Thursday, 30 October 2014

Bits and pieces

In retrospect, it's probably not a good idea to talk at length about the novel 'Zorba the Greek', as it generates a lot of internal conflict. The intention had been to do the whole post on it, but what would it ultimately have been about? The novel is essentially about how someone should live his life, manly Greek love, death, and the sadnesses of thinking too much about things. It's almost sacrilegious to take it apart and write about it at length, or even to think about the way the women are treated in that historical context. Oh, ancient peoples, you and your chauvinistic tendencies, be they wrong or be they right. It is a very good and moving novel, however upsetting it might be in the short term.

'Zorba the Greek' forms the first part of a very curious double bill of entertainment as my 'The Mentalist' sixth season catchup session drove past the demise of semi-mythical series antagonist Red John, and it was very strange. For so many seasons, that primal evil person had haunted the show, and the ultimate reveal of his identity proved to be a problem. It was always going to be a problem, as that killer of Patrick Jane's family had been built up to some kind of mystical power thanks to all his achievements, already been putatively killed at the end of the third season, and his ultimate end just seemed a letdown. They did employ the only known method for dealing with such letdowns though: If the box you're going to open is going to have a disappointing content, then stick it inside another more satisfying box and open that one very quickly! It was all worth it, though, as seeing the tortured Jane free of his demons for the first time in the next episode was a grand, grand experience. I've been a nut for this series, and have no idea why.

That double bill essentially formed the backdrop for an interview trip with an unsatisfying end. Another interview passes down the stream, and slightly more desperation builds up in the demented mind of this author. Truly, it was under-prepared for and now the next ones are going to be much harder. That's the life of an academic, although I might not be one for much longer. Odd though it may sound, academia may just be not difficult enough. Where's the challenge after all? And how to avoid the innumerable biscuits? With one more scheduled interview to go, in Loughborough, it's time to review everything that's happened - yes, including the llama incident, which no-one ever lets me forget - and come to some conclusion that makes sense.

Golly, it has been ages since anything made sense, I wonder if that means anything? Of course it would be very easy to jump far too far in the wrong direction as a reaction to a perceived failure, but on the other hand the best way to commit well-intentioned acts of folly is with complete spontaneity and good will.

To the land of folly! Let there be plenty of honey and big hats!


Tuesday, 28 October 2014


Now, that was a very strange few days, a veritable odyssey into the known. Interview trips are always a little like that, especially as I've already visited so many places in Britain at this point. Now, in the aftermath of the trip, it's time to sit back and relax and try to not worry about the consequences of either success or failure. Yes, success can have very scary consequences, as it normally brings change with it. That's why many people try not to succeed, as they're scared of things not being the same. This is what you learn in any kind of counselling, as well as how to indulge in double-speak and waste time talking about the weather.

So, in this case success would involve quickly moving to a distant town, jumping into new teaching duties fairly soon, and doing all the settling in things that get on everyone's nerves, saving lots of money, and trying your best in a short-term position which includes both the lengthy Christmas and Easter vacations. Short-term positions can actually leave you feeling pretty sleazy, as being paid for Christmas and Easter is a massive piece of inadvertent exploitation on your own part. You are in reality being paid a moderately large amount of money for watching television and reading novels for a month, barring unexpected faculty duties or actual dedication to your research. Very sleazy indeed.

A lot of people need to be trained into accepting the possibility of success, instead of turning away from it. When we eventually get to the 'The West Wing' and its second season finale 'Two Cathedrals', this theme will rear its terrible head again. If the rationale for not doing something is that it would be too hard, then how does that affect you and is it a good reason? And how do you tell the difference between something you genuinely don't want to do and something you're very afraid of doing? It's complicated out there in the monumental forests of the soul, and there aren't phantom owls or secretaries to light the way.

Philosophy can crawl all over you on long train journeys with only one or two books to keep you company. On this occasion 'Zorba the Greek' was finally finished and can be reported as definitely troubling. There will be a post about it, but the main thrust of the admittedly excellent novel is all about life, death and conquering your own fears, and it must be troubling indeed for all the timid people out there in the world and right here at this keyboard. It's only troubling, though, and not downright distressing as 'The Glass Bead Game' was. Gadzooks, that novel needed to come with a mental stability warning, and a big 'do not panic' sticker on the final page. It will take a few days for all this philosophy to wear off and for things to get back to normal, unless of course success renders a new and highly disruptive normal.

Success is scary but often necessary, but sadly doesn't often come with a complimentary blanket. Darn.


Sunday, 26 October 2014

Story: Wordspace, XX

(Part I , XIX , XXI)

Mystery's path was set. It led his band of exiles to the exit of the Zone of Meaningless Jargon, they carrying essential supplies like tea and word stems, and it hoping that one of the guardians remained alive to release them on time. For now, War and its cohort were following Mystery, but how would it work once they reached the outside? Club walked dutifully to its left, and Lies to its right, as they toiled around the inside perimeter of the dome.

