Saturday, 29 November 2014

Unpredictable Service

It's not often that you get to spend a week doing something new and unusual but next week will be one of those occasions. Yes, a whole week of school experience in a primary school will definitely be different! Who knows how it will work out?

Hopefully the strangeness of the week won't disrupt Project Quirky Muffin, but the world should prepare for some exhausted postponements. Service will be unpredictable, but for what reason? Will pure exhaustion reduce this humble (ha!) writer to a premature and precipitate state of slumber each evening? Will the accumulated chores force every evening into an overly directed pattern of job applications before a blog can even emerge from the strained brain? Will those little people take an instant dislike and end up calling the parental mafia in to rub this writer out? Only time will tell, and in this case time is being pretty cagey with the details.

They are little people, those children, and it's going to be a curious wait to see how it goes. 'Why go at all?', you might be asking. That answer may well be provided after, once the ringing in the ears from all the assembly singing and Christmas event rehearsals has abated and the bruises from the illuminated globe projectiles has healed. Oh, there shall be pain, for smart shoes will be compulsory with all their attendant problems. Please send all sympathy via the Quirky Muffin and make it sugar-free.

Writing is an acquired skill, one developed via writing. It's much like a muscle that doesn't get used in the normal course of events and resists when you flex it unreasonably. That's why the Quirky Muffin is here; to flex that muscle. When it works it is one of the greatest feelings in the world, and when it doesn't it's profoundly unsatisfying. Fortunately the accumulated audience amounts to several web-bots, a scary clown who keeps sending me explosive apple turnovers, and whoever else accidentally drops in while looking for a movie or book review. There shall never need to be quality control, for there is no intended control over the quality. Boom boom? Anyone?

<Mutter mutter ignorant of Basil Brush grumble barbarians gripe gripe gripe.>

With all of that, and with the usual insistence that the world has far too few triangles in it, it's definitely time to start wrapping up this entry. It's all too tempting to try and be funny all the time, sometimes to the great annoyance of others, but it does seem appropriate here. We can't be serious all the time, except for perhaps when in the deep throes of depression. Fortunately the seasonal blues seem to be not so bad this year, possibly due to the healthy influence of being far more rested and not so vexed with the head strain of mathematics, or maybe just because of some rogue variable still to be identified. Maybe it was the stopping of sugar that has helped even out the mood swings? It also helps to be working through 'Mork and Mindy', 'Dharma and Greg', 'The Addams Family', 'Get Smart', 'Batman' and a host of fabulous other books and DVDs. Is it materialistic to have them all? Yes, it sure is. Do they help? Yes, they sure do. Is 'Gilligan's Island' tempting me despite limited purchasing resources? Oh, gosh, yes it is! Blast!

Who knows how 'Mork And Mindy' will change in the fairly infamous tumults of the second season and beyond, but for now in its first year, it is truly a wonderful little show. Challenging, fun, unexpected and the best vehicle Robin Williams ever had. It's always sad when a performer has his best gig so early, but at least it happened at all. A much belated farewell to Robin Williams now, thanks for all of Mork.


Thursday, 27 November 2014

Story: Wordspace, XXIII [Obsoleted]

(Part I , XXII , XXIV)

The punctuation dust billowed on the horizon, periods flying highest into the air while the commas and semi-colons wobbled about, imbalanced in the atmosphere of the Wordspace.

Mystery stood watching the horizon, events having overtaken its own importance, and feeling unusually alone. Its stalwart and taciturn companion Club was off with War's army, preparing for the possible Battle of the Zone of Meaningless Jargon, and all that were left around him were the Lesser and Greater Abstracts that had no immediate value in a conflict. A conflict that had been unthinkable a few short days ago.

The Council was meeting. Mystery perambulated over and listened. As the meeting progressed a question shifted over it like a particularly warm blanket in the cold season. No-one else had mentioned the missing Change even once, in this meeting, or in any meeting he had ever attended. It was the greatest error of omission it could remember, and one that was totally absolute. No-one was talking about that phantom word now, despite its not being in the legion that had been retrieved from their exiles. Mystery drifted over to its old friend Wimsy and whispered a light summons, and then gathered up a loitering Dereliction on the way. Dereliction always had a good stock of gossip on hand, the best source of information now with Gossip absent with another group.

Wimsy spoke up first once they reached a small and comfortable dip in the firmament of the world. "You look as if you've had a few too many days under the strain, old chap. Getting a bit blank and stary, I'm afraid."

Dereliction chuckled, and added, "You could take a few days and sleep, if not for this massive disaster!"

"Yes, this massive disaster. It's linked to something we haven't talked about yet. Have either of you ever heard anyone talk about Change?" Mystery tried to downplay it as much as possible.

