordspace.

The Zone had strange properties all its own. The Jargon that formed its structure was unbreakable but transparent if viewed at the correct angle, which meant that the accumulated layers glittered as you approached it. Light entered the interior of the Zone by reflecting in through all the gaps between the entrapping syllables of the Jargon, and the Destructives trapped inside were doubtlessly dazzled through the hours that Light chose to shine upon the Wordspace, and doubly cocooned in gloom when Dark chose to skulk across the world. Light and Dark were so abstract that no-one had even seen them in person for centuries. Mystery wondered if they even still existed.

Within the Zone lay all the Words whose natures were so unbendingly defined by chaos and negativity that they were called the Destructives. Long, long ago a grand alliance of all the other Words - an unprecedented alliance in a period when the population hadn't been so used to peaceful existence - had forced them one by one into the Zone, beginning with the great War itself. It was inconceivable that that could ever happen again, inconceivable that it could ever have happened. Conflict was a thing of the past, a thing visited upon them now from outside their whole plane of existence.

The natural system of the Wordspace would have created successors to War and Conflict, Strife and Horror, Evil and Malice, or any of the Words imprisoned inside if they had died in their exile. Since it had not, everyone assumed that they remained in there. Over time, the population had excised far more marginal cases such as Mystery's old mentor Lies and the unfortunate martyr Misfortune, so that the Zone itself was a receptacle for more guilt now that it ever had been before.

Earth stopped at the perimeter of the Zone, which loomed above them in a vast irregular dome. Somewhere behind them was the aggressor, hopefully lost for the moment, but quite possibly pursuing at full speed. They were waiting for Zephyr to return from a subtle reconnaissance and for Decision to report on his meeting with the Zone's chief custodian Constancy. Decision returned first. "The Zone is intact, according to Constancy, and the portal has seen no activity in many weeks. In fact, the general atmosphere has been so quiet that he has begun to worry that something may have occurred in there."

"Were there any signs of the the other refugee groups?" Enquired Mystery, who was currently being treated as the provisional leader of the group, being mutable and therefore adaptable to many situations.

"He reported that they had seen Ocean passing on the horizon some days ago, leading the invader away from the Zone as best they could. Something we have emphatically not done." Decision addressed Mystery resolutely and determinedly. "What are your intentions? We must know in order to discuss at Council."

"My intention is to enter the Zone, contact the Destructives and make them our allies if they can be trusted. My intention is that we save our world before it is destroyed completely. While I am gone, you may deliberate as much as you wish, but once I return there will be no more time." Mystery spoke with equal resolution but quietly. "Do you understand?"

Decision sighed. "I had hoped you might have had a different idea." It clasped Mystery at the shoulder syllable and then straightened. "We will return at daily intervals, and devise alternative as best we can. Surely with the combined powers of Earth and Ocean and some of the other Elementals there is hope outside that offered by our warlike past."

"We can only hope." Mystery bade him farewell, and headed for the Portal and Constancy. Club followed, despite all his commands, being the stalwart companion to his core. At the portal, Constancy stood ready to activate the one-way mechanism.

"The exit mechanism has not been activated in living memory. You should think about this carefully, Mystery." Constancy was sincere in his concern.

"The exit portal remains where it was?"

"Yes. I shall be there at the appointed times, or my apprentice."

Mystery nodded. "A codephrase would be in order. 'Redundant miscellany'?"

Constancy assented and then the moment was there. He activated the mechanism and the two emissaries stepped into the now opened portal. Then the mechanism pushed them into the Zone, and into a magnificent garden.

Mystery and Club stood dumbfounded.

To be continued...

Friday, 1 August 2014

Where's the fun in that?! (REVISED)

While drafting one of these rogue Quirky Muffins, it is quite common for me to come up with two or three titles and then start them all before finally settling on one, and keeping the others open for another day. It's an essential part of the fun of it, and there should be fun in the things we do for recreation. Fun! It's easy to lose track of that in the frenzy of everyday life, and then it only pops back into the mind in odd circumstances. You can be trawling through that pile of podcasts that have been lined up for weeks, and then just throw them away from the duty of it all. It's recreation, not duty! (Recreation is a duty for some people with instabilities, but let's not get into that too much.)

For me, it all snapped back when I was writing part thirteen (oh, they do go on forever!) of 'Wordspace' and just realised how sick I was of the endless setup. Hence the mighty invader got floored by a speeding embodiment of Earth, a fast track to the Zone of Meaningless Jargon, and lo and behold, the story became interesting again! One of the problems with keeping the Quirky Muffin going is the challenge in maintaining its benefits against the onslaught of influences which can render it a 'chore'. You have got to keep the fun.

From my point of view, fun is a rare thing. If you look for it, it never comes, so the best thing to do is relax and do something different and grasp if it comes along. Is that a very naive outlook on life? It's hard to say, although it is certainly a very solitary attitude to have as it requires magnificent levels of practical spontaneity!


Gosh, this is one of the tougher entries to write after all. A few rough days and a week of non-solid sleep can really affect the creative faculties but lets go anyway. Yesterday there actually was fun in a spell of playing crazy golf in Pembrey Country Park and tomorrow there will be fun in some creative mathematical puzzle solving but is it enough? That crazy golf course is actually quite good, by the way, distinct from a lot of the other more antiquated generic ones you find dotted across the country. It also makes a satisfactory 'clang', which shall not be explained further. Oh, fun, sometimes you come with satisfactory clangs...

And with that, this abortive Quirky Muffin will begin to come to a close. The fun wasn't there in the first writing, but this revision has made it worthwhile. I was buried beneath podcast editing and note taking, and watching through DVDs for indexing purposes instead of enjoyment. I think that between cataloguing the ridiculous number of television episodes and evaluating movies for Film Bin about 90% of the entertainment has been deducted from the process of enjoying media. Someday in the far future, two or three years at least at this rate, the last episode of whatever will have its details taken and then I'll have to remember how to watch things because I might want to. It shall be strange... Oh, the grand survey has revealed one thing fairly definitively so far, and that is that television and movies and indeed books have increasingly lost that vital sense of fun over recent decades. It seeped through abundantly in the 1960s and 1980s, that joie de vivre of being involved in things bigger than themselves, and then only in exceptional cases otherwise. How's that for a massive, sweeping generalisation? Strangely my only current show that exhibits that mystic sense of fun (and barely as its last season is coming) is 'The Mentalist' and that has more murders than could be considered in any way optimistic.

Oh, 'Star Trek', bring it on! Fun, Kirk, fun!


Note: The other possible Muffins for today were 'Abandonware', 'Correspondences', and 'Why it's good to have capacious pantaloons'. Consider yourself lucky.