The exiles were twenty or thirty in number, a few missing despite their long imprisonment and now release. There had apparently been no in-fighting, no chaos, and no giving up in the long years inside. The group reached the exit portal, a blocked off arched opening in the wall of the dome, and set up camp as the rendesvous with the guardian was still some hours away.

War approached Mystery, and took it away to an alcove in the wall, the latter not able to resist its persistent apprehension. The historical belligerent looked it in the eye, seemingly making as assessment. Mystery broke first. "Something's bothering you, isn't it?"

War's voice rumbled when it was thinking hard. "We have been in here a long, long time. Imprisoned for reasons not straightforward and not entirely honest. Some of us here have lost contact with the cores of our meanings, and some we have ourselves imprisoned. If you look amongst you will see not the likes of Hate and Malice. They will have the run of the Zone once they free themselves." War waved a tea bag in the air thoughtfully. "I worry not about this Armageddon who has come from the outside; We shall deal with it. I worry about the Words who put us in this luxurious cage, and what they might do after the Wordspace is saved."

"And you worry about Change."

"We all worry about Change. It was always the worst and the best of the words." A sudden shift. "Tell me, how is my old friend Peace?" War chuckled.

"Peace is just as insufferably dull as he has always been! He seems to adhere to his meaning far more than you do."

"We all conform to our meanings, but in ways with which we are comfortable. I have never prosecuted war for no reason, but Peace in most consistent in its own agenda. Conflict does like to argue senselessly, but I think it's relationship with Consensus drove it out of its mind a little. As you may have noticed, the Destructives are proponents of change and our opposite numbers preservers of the status quo. That makes them somewhat stuffy at times."

"Yes... They do tend to be a bit frustrating at times for those of us in the middle ground... Will they try to put you away again?"

"Perhaps." War nodded its syllables.

"Then we had best prepare for that eventuality. It's not long until they open the portal."

War and Mystery held a summit.

To be continued...

Friday, 24 October 2014

Joie de vivre

Let's be joyous. Why not, after all? The human brain may be trained to nitpick and see the worst in everything but that doesn't mean we have to let it get its way. Let's be merry instead, and embrace the great joy of life! Sometimes it's normal to be happy, but don't spread it around and worry the other humans as they might not be able to handle it. They'll think you're high on carrot cake and call an ambulance.

Oh, it would be nice to be truly that happy. It has happened on occasion, with small epiphanies here and there. There has been some singing in the rain while walking down Penglais Hill, or fantastic bursts of clarity while staring out from Constitution Hill to the sea or at the Beeston weir. There are even good reasons to be happy now, with an interview to come on Tuesday and progress being made in swimming, but somehow the moments don't quite come. It's the curse of the seasonal gloom, as darkness creeps in ever earlier. However, the good news is that we get back to real time this weekend, as the dreaded British Summer Time finally goes away. Real time, oh joy!

Oh, British Summer Time, I had finally forgotten you and stopped remembering two times simultaneously all the time, and now you're gone. I hope you're abolished before next time. On Sunday, we will go swimming on regular time and I won't be out of synch with everyone else any more. Yippee! It's lovely to finally be making progress with front crawl and breathing. Absolutely lovely. It's not as happy as euphoria, but still rather nice. It's also nice to put up fliers advertising 'Oliver Bain, PhD, Mathematician At Large', but perhaps in more of a skewed sense of enjoyment.

There are now only four episodes of 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' left before the end is reached, and a sense of loss is looming in the distance. It has been a wonderful ride and this fourth season was far better than expected. Oh, cheap and silly show, you have been uplifting. The latest episode featured Frostmen trying to steal the Seaview's reactor to power their spaceship, and it was of course daft. Daft is not necessarily a bad thing. Coming soon on DVD: 'Batman'. It's brilliant that it's finally coming. Joyful, in fact.

Holy Sea Sponges, Batman!


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Film: 'The Philadelphia Story' (1940)

What began with 'Bringing Up Baby' ends here, with the diversions into 'Holiday' and 'Woman Of The Year' mere figments of a fancy. 'Box office poison' became a thing of the past as Hepburn engineered her own redemption via the most scathing of self-lampooning. It was already old news for her, in a way, having starred in the play during her cinematic exile. Buying up all the rights, getting Cary Grant and director George Cukor on board, she redeemed her career by the greatest strength of will and engineering. If only a lot more screwball comedies had followed!