"Change?" Wimsy started suddenly. "Change... I've never heard anyone mention it at all outside of the records. That was my predecessor's time, I'm afraid, and it seemed to be preoccupied with limericks and verse at the time." Wimsy shuddered; It had never liked verse and ran to ballads and riddles instead. Dereliction was silent.

"Yes, Change was in my predecessor's time too, and it features prominently in its notes, but why not a word in any meeting I've attended. We've had debates and dialogues on the nature of the Destructives, always ending up in maintaining the status quo. Never, though, a word on Change."

Dereliction looked pained, and then shuffled. Its capacity for silence was never great.

"Come on, spit it out, old chap!" Wimsy urged their silent companion.

"The Wordspace never speaks of Change," began Dereliction, "but that doesn't mean that no-one does." It looked up at the sky, and began to tell a tale. "Once, I was asleep in the back of a Council meeting..."

There shall be more...

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Productive Day

There are still hours to go until bedtime and all the chores are done. It's unprecedented in recent times. It was the productive day. Everything got done quickly and tidily and now...

What on Earth do people do with free time anyway?

Normally my days are buried under piles of things that Must Be Done, and those things continue on, amidst prevarications and procrastinations, until just a few moments before sleeping time. Frequently e-letters are being pumped out while in the heavy thrall of pre-sleep, with words blurring into abstract geometry before the already vacant eyes. The Quirky Muffin hasn't been written with a clear mind in months, probably not since employment, and yet today it's running smoothly. It feels strange.

A productive day is a very rare thing. Today there two job applications, completed negotiations for next week's primary school experience, the resubmission of the fabled academic paper (version Mu, for those interested), a bucketload of 'Dharma and Greg' episodes, and even a long and unusually coherent electronic missive to codename Blodyn of Mid Wales as well as another to the president of Mexico at Greenpeace's behest. Everything got done.

'Dharma and Greg', right, that needs explanation. There have been a lot of references to that show recently. It's not a favourite, in fact a lot of its typical components fall into the box of things I don't normally like, but when it hits it hits in such an abstract and surreal way that it makes the minor ordeals all worthwhile. How many shows have had a bunch of lead characters trapped on board a boat by a sea lion? Or someone open a shop that doesn't sell anything and be a success? Or even the infamous 'Mr Boots' episode and manly bonding over a bobsleigh? It's one of those shows where you take the rough with the smooth and smile at the good things. They almost never go the easy or predictably awkward route, and that's to be commended.

Yesterday the blog was about a ghost story, the interview incident in Carmarthen. Ghostly goings on in an abandoned store. It seems as if everyone accrues a personal ghost story in their life, sometimes at secondhand from a relative or friend, but there's always at least one. Isn't that an odd coincidence? Maybe we're all involved in a giant conspiracy, passing around ghost stories in a massive circuit of Chinese Whisper? Perhaps the 'ghosts' are incredibly potent interludes of déjà vu, brought on by unconscious triggers most diabolical? Or could they really be ghosts? I'm drawn in closing to my favourite episode of 'Due South', in which a convalescing Fraser is visited by the recurring presumed ghost of his dead father, who in turn is being visited by the ghost of his own mother, and which all ultimately resolves with Benton senior, deceased, lying on his back in the swimming pool in full RMCP dress uniform and complaining about. Never was there a more wonderful moment, especially when you consider that one of Fraser's uncles died wrapped in cabbage leaves.

That can not be followed.


Monday, 24 November 2014

Ghost Story

Do you believe in ghosts? We don't have to be talking about the remnants of souls long since passed from the mortal coil. They might be n-th dimensional shadows of beings on abstract higher planes of existence intruding into our reality, or echoes of past and future beings reflecting through temporal refractions, or projections from living people onto the collective subconscious, or any of a number of other possibilities. Death is not the sole causal possibility.

Why talk about ghosts at all? Well, it was just mentioned in my current book, Dick Cavett's 'Talk Show', and there is a ghostly anecdote in my story bag, rather incredibly! Is it meaningful or simply a coincidence? It is not my decision to make. Are ghosts impossible? Well, never say 'impossible' unless you've tied up the problem in paradox ribbons, but they certainly seem improbable or at the very least ineffectual. Note, as Cavett says, that if ghosts imply some possibility of a soul's existence after death then why be so upset about it?

So, a story. A long time ago, in a land far far away (twenty minutes bus ride north, sandwiches were necessary) your loveable author found himself present for an interview in a retrospectively doomed new shop in Carmarthen. Did I get the job? No, of course not, my interview failure record remains proudly unsmirched to date. In fact, while making a very creditable performance, my gaze was repeatedly drawn to a dark corner at the back. The proprietor must have noticed as he then proceeded to explain how that location had had trouble keeping a shop for a long time, and was in fact partly built over a prisoners graveyard, the part in question being that dark corner at the back. It was a strange interlude, that interview in the doomed shop, with the odd presence in the dark demanding attention. Was there a presence though, or was the window too bright or the interviewer offputting. It's hard to say after all this time, but creepy was the word.

Have I just told a ghost story? There's no way to tell at the moment. One of the truest traits of a good ghost story is the doubt over whether it is a ghost story to begin with. Also, I'm not MR James. For true ghost stories he's the one to read, that trusty medieval scholar and archivist of supernatural scares. There will have to be more on MR James another day, when I've read through more of the 'Complete Ghost Stories'. Yes, ghost stories will be back for Earth Hour 2015. Oh, Earth Hour, there's something else to talk about!

Plans are afoot.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Television: 'Due South' (1994-1996) [Revised]

There were few television shows as cool as 'Due South', or as passionate in what they were trying to do. It was a Canadian buddy cop show about a 'perfect' Mountie in Chicago called Benton Fraser and his friendship with Italian American cop Ray Vecchio, which thrived on the dynamic between its two leads as they tackled various kinds of cases both personal and professional. Over the course of two years the excellent Paul Gross and David Marciano took two characters that could have been cardboard cutouts in the wrong hands and pumped so much humanity into them, with the assistance of a writing team that included Paul Haggis and David Shore, that they transcended the genre they began in. Paul Gross in particular was drenched in so much natural sincerity that he could be relied on to carry absolutely anything, while the development of the series was twinned to that of David Marciano's development as Vecchio.

So far did they move from the gag definition of 'Dudley Doright in Chicago', that Fraser evolved from an invincible moral superhero to the best perfect but flawed man with a vulnerable heart to ever get tangled up in crime, while Vecchio begins as a potentially corrupt streetwise cop and ends as a contemporary wise man who's absorbed much from his friend and supplied all the rest from his tough urban heart. To be true, it's very hard to write about the series as a whole, as the standalone episodes vary in type tremendously, and the season one mini-arc is such an emotional journey that it practically constitutes an award-winning four part mini-series all on its own. Oh, and Leslie Nielsen guest stars twice, brilliantly.

Instead of summarising an summarisable program it might be wiser to pick out some of the standout elements that recurred as series motifs. Easily the best place to begin is with the musical sequences, which lift every episode they appear in tremendously, whether they be montages or not. I honestly don't know if they were montages, whether they were encapsulating sequences of gangsters trying to track down the shoemaker and eliminate Fraser, excellent production value car or carriage chases, Vecchio confronting his star-crossed criminal soulmate, or Fraser's slum-mates renovating their building. Every montage worked, even the very early heavy rock instances.

After the montages, there is of course the wolf. Fraser had a deaf lip-reading wolf companion named Diefenbaker, uncannily intelligent, who essentially functioned as a third lead. There were actually at least two shows where Diefenbaker was the lead and performed pretty well. A wolf, played by a non-wolf called Lincoln in the grand tradition of television and film. Serving as Vecchio's wolf was the coolest car to ever feature in a television show, and I've used 'cool' now in this blog more often than in the past decade, the legendary mint green Buick Riviera from 1971. That car is so pretty that even I would consider driving just to have one.

Now we get to the banter, which essentially defines the dynamic between the two leads and the basis for some of the most rounded supporting characters to ever be found in a short-lived series. Incidental comments and speeches formed the basis for much of the character development, sometimes inspiring whole episodes later down the run of the show. The primary example, which may be a bad one as I suspect it was planned, was Fraser's monologue in 'You Must Remember This', which is paradoxically the definition of a Vecchio episodes. That monologue essentially defines and foreshadows the three-part arc that climaxes season one, the last part of which was covered earlier in the blog, and the arc that almost collapses the whole narrative of the series. This three part odyssey effectively undercuts the whole second season by being too good, but that's a whole other story, and that season succeeds in other ways.

Finally, to the music. The music was special, blending with montages to make some of the episodes iconic for those who've seen them. Many episodes in the first season featured now Canadian super singer Sarah Maclachlan and prospering in the fusion, and others cherry picked from opera, rock and contemporary folk to fit the genre of the show that week. As a note, the early episode combination of a horse and carriage chase to heavy rock was pretty brave and memorable indeed. Golly, this was a show that went places other shows didn't dare to approach. Even the cues were fascinatingly native American.

'Due South': A great series, which started roughly but built to a polish by first building up the perfect mountie, coupling him with a shakily moral police detective, breaking the aforementioned perfect mountie and then rebuilding them both better. Yes, I'm prejudiced as it was a formative show for me, but it's my blog. For forty two episodes 'Due South' was something special, and very odd.