'The Philadelphia Story' is on a superficial level just a comedy of class and relationships, albeit one enlivened by the presence of not just Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, but also Jimmy Stewart in one of his numerous breakout roles. Jimmy Stewart broke out so many times, without ever sliding back into any sort of oblivion. The man was a phenomenon. In actuality, this is a film rich in metatextuality, as it explores the inherent contradictions in the life of the icily cold, rich socialite Tracy Lord as she prepares to marry and engage in the life of love. Can she manage love, is her coldness a permanent state, will anyone love her rather than worship her, and what does it mean that in the days before her wedding both her first husband and a visiting journalist become intimately involved in her life?

Putting the metatextuality of Lord/Hepburn parallels aside, noting only that she effectively deconstructs her whole screen persona in this role and then rebuilds it just so that everyone can see it anew and different, this film is a fascinating screwball/romantic comedy. Screwball because the culture clash between Hepburn's Tracy Lord and Stewart's Mike Connor is iconic as the cinematic toff butts heads with the iconic everyman, and sparks as it couldn't with any other combination of actors, and romantic as Tracy is all set to marry the wrong man until Grant's suave and unbearably right Dexter Haven comes back to throw a spanner in the works. I spoke prematurely, as 'Holiday' may have been a diversion for the blog, but it was the greatest practice run for this monument to small-scale audacity. It's truly remarkable that 'The Philadelphia Story' isn't spoken about all the time, rendering as it does almost every other romantic comedy completely redundant.

Of course there are flaws, which I shall gloss over thanks to the licence I inherit as web-logger in residence, but they are mainly represented by the somewhat clunky exposition and setup of Tracy's family, who are never outright weak but also never strong presences. To be fair, who could be when they're sharing a film with Those Three? Ruth Hussey does well as Jimmy Stewart's attendant photographer and would-be love interest though. A second flaw would be the fairly obvious 'wrong man' aspects of Tracy's fiance George, who never at any point is a credible husband, even before the advents of Grant or Stewart's characters. Thinking about Jimmy Stewart, he takes the second lead outright while Cary Grant really doesn't get much to do, and if memory serves did it partly as a favour and got top billing as part of the bargain. Stewart excels as Mike's character arc directly mirrors Hepburn's. While Tracy Lord struggles to get down from her pedestal and become part of love, Connor is struggling to get out from under his pile of both class prejudices and artistic scruples. Their very odd relationship underpins the whole film, revolving around the Lords' swimming pool.

There's not much else to say without spoiling the whole thing, and it shouldn't be spoiled. It's the ultimate romantic comedy with screwball included for no extra price. There's dialogue to spare, and the staginess of the adaptation and production is eclipsed totally by the star power of Those Three. Can you really not check out the unique pairing of Cary Grant and James Stewart? Even if you don't like Katherine Hepburn? You'd be mad.

Here endeth Hepburn mini-season. 'His Girl Friday' will follow, to close the Cary Grant / Howard Hawks double also begun by 'Bringing Up Baby'.


Monday, 20 October 2014

The Balancing Act

Buckle up, as it's going to be a rough ride. Over the next week I have to prepare for a suddenly sprung interview in Portsmouth, apply for several jobs, stare blankly at the walls, resist finally watching the newly released DVDs of the sixth season of 'The Mentalist', incorporate the finally returned comments into my paper, punch out some three dimensional calculations, and remain sane in the process.

'Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House' is playing as I write, and it proving to be mildly entertaining in its comedy, but not particularly noteworthy. Cary Grant is as good as always, of course, but not much is really happening. It's all a bit bland. At least it's alleviating the nerves a little. Isn't life wonderful in its seemingly random piles of events, slapping down from on high after weeks of dullness and boredom? It can not possibly be any stranger.

Gosh, another interview, how to get through yet another interview and succeed this time?! It's possible, it must be possible. It has to be possible to get through this post too, even though I am so deeply sleepy as to be barely coherent at all. Still, what could possibly go wrong? Words, words, words, don't fail us all now. No, nothing's happening, not even a joke. It's probably partly the effect of trying to condense the first phase of 'Triangles' into a single piece.

Hmmm, this new world of global health crises and madnesses, it's got its own balancing act to keep going, and we're the ones set to fall off it goes wrong. Let's hope it keeps going for a while longer.


Note: Now only five episodes of 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' left to watch. Today's was 'Savage Jungle', and it was rather amazing in its sheer idiotic creativity. The submarine Seaview was overtaken by jungle and invaded by guerrilla aliens. How bizarre and fascinating it was. Being the 'dumb science-fiction show' really does let the writers have liberty in many crazy ways. A submarine overtaken by jungle! Amazing!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Film: 'Woman of the Year' (1942)

My Katherine Hepburn mini-season has come to this, a spectacular personal fail. It shouldn't be true, as this is the movie that paired Hepburn with her long-time love Spencer Tracy for the first time, but it just doesn't work when compared to the other three movies I've been considering: 'Bringing Up Baby', 'Holiday' and 'The Philadelphia Story'. All of those play with the Hepburn persona and contradiction well, but this is a heavy-handed mess, and one which is just too scared of the problem it's trying to address. Also, It's too far to the dramatic end of the comedy drama spectrum to really fit into the movies I find interesting and to make its point lightly and effectively.