PS Yes, I know I haven't talked about the subsequent 'revival' season. Take that as a hint.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Solitude of the Swimmer

Hmmm, now that I've purged myself of 'Star Trek' talk for a few days at least - be grateful you didn't get specialist posts on the episodes 'Arena' and 'Shore Leave'! - it's time to move on to something completely different. A long time ago my imaginary penpal Elena suggested I write a blog in Spanish on the solitude of the swimmer, entitled 'La soledad del nadador'. This will happen, for I can write in Spanish, and sometimes even coherently, but for now it will be English. Spanish will be the translation!

What goes through the mind of the swimmer during the course of a session? Drawing from my weekly trips to Carmarthen swimming pool, I will endeavour to describe the feelings and thoughts that occur, while frantically attempting to not drown. Oh, Carmarthen pool... It's nice there, pastel blue or grey, or not. I really don't remember. It's got a big hole in the ground filled with water, not too deep, and that's what matters. There are two ways to proceed: The humorous route and the contemplative. Of course it will have to be a complicated mix of the two that prevails. It's a foolish and ill-advised mix, but necessary!

Before the solitude kicks in, you first have to change. This is more complicated than you might think, as all the cubicle and locker doors are weighted or sprung to close on you, sometimes with great malice. Once you're ensconced within the apportioned space you then have to shuffle everything around - always dropping and sometimes shattering something in the process - until finally you are changed into the appropriately loud Bermuda swimming shorts. Then, sometimes remembering to hold the cubicle door open with the bag, you shuffle everything from the cubicle to the locker, awkwardly holding it open with one hand while unceremoniously shoving with the other. You might also drop something at this point, and not notice. Upon completing this step, you may be forced to move everything to another locker if the lock is broken or there's no awkward wriststrap on the key and your pocket's velcro is untrustworthy. (Note: There must be something on the topic of velcro to talk about. There must be!)

The changing of clothes complete, and the fiddling with the key bracelet completed, you approach the pool and with washed feet attempt the entry. Dangling of feet is necessary at this point in order to gauge the upcoming torture. If cold to feet then the pool will be very cold, and if the toes detect some relative warmth then it will also be very cold! Ultimately you slide in and dunk until all is settled, and reach the portion of this essay that is actually based on the title.

Swimming is one of the greatest things you can do alone while surrounded by people. True, it's impossible to actually swim if there are too many people or a couple of families disgorge into the water and claim it all for themselves arbitrarily, but in the case where swimming is actually possible it's very cooling and soothing. Up and down you waft, water blunting the sounds so they feel distant indeed, struggling for air from time to time, never really getting anywhere... It doesn't look very interesting to do what some of the others do though: Determinedly thrashing up and down a regulation number of lengths before sloping off to the showers. Exercise should really be freeform or utilitarian wherever possible. Make it totally useless or totally useful but nothing in between! Was there a Falstaff quote similar to that?

Finally when the pool begins to feel cold again, indicating a possible risk to health and sanity, you emerge. It's a tough life. Heading to the shower room, you contemplate the crushed feeling all over your body before slowly becoming more upright and poised. The worst is yet to come, with the forced folksiness of the showers. Nothing is stranger than being naked with a bunch of strangers in a shower room, so you just get it over with as quickly as possible and then make a break back to the locker, doing the awkwardness in reverse this time, then the cubicle for more drops and smashes, and finally out into the wide world. Brrr. It is cold, but worth it. For a few minutes you were in a whole different world, where the physics were startlingly different, and there was space to think at last. Shall we do it again? Oh, why not?! Well done!


Note: Possibly I was channelling some of the narration from the old Goofy cartoons. It's impossible to tell. Hopefully imaginary Elena will like this stupid nonsense.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Book: 'Final Frontier' by Diane Carey (1988, Star Trek)

I have to raise my flag, as I have many times, to my status as a lover of 'Star Trek'. It's a guilty pleasure, yes, but still one not to be sneezed at. Specifically, the original series is the one to watch, and it's also the one to read. Before the advent of the spin-off series, the original run was the base for a massive expanded universe of novels, some wonderful and some dreadful, some clashing dreadfully with each other, but all written by the fans. It was the one example of a television series blowing up into a massive book series that you could point at categorically as a creative miracle, an unprecedented creative phenomenon that was only really curtailed when the added series and accumulated material choked the whole endeavour into a continuity choke hold after twenty five years! They still make 'Star Trek' novels now, but without the licence to really go non-canonical and instead living in the niches left unexplored by the screen versions. The original 'Star Trek' novels just let it rip as there was nothing left to compare too!

Anyway, I'm bringing this all up because I just finished re-reading one of my favourite 'Star Trek' novels, a historical epic in fact, the legendary 'Final Frontier' by Diane Carey. Carey was one of the few authors to capture the nautical elements of the series, its true spirit of exploration, and the sheer drama of being in command. 'Final Frontier', on top of all that, is a historical within 'Star Trek', a tale of James Kirk's father George Kirk, his friend Captain Robert April, and the true first adventure of the Starship Enterprise, even before it was named. The concept of a 'Star Trek' historical seems audacious even now, especially one that partly establishes the chain of events that leads into early episodes of the series, tying in directly to the classic 'The City On The Edge Of Forever', and especially audacious in its own success. It succeeds by quality of writing, and that's the key. You can convey so much by exchanging looks in the written word, and by cracking jokes where they're warranted.

Carey wrote a number of great 'Star Trek' novels including 'Dreadnought', 'Battlestations', 'Final Frontier', 'Best Destiny' and 'The Great Starship Race', and some following stories. They are all steeped in something I referred to before: Space nauticality. It literally does become a separate version of 'Horatio Hornblower in outer space', a slightly other parallel dimension to the series, but one with lots of added detail. 'Final Frontier' has its main strength in the twinned narratives of George Kirk's main story, his letters to his kids, and the framing story of James Kirk in the wake of 'City on the Edge of Forever'. It works brilliantly! The second strength is in the rich definition of the characters set up in the historical portion. George Kirk and Robert April are pen sketched thoroughly almost immediately, and then put through the ringer as sabotage lands the still-new and unnamed starship Enterprise deep in Romulan space instead of the ion storm that was the focus of their rescue mission, all with a crew of technicians. It all rings true to both its own reality of a fledgeling Starfleet, and the original series itself.

Two of the most beneficial and novel aspects of 'Star Trek' is the positive view of the future, and the linked aspirational view of exploring the universe. It really was a great fusion and rebuttal of most previous screen science fiction. 'Final Frontier' helps set up that positive future even more, with Robert April being the effective spear carrier for diplomacy and exploration, fusing his strengths with the more militaristic viewpoints of George Kirk into the mindset that informs the Starfleet of the television show. In between those two ideals lies James Kirk, the mightiest captain of them all. In our era where manned exploration has very much faded out to nothing, it's fascinating to see how different everything could be. One day we could all be out there, sailing amongst the stars. Wouldn't it be wonderful? That's what 'Star Trek' was always meant to be!


Sunday, 16 November 2014

To shmoosh or not to shmoosh

Hmm. To shmoosh or not to shmoosh? Should this author, in blatant flouting of recent tradition, resort to shmooshing a lot of hot air into a blog post, or instead commit to some overly worthy bit of storytelling or reviewing? It would be so easy to fall into a habit of endlessly alternating between focus and non-focus, between trying to get to the conclusion of 'Wordspace' and just pitter-pattering at the keyboard until at least four paragraphs of text have miraculously emerged. No, on this occasion the pattern must be broken. Let's shmoosh!

Originally, almost a couple of weeks ago in fact, this title was going to be used for blathering about my attempts to shmoosh the first phase of the serial story 'Triangles' into a single entry, and how bizarrely difficult it is to get into full shmooshing mode. Once you've got there though, shmooshing (please don't go thinking that 'shmoosh' is a real word, by the way!) is very easy; you just need to be mildly deranged, partially phased into a different mental dimension, and inordinately unaware of everything else but the paper in front of you. Editing demands paper; Nothing else will do! Similarly, hot air condensation needs a keyboard and a mild instability.

Oh, to shmoosh, or not to shmoosh? It's a tough path. Even now the temptation is to twist off onto a targeted tangent and talk about the rather excellent episode of 'Maverick' that just spun off the DVD player, or to wonder at the novels currently being processed in my book pile, or even to write a totally redundant blog about the famed classic movie 'Jaws' that I watched earlier in the day. No, there's very little left to be said about 'Jaws', if anything at all. Only Spielberg and Dreyfus know whatever else is there to be said, and they're not telling!

Oh, the reams of things that could be reported, if it were that kind of day. Yes, the pool was crowded once again, with families making and characteristically rude invasions and hogging the place. Yes, preoccupations are growing with somehow finding copies of the lesser known and short-lived 1993 series 'Moon Over Miami'. Darn, I wish I had never remembered it existed! It was actually a sweet detective romantic comedy show that ran for only thirteen episodes, and which almost no-one remembers. It will never make it to DVD on anything but bootleg, but oh it would be a nice bootleg to have! It's just one of those odd moments of television that will never reappear again, like 'Sharky and George', 'Crazy Like A Fox', 'Close And True' and horribly 'Muppet Babies'. Getting back on track: Yes, this is yet another day of not learning Greek. All these things are normal.