Digging into the story: 'Woman of the Year' is about the high flying and influential journalist Tess Harding, as played by Hepburn, and the rougher-hewn sports reporter and biographer Sam Craig, as personified by Tracy, and their rapidly matured relationship and marriage. That marriage is quickly threatened by the inability of Tess to give up her fast-living and important lifestyle to be a wife, and Sam's similar inability to understand how to deal with such a woman who spends her life dealing with ambassadors, refugees and statesmen galore. It's a frustrating story, as it almost brings Tess to the point of abandoning everything to be a housewife or to lose her marriage, before Sam brings her to an understanding of the existence of some half-way compromise in the last half-minute of the film. The problem is that it's not clear that Sam himself is compromising at all, or that he would have helped her in any way, or even left her in a confused and crippled state of mind for the rest of her life if they hadn't reconciled. No number of comedic popping toasters or interesting characters can fix that, and for that reason, I just can't like 'Woman of the Year', although there are some interesting aspects.

One of the great things about the movie is the radiant love affair between the two leads. If there has ever been screen chemistry then these two had it. It's easy to believe they would spend the rest of their paired lifetime together, even under the burden of Tracy's alcoholism! As a consequence their rapid courting, engagement, and marriage works perfectly, as it would in a light romantic comedy. That marriage is the point, however, at which the drama kicks in and it all becomes tricky. In this contemporary world of equality and feminism it seems strange, and then if you put yourself back into their time period it seems particularly ham-fisted, with only a few brief seconds at the end where you wonder that maybe the film had the best interests of Tess at heart the whole time but had no intention of showing it for even a moment longer than was absolutely necessary. Could those two actually function together at all? Could Tess go through with it and not be stifled to the point of heartbreak?

Is it possible that I have missed some incredibly obvious point, or that a tonal shift eluded me? When a movie is in the company of 'The Philadelphia Story' it has to be incredibly good or die in the comparison, and this one doesn't do well. At least Hepburn and Tracy were both good, and the supporting cast solid. The direction can be mixed in with the confused motivation of the movie but was good in at least the execution of the story. Was it perhaps a landmark at the time? It made it into the American Film Registry so it must have broken some ground. Hence the value of 'Woman of the Year' may not have been in being a great movie itself, but in breaking enough ground for other movies to go further and do more interesting and less contradictory things. That's probably enough.

Next, and finally: 'The Philadelphia Story'!


Thursday, 16 October 2014


In the light of a fairly successful diversion around the narrative block of 'The Glove', and a much welcome haircut, it's time to bask in the ever so welcome feeling of being free and a bit tired. Tired? Well, I made a deal with myself that every time I went to the job centre to sign the accursed piece of paper I would cycle to town and back instead of getting the bus. It's a beautiful idea, and there's a cycle track at the top of the hill to get me there, but it has one horrible disadvantage: The trip back is uphill all the way, sometimes cruelly so. That's doubly terrible when you're hauling groceries! As a result of that uphill return leg, you get the welcome tiredness, and as a result of the haircut a sense of freedom. It's a potent mix, like coal and herring.

Tonight, to plug the other endeavour, we're recording a fan commentary for Disney's 'Hunchback of Notre Dame'. In all likelihood, that movie will get its own entry here on 'The Quirky Muffin', but let us say for now that it provides a lot of scope for conversation, much more than my following choice of 'Condorman' in a few fortnights. Oh, 'Condorman', you're great but my sister is already complaining about you...

The landmark event of the week should have been getting the feedback for the required revisions to the mythical paper submitted in May, which is good, but in actuality it's the landmark of nearing the end of 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea', which is a ridiculous accomplishment. Ridiculous! In a week or so I'll attempt a massive 'Voyage' versus 'Star Trek' debate followed by a grand re-evaluation of this much-maligned and frequently daft and budget-starved show. So far, with only seven episodes left, the show has entered into the latest of the budgetary crunches that plagued its later seasons. We're seeing the big-eyed monster again, huzzah, for that old stock footage feeling! It's weird how it would ever be so acceptable for a show to so many sequences where the interiors are never matching the motion, position, or even sense of what's happening outside, but apparently that's how the 1960s worked.