Blast, now I'll be thinking about 'Muppet Babies' too! It's a world of torment for the man-children out there! No wonder the world is full of confused people! 'Batman' still won't arrive for weeks, in order to dispel the gloom.

Bring on the orange jelly and article corrections. It's going to be a long haul.


PS Consider yourself shmooshed.

Friday, 14 November 2014

In the library

The village library is full of fascination. It might be a moderately sized room, airy and spacious and lined with books, but there is a sense of history about the place. You can imagine generations of people wandering in and out, while you while away an afternoon there as a volunteer, some by choice and some by association. Stories flit through the mind, some true, and some obviously made up.

There was 'Rusty' Jack Jones, the miner who tried to foment the great library revolt of 1972, but was unfortunately foiled by a library attendant with a handy line in projectile manuals. The library revolt was sadly a failure, and the systemic despotism was continued until Dai 'Whistle Blower' Jones made it across the border to the next county and spilled the beans to the relevant authorities. There followed then a purge, the likes of which had not been before and never since. People still wince at the very mention of Whitaker's Almanack.

As I sit here, considering the truths of lengthy unemployment and a week of no job news while the people tap away on the library computers, it's a good time to count the positives. Crikey, the world is still spinning, life goes on, the whole of season two of 'Dharma and Greg' (don't ask) is stretching ahead on DVD, things are there to be done, and piles of books are waiting to be read!

Oh, books, the panacea for all the worst horrors of existence. Life would be a totally different experience without books. Without books, there would be no village library and stories about Mabel Ablewhite, the deranged book bender of Dyfed. Mabel was on a library watch list across all of South Wales, mainly due to her intense and compulsive bending of paperback books. Ultimately she was caught trying to bend a telephone directory in the late 1980s, in the wrong direction, and was never seen or heard of again after being taken away by some heavily laden library assistants.

Books have been with me as long as I can remember, before computers, television and music. Long may it continue. Oh, how lucky it was to have so many Star Trek novels of my own and books to read at primary school!


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Story: Wordspace, XXII

(Part I , XXI , XXIII)

The Conclave of the Abstracts assembled in a semi-circle about the portal from which Mystery's band had emerged a few hours before. The Lesser and Greater Abstracts present settled into a quickly constructed amphitheatre, built out of the consonants and vowels that could be quickly harvested from the nearby vegetation. Even in the scrub surrounding the Zone of Jargon enough was found to seat the grandness of Time, the melancholy of Death, the radiance of Life, and the clipboard of Destiny.

Mystery opened the Conclave, and immediately they made a small poll to determine who should chair the occasion. After only one round of votes, the winner turned out to be saintly Truth, who shuffled to the impromptu podium (a pile of ampersands), and addressed the masses somewhat lengthily, but of course with great fidelity to the purpose at hand.

Mystery stepped back into the crowd and looked at the audience beyond the abstracts, the nouns and adjectives with nothing obscure to their meanings, all waiting to see what might happen. Only the sentries maintained a vigil apart from watching the Conclave, where Truth had introduced Introspection, and was now listening to that fine and thoughtful word's report on the current state of the Wordspace.

War and Tactics were amongst the serried ranks of the Abstracts, taking notes, and Cloud was overhead. Somewhere out there in the wilderness, Earth and the other Elements were hopefully still surviving, or else they would be reborn out of the Well of Vocabulary, fresh and innocent all over again. Almost everyone had been at some point, Mystery himself remembering days of idle learning amongst his mentors and at the foot of School himself. He wondered idly about Fire, who shimmered so when it got agitated.

The report ran that the Invader had roundly trounced and annihilated several of the small colonies, and had almost crushed Earth's group before they had barrelled him over and made a run for the Zone. Then they had run, according to the Zone's guardians Constancy and Solidity, and this second group had arrived some days later. Dedication, this group's leader, had decided the Zone to be a last bastion of safety, and a good defensive position, should all efforts to resist fail. Now there would be resistance aplenty, if the Destructives had their way.

Once the report had completed, Truth invited War to the too-small podium, and there he asked the questions that would shape his thinking of how to continue. He sought descriptions of the Invader, hints on the motivation, interrogated Mystery and Club on the report from the mysterious Silly Stone, and then stood silently for a moment.

A sentry hooted from its perch on the side of the Zone, and Mystery turned to look at the horizon. The dust of punctuation was stirring. Something was about to happen. He turned to look at the band he had rescued from the Zone, who were as suddenly uncertain as he. War whistled, and called out orders, and his army formed.

Here ends Phase 1 of 'Wordspace', which shall be continued another time.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Phone Calls

This was going to be called 'What if the world was a shoelace?' but the title was too good so it's being saved for some greater inspiration, perhaps one involving the meaning of life, the universe and spinach. Oh yes, spinach must have a meaning, but who are we to judge? Spinach Existentialists Anonymous?

Phone calls happened today, and they were stressful. Surely other people can't have as much trouble with the beastly things? Preparing to make a phone call is a microcosm of the problems of procrastination writ large. Can you have a microcosm writ large? Let us assume for now that we can. Procrastination is a cumulative problem, a barrier that grows thicker and more impenetrable with every second and every task put off. So it is with phone calls.

Breaking the barrier of procrastination is something that really needs to be trained into you, sometimes by the fascinating field of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, or CBT. At first experience, CBT seems far less than useful, but if very often works. In my case, I just had to become aware of the dangerous behaviour and break the habit as well as I could. Those grooves in the brain surely do take a lot of writing over. Grooves in the brain... like grooves on a record... Both can be formed by the Electric Mayhem, and equal depth...

"What, a seemingly random mention of the Electric Mayhem?"

The Electric Mayhem Orchestra were the house band on 'The Muppet Show', the raucous and impulsive rock group that dominated every moment they appeared in. If you want to beat procrastination, then the Mayhem are the ones to emulate, especially the drummer Animal. Go for it, people, and listen to the patronising blogger. Just be ready before you jump.

We can be sure Animal wouldn't have a problem with making phone calls; he would just use the receiver as a drumstick. Maybe there are better role models, after all.


Saturday, 8 November 2014

Story: Wordspace, XXI

(Part I , XX , XXII)

"Redundant miscellany" was what Mystery said into the aperture beside the portal. Two layers of jargon away, the form of the guardian waved some letters in assent, and operated the primitive switch that kept the portal safely locked down.

Mystery waited.

The exit portal opened, in the airlock fashion that had defined the entrance, and Mystery led its band of saviours, or so it hoped they might be, through into the wider world of the Wordspace. As they began their transition, War suddenly whirled and clutched two of the cohort, and then flung them far into the interior of the Zone. The portal closed long before they reached the egress, War never looking back as they assembled outside and shuddered under the great syllables of Sky.

"Not all of us were safe to be trusted." Was all War would mutter, and Mystery didn't debate the point; some words were too destructive to be even with his band of Destructives. He instead directed his attention the guardian, in this case Constancy's apprentice Solidity. "Greetings and conjugation to you, friend."

"May you be free of punctuation," replied Solidity, "and welcome." The youthful guardian bowed to Mystery and its companions, not entirely without fear. Lies winked at it.

Outside the portal, they were surrounded by chaos as hundred of words scattered about setting up makeshift structures and organising themselves. To one side some of the Lesser Abstracts were assembled and waiting for Mystery's arrival, while high above on the side of the Zone it could see sentries posted, and on the horizon his old friend Cloud was zooming along, possibly on patrol. Truth waved from a cluster of Greater Abstracts, and Lies went to meet its old friend, while Mystery was detained by duty.

The remnants of the Council watched Mystery approach, with its friend Club behind him and to its left and War to its right. Surprisingly, Mystery felt more people get in line, and saw Truth and Lies flanking him too. The Lesser Abstracts assembled include Medicine, Regulation, Refraction, Wimsy and Entertainment. Wimsy winked, even as Regulation shrank backwards at the growing presence of War. The whole atmosphere changed, as it became clear that there was now a genuine leader in the room.

"Tell us now whether we are in present danger, then if there is opportunity what has been going on while Mystery was recruiting us, what you know about the traitor Change, and then we will organise our plans." War's tone was imperious as it commanded the Council. "Where are the Great Ones, who used to be in charge?"

Mystery murmured, "The Great Abstracts abdicated responsibility in favour of a rotating Council of Lessers shortly after sending you into exile."

Regulation handed over a printed report, which War consumed quickly. It looked at the Council. "We shall have a Conclave of all Abstracts present."

A conclave!

To be continued...

Thursday, 6 November 2014

One Day Late

Ah, a late post. In the chaos of preparing for today's interview, which went incredible badly and will not be alluded to further, yesterday's post went nowhere at all! It vanished into the hole of trying to sleep while being sick and nauseous and then doing very badly indeed. How is that for negligence on the part of the Quirky Muffin authorial staff? Guilt has overcome me.

In truth, it would have been difficult to write something anyway yesterday, both because of the nervous dehydration and the chaos that has sleeted in from the transitional windward side of things. It very much feels like things are about to change in certain unpredictable ways, and that all is about to become just a bit wobbly, which of course is simply a premonition. A premonition?

Premonitions are very personal things, and not entirely to be trusted, if at all. For all that, I believe in them always. Something weird is going to happen, even if it's just a lifechanging piece of music (listening to a nocturne by Glinka right now, by the way), or a wander by the river that will prompt a spectacular thought. Something will change, and probably for the better. Oh, premonitions, you're always wrong but I'll believe in you anyway.