The clock is ticking down toward recording time, and so this Quirky Muffin will have to be put to some kind of bed. The strange days continue but at least the burden of needing a haircut is gone, and now some creativity is seeping in to relieve the depravity for a while. In a post that is surely going to seem television references heavy, it's also nice to think that 'The Mentalist' season six DVDs will finally come out on Monday. It's been a long wait to see what happens, excepting the fact that I read all about it on ReviewBrain's blog, which focuses heavily on 'The Mentalist' when it's airing. Hence there will be no surprises at all except for everything I've forgotten. Blast!

That's a wrap! The four hundreds are going pretty well so far...


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Story: The Glove, IX [Obsoleted]

(Part I , VIII , X )

A mild and soft relaunch.

Steffan sat cross-legged in the woods and wondered where it had gone wrong. Somehow his path had become muddled and lost. He had learnt and practised for so long to be a piper, the bards of the moon of Troos, and then succeeded to a level he could not have even predicted, offered the rank of Master in the Guild, but something had swayed his hand from accepting it.

He lay back on the ground in his cloak and stared up at the blue skies to be seen through the small gaps in the tree tops. Was it all that likely that someone could be promoted so high so quickly on the basis of their Rite of Passage? Was it possible that it could have happened to him? It seemed so long ago now, as did the interview with Octavius himself, the Laird of Burgh. Octavius had wanted him to act as an investigator in the scientific capital of Edin, the other grand metropolis of their peaceful moon. Due to strained relations? And vanishing pipers?

The worrying thing was that from all he had seen the Pipers weren't so much entertainers and bards, as they were spies and agents. He had known they acted as couriers at times, and that the senior members were inevitably involved in some of the moon's politics but nothing of the Guild's second role, which was tantamount to being a secret police. Members of that secret police were being picked off, on a world where crime was almost forgotten. What was the need for a secret police on a world where crime was a rarity, a freak event? And would he get over how scary that might be?

Why was it that the Pipers did what they actually did? He would have known if he had accepted the job, but would he have gotten out again with his soul intact? He, confused, had instead said no, and then vanished. Vanishing why? To find something out, although he know not what. Tramping the roads of Troos, and heading inevitably toward the bustling and unknown to him Edin, he had thought deeply about his choices past, present and future, and he had slept a lot. The walking did him good, and although he had seen much of the countryside, no experience of any great mystery presented itself, although the omnipresent network of travelling bards was never far away. The moon was seemingly perfectly ordered, and at peace, even in the metropolis of Edin that he had finally reached a week before.

If the moon was in order, however, then how came there to be armed security forces in the village he had just left? And a dissident for them to shoot down in battle? What on Earth (it was a traditional saying for the colonists still) was there to rebel against?! The sounds of bullets ricocheted around his mentality, and the sights best left unseen hovered over his inner vision. Soon he would have to go back to his lodgings.

Getting up off the grass, Steffan wandered up and down a little as the light dimmed, and walked around the periphery of the village to the monorail stop. He palmed the sensor to tell the next train someone was waiting and stared blankly down the track. In one direction lay Burgh, capital of the arts, and in the other Edin, capital of the sciences. Between them was a demarcation, a profound one, a traditional one, and something that had persisted for centuries. Children and relatives moving from one side of the moon to the other depending on their talents, or families moving out into the countryside should they not care either way. It suddenly all seemed rather unnatural.

How did it all stay so separate?

To be carried further...

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Haircuts and a lack of suspects AKA Fuzzy headed blues

How on Earth to people live with long hair? I've never understood. Yes, women look extremely pretty with long hair, but I get incredibly fuzzy headed with much more than an inch of length standing up from the scalp. It's madness! Or is it possible that not everyone gets fuzzy minded? Now, that's a strange thought. Am I the strange one or am I the normal one in a world of oddities? Hard to tell, and in any case it's a flawed question, as we're all different and equally strange and normal. Except for writers of course, they're all madder than badgers in a wind tunnel.

Please don't put badgers in wind tunnels. That was only an illustration. Badgers do not deserve such torture. No-one does, not even weather forecasters or people who drive flashy cars with the music blaring. It's lucky that today is not a moaning day.

You know it's a fuzzy headed day when you spend an entire game of 'Mystery of the Abbey' (mentally substitute 'Cluedo' in if that helps) without having taken the murderer card out of the deck and put it in the secret folder, and without anyone realising that we're eliminating everyone extremely methodically. Oh, what fuzzy headed fun!

Oh, relatively long-ish hair, blast. How to deal with this mass for the last few days until slogging into town once again. It's as if a small gloomy cloud is being carried around with me, one that can be definitely felt to be moving in the breeze. My once-girlfriend liked the ginger locks, but she was mad. They drive me insane, personally. They might not still be ginger. It's hard to tell. Oh, a haircut can't come soon enough. Some people must just have more patience for these things, patience that in my own case has to be saved up for writing very long manuscripts and performing long and extremely boring computations, increasingly in three dimensions and ending badly, while looking for jobs in a faulty economy and with a lacklustre academic record.

An academic record is effectively a list of publications, and not the contents of all your lectures orchestrated and performed with the Vienna Symphony, sad though this omission might be. The next time I get a lecturing job I will try to rectify this startling omission. Do you think probability would be best taught to Strauss or Glinka? Oh, really, Shostakovich? Are you sure you're not out of your mind? Really? Interesting answer...

Yes, when you start talking to yourself in a blog entry, it is definitely time to stop and topple into sleep.


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Film: 'Holiday' (1938)

Despite writing so fervently about 'Bringing Up Baby' and the Katherine Hepburn career blip, it is certainly best to think about 'Holiday' in an isolated way. Again, it's Cary Grant and Hepburn, but this time it's a different beast entirely. This time the movie is directed by George Cukor, of the 'The Philadelphia Story', and romance is the order of the day as Grant is all set to marry the wrong sister in a rich elitist family of money makers extraordinaire. The wrong sister wears terrible hats, that's how you can tell, that and the fact she's not Katherine Hepburn. To be fair, Hepburn wears a terrible hat too, so it might be hard for Grant to choose inside the narrative.

So far so normal for a romantic comedy, but again we're dealing with what is nominally a classic screwball comedy, and those are another kind of beast entirely. Screwball comedies are often about culture clashes, and it becomes clear that Grant's Johnny Chase is a man of the people but his chosen fiancée is really a woman of the old money, while her siblings are trapped by it. Will Chase be caged and trapped or will he come to his senses before the end and escape with Hepburn's Linda? The core of the movie is the banter between Grant and Hepburn, who rapidly build up a remarkable chemistry, probably honed from their previous collaboration 'Sylvia Scarlett', again a movie by Cukor.

'The Philadelphia Story' is a film metatextually about rebuilding a career, but 'Holiday' is far more straightforward. The dialogue is snappy, and the supporting cast wonderful, with the only flaw being that you don't really understand why Chase would fall for the ultimately stuck-up and conventional Julia, who willingly conspires with her father to crush her sister and brother on occasion. The cultural conflict is really between people enhanced by wealth and those crushed by it, with Chase the fly to be potentially ensnared, and Linda the prisoner slowly withering away. Yes, that might be a tone of melancholy but it's one cancelled out by the grand halfway party amongst the good free guys.

I was going to write about how 'Holiday' is ultimately just a regular romantic comedy in the end, but then something happens in the final third as Grant absents himself from the narrative completely, after discovering the grand truths about the two sisters, and the film falls upon Hepburn's shoulders. Hepburn, the only actress around who could carry a movie entirely if she wanted, and it transforms into an entirely different kind of melodrama. No it's not a comedy, it's more of a drama, but it works anyway. And then at the end, a forward roll fixes everything. How strange!

So, as 'The Philadelphia Story' looms next on our list, it's time to wrap up. We have one more film of Hepburn and Grant, and then the inaugural 'Woman of the Year', the first Hepburn and Tracy vehicle. It's time to move on, but not by forgetting all those moments and banter, and by hoping Ned escaped too post-movie. Oh, Ned, did you make it out?!


Note: Wherever I write forward roll or barrel roll, I really mean a forward or backward flip. It was a long day!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

'Four Hundred', or masses of macaroni

Four hundred posts, here at the Quirky Muffin, which is itself built over the old site of the Mighty Clomp. It seems like the most ridiculous of numbers, a ludicrous set of self-indulgent rambles through items both interesting and utterly banal. Along the way there have been long and repeated mutterings about my own wanderings, some personal things which should have been suppressed for breaking the code of the blog, lots of chatter about movies and novels and television, and the stories. The stories have allowed it to go on, adding longevity to what would otherwise become a massive burden. Enough about the number four hundred though, as it's time to push on!

(If you're interested, 400 has the prime factorisation 2x2x2x2x5x5, which is kind of sweet.)

In a recent trawl through the Phrontistery (a very cool website) the obscure definition of 'macaroni' figuratively popped out of the screen onto the addled eyes

macaroni: nonsense; foolishness,

with its associated adjective

macaronic: muddled or mixed-up.

Now, do you think there was any way that 'macaronic' wouldn't jump hilariously to the top of my nonsense adjectives? Much as 'paranym' is an awesome alternative to 'euphemism', 'macaroni' is a great and confusing term for the great recurring theme of nonsense in the world. In essence this whole Quirky Muffin has been a macaronic mass. Oh, Phontistery, thank you. You've proven your worth once again! It is a lovely website, a haven for the lexically curious.

Another good word is

kenophobia: the fear of empty space,

which I misuse as a pseudonym for the barrier of the empty page that plagues us all at frequent intervals, the scourge that is writers block by any other name. The horror that stalks the would-be writer and has made this endeavour critically difficult on any number of occasions. Note the distinction from agoraphobia, which is concerned with open spaces. Actually, I have a bit of an agorophobia problem myself, in that fairly common respect of going into a small and hazy panic under a grand and cloudless blue sky, where we're faced with the infinite itself. Or is that kenophobia instead? It's an empty infinite space after all? Only an expert could tell.

It's only fitting that the four hundredth end up being concerned with one of the forms of the first few Muffins: the curious word discovery. There will probably be more for as long as this goes on. The future is uncertain but there are still a few small things to talk about.


Note: To spite my forebodings and premonitions I have finally broken into watching Jon Pertwee's last series of 'Doctor Who'. More on this soon. I miss him.

Note: If I've mentioned 'macaronic' before, please accept this virtual elephant as recompense for wasted time. Of course it's not a real offer, but the intent is there.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Strange Days

It's time for the frequently recurring post of random events, that entry where I struggle with the mathematical mind to produce something of even tangential worth. As ever the words emerge reluctantly, as if being coaxed from the primordial ooze, and everything's just a little bit fuzzy. Is it going to be any good?

October has sprung its trap once again and the cold snap of Winter is here, along with the gloom of short days and the worries of unemployment. The transition is always a sudden one, as the storms shriek for the first time and rain pours through the night. Sleep is becoming more and more extended as seasonal depression beats in, and it's time to get out there in the middle of the day and make every advantage from the existing sunlight that one can. Oh, for a boomerang, to fling out into the green!

Strange days of nerves and twine, as the dog goes in for surgery and tutoring comes into line. Tomorrow I break into my tutoring career in style, but will it go well, or will nerves get the best of me? And what does it all mean for future work? It's tough to do these things when your confidence has been shaken. The world of the practising mathematician is a long way away from an undergraduate degree of moderate success. Job hunting, academia and the personal aspect can ruin an ego if they all go badly! Where are the remedial affairs to lift one's spirits?

Humm, this is all far too self-indulgent. BBC Radio 4's 'The Adventure of Silver Blaze' is playing now to soothe away the chill of the night, and it's all becoming a little rosier. It's a rare moment of familiarity in the last few months that have seen very little re-reading, re-viewing and re-listening; It has all been new, including my current reading matter of 'Zorba the Greek'. 'Zorba' is a challenge, despite the excellent prose in the translation; an evocation of a far gone lifestyle in a far away Mediterranean landscape, twice removed from anything ever experienced here in the wilds of Northern Europe. Its challenge is in the assumptions it makes and those of the reader, and of the comparative simplicities of affairs long long ago. It will be a Quirky Muffin should I ever finish it, if only for the dancing. A happy ending, please, that's all I ask.

Another challenge awaits tomorrow, and it's time to bed down. Oh, tutoring's not hard, right?


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Film: 'Bringing Up Baby' (1938)

It's a cult classic. It's divisive. Katherine Hepburn can seriously annoy many people with her dippy performance. The dialogue comes so quickly that it might as well come with a health warning and an ear trumpet. There are two, count them, two different leopards in Connecticut in the narrative! On top of all those things, I of course love it. That's 'Bringing Up Baby'.

There's not much time to think whilst watching 'Bringing Up Baby'; It's a screwball comedy with added screw, and the word is they had already used up two previous balls in preparation. It's Howard Hawks at his most frenzied directorial pace, and it works. It's the story of Cary Grant playing a geeky paleontologist who crosses paths with the eccentric heiress played by Katherine Hepburn, who happens to be minding a tame leopard in her apartment until it can be delivered to her aunt. Inevitably they end up in some form of love by the frenzied end, via canine thefts of brontosaurus bones, a police station farce, and numerous clothing gaffes!

There are many things to love about this film, but there's also the enduring enigma of Katherine Hepburn's virtual lynching in the aftermath. She was dropped like a poisoned hot potato in the Arctic Circle, and left to rot, which is a shame as she proves her range beautifully by playing a scatterbrained twit wonderfully. She and Cary Grant just popped as a screen couple, as they already had in 'Holiday' and would again in 'The Philadelphia Story'. They might have made many more, if not for the Spencer Tracy / Hepburn combo that would dominate her following career.

Now, you see, I've digressed from 'Bringing Up Baby' to the second hand specifics of Katherine Hepburn culled from various nefarious sources, which is rather alarming. I'm reasonably sure that there should be a servant around here to stop such digressions, except it's not the 1920s anymore and I had to sell off Bates to get the gyrocopter out of hock. Sigh. We'll get back to Katherine Hepburn and her own rebuilding of her career in 'The Philadelphia Story'. That was one forceful lady.

'Bringing Up Baby' is wickedly funny if you can keep up, and oddly endearing. The ease with which Hawks introduces all the elements and then dispenses with the boring prerequisites so quickly is alarmingly good. He knows how to play fast and clever dialogue - something I miss very much in contemporary cinema - to the hilt and then slip in some more jokes for second and third viewings seemingly effortlessly. It's true that in Cary Grant and Hepburn he couldn't have found any smarter cast to act as accomplices but he gets the main share of the credit, as do of course the writers.

Ultimately, though, it's all Hepburn. She breaks it or makes it. Maybe it was the higher-pitched voice she was squeaking through the whole thing that alarmed people? It's a great comedy, and I can't think of any other which finales in a recreated dinosaur skeleton tumbling into disarray. Can you?


Notes: Must watch 'Woman of the Year', and also follow up with 'The Philadelphia Story' and 'His Girl Friday', finishing with 'Holiday'.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Baggage Lost

I miss my boomerang. It was nice, and plastic, and yellow. It's true that it had never successfully returned yet, but it might have. It vanished into the cricket nets at the beginning of the week and was never seen again. Rest in peace, yellow boomerang; Your replacements didn't do well, being unaware as I was as of their decorative and non-returning nature and they were of course useless. Oh, fie to the very idea of non-returning boomerangs! What nonsense it is. Being unemployed is tough enough without the idea of duplicitous projectiles. Oh, at some point I will have to dump this baggage of boomerangs and mental instability, or double down and go all the way to the extreme. You can get rid of baggage if you need to, but remember it is sad as well as freeing to watch parts of your past float back into river and away, and then walk away to the rest of your life.

The Quirky Muffin will be only three posts away from the mystic four hundredth when this one goes up, and on the most part it's going well. There is one item of baggage to the blog that may need to be cut loose though, the story known as 'The Glove'. No matter how I approach it I can't seem to follow it up in a way that's appropriate to me. It just becomes generic every time. Jasper Fforde talks about the 'narrative dare' in the way he writes books and stories, which is something with which I very much identify. There is no 'narrative dare' to make 'The Glove' interesting to write so far. 'Oneiromancy' has the dare of being a story build around an obscure word, 'Wordspace' is essentially 'write a story where the characters are words', and 'Triangles' is all about parallel universes and what lives between. What is 'The Glove' about? 'Night Trials' was tricky too as it was first, and also similarly lost its distinctness as it went on.

Perhaps 'The Glove' is about alien conspiracies on a world dominated by bagpiping spies? Or is it a young man's passage from innocence to adulthood via a journey around the alien world? Is it a classic coup on a world full of tartan? What is the dare? It's going to bug me. What are the logical consequences of a world's historical culture and technology being isolate and divided between two distant capital cities? It needs some thought, but obviously that would introduce a degree of tension in families and populaces as progeny choose which direction to go. Then, what would become of those skilled in both? Ah... That's an interesting question, as is the question of how you enforce such a partition of skills. What is the hidden structure that allows that to happen, and should it?

Wheels are turning finally. Maybe some more unhelpful baggage has drifted downstream. Lets hope it didn't have the cutlery or the dinghy in it too.


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Story: The Glove, VIII [Obsoleted]

(Part I , VII , IX )

"Eyes only: Master piper Octavius, Laird of Burgh.
Document: Report from the Canterbury incident, Clem Naughton in attendance.

Dear Master Octavius,

In this report, I have two main facts to report:

1) A dissident incident occurred in the town of Canterbury, where the armed dissident was shot during an altercation with troops, and then remanded into custody at the local Guild Hall.

2) The former piper Steffan was sighted during the incident, watching with apparent great surprise the armed intervention.

In service to the ancient Pipers Guild I was performing my duty, performing and barding in my district town of Canterbury, when a shot rang out in mid-afternoon from the church. Said church in Canterbury is in good condition, but rarely used, and then only as a scenic locale for traditional ceremonies and photographs.

An armed troop of guards, on constant alert in this town due to the recent incidents in the district, mobilised from the police station and approached the church down the high street, with the exception of one small detachment which approached from the rear of the church. An episode of extended gunfire then passed, which Steffan observed from by the cafe, mouth agape.

Eventually the troops, taking only one casualty, destroyed the door to the church and stormed the interior. The dissident, a young man, was pursued and trapped in the basement before being incapacitated by the deployment of a gas cylinder. During this distraction, I became aware that Steffan was paying undue attention to my own presence, and then vanished at an undetermined point.

The dissident is now awaiting interrogation at the police station, and the troops are once again hidden in their impromptu barracks. The location of Steffan is unknown, although he has not been seen to leave. We presume he is still in the location.

Details of times, location and pertinent points are included in the appendix.

Clem Naughton, journeyman piper."