On a side note, one of the words I picked out from Phrontistery for a post has morphed into a suspected story idea, which is currently going under the codename 'Mythogenesis', and will kick off once two of the three ongoing stories have been finally put to bed. Three is too many to have ongoing at one time, and so it will have to wait, but the word itself is fascinating:

mythogenesis - origin of myths.

Doesn't that word ring up all kinds of fascinating angles and ideas, of people on some other plane designing myths to be deployed down to civilizations on distant worlds of wonder and spectacle? No? What about rice pudding? Does it inspire thoughts of rice pudding? I firmly believe that most myths actually did spring from rice pudding and only human egocentricism prevents us all from realising this utterly devastating fact. One day the penny will drop, and global peace will fall as we unite in abject hilarity.

The world is a strange, strange place.


Monday, 3 November 2014

Television: 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' (1964-1968) [Revised]

Very few television series had the personal impact that 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' had on me. Long before 'Star Trek' was back in reruns on BBC Two, 'Voyage' was on Channel Four, who were gleefully running all the worst episodes in the Sunday morning graveyard slots, along with Diana Rigg in 'The Avengers'. Historically, 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' is well known for all its worst elements, for all the men in rubber monster suits who dominated two thirds of its run, for the dimwitted behaviour of the crew, the total seriousness of all the performances even in the the midst of utter lunacy, and the 'Seaview rock and roll' as crewmen lurched from side to side on set in no way that corresponds to the exterior shots of the submarine Seaview. On many levels it was total rubbish and budget-starved gibberish, but the whole thing is saved by one inescapable fact: 'Voyage' is also often one of the most fun and imaginative television series you could hope to see. We could also supplement this fact with the high end underwater production values and special effects that became its headlining merit for at the least the first few seasons.

It may have been nonsensical, but 'voyage' has one thing that it can hold over its smarter and better-made step-cousin 'Star Trek', and that is the freedom to be utterly bananas at any point it wants to be. 'Star Trek' was by far the better show, but it did live within the boundaries of its own reality, with little license to ever get outside that box. 'Voyage' morphed into strange variants of itself with every season, and stuck to no continuity of reality other than what was happening in any given episode, with the crew being relentlessly surprised every week at whatever madness had engulfed them. Submarine interior over-run by jungle? Check. Admiral Nelson has turned lycanthropic but been cured by a deliberate case of 'The Bends'? Yep, we can do that. An espionage story? Why not? Atmosphere on fire, and we'll put it out with nukes? Okay. The catch all response was to try it out, except in the third season, when ever week was a rubber monster or mad scientist incident, with Captain Crane brainwashed inevitably as the topping on the cake. Crane must have been brainwashed so many times that it was ridiculous to think he had anything left in that cranium at all...

I'm writing this in the wake of watching the last of the one hundred and ten episodes, and completing one of the greatest and daftest DVD marathons of recent history. It's over now, and that's a sad thing. There will be no more criminally bad twisting of the submarine by a hand just off screen, nor will the incredibly uncredible flying sub crash into the ocean any more, like a slab of rock doing a belly flop. It's done. Until the DVDs get cracked out again at some indeterminate future, of course.

'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' was the brainchild of one Irwin Allen, first in feature film form, and then as this television show. Allen, who was the science fiction shlock king for a period in the 1960s with this, 'Land of the Giants', 'The Time Tunnel', and 'Lost in Space', saw that he could reuse a lot of the best special effect shots of the movie, recast the whole endeavour, and make a great looking science fiction show about a futuristic nuclear submarine and its crew. He may or may not have been partly inspired by a pilot for a show called 'Star Trek' that finally emerged in February 1965, or vice-versa. It's hard to tell. What emerged was a deadly serious dramatic television series focussed on espionage stories for its first season, so serious that it became so openly mockable as to be absurd. Irwin Allen, was in the words of David Hedison "totally humorous", and so were his series. To be fair, many dramas were deadly serious for a long, long time on US television, with 'Maverick' and 'Voyage' contemporary 'The Man From UNCLE' being rare examples of a more naturalistic tone before 'Star Trek' destroyed the mold of how to make genre television. Just to make sure no humour got into the mix, stars Hedison (Captain Lee Crane), Richard Basehart (Admiral Harriman Nelson), and the supporting cast played it so seriously that even the semi-regular end of episode jokey wrap up sequences would fall to the ground dead on arrival. That was all part of the fun!

'Voyage', as stated previously, had a different 'typical style' each season. In the monochrome first season, it was espionage and even featured women occasionally. Colour arrived with second season, as well as the influence of the super-hit 'Batman' (finally coming out on DVD soon), and so a healthy mix of 'monsters of the week' got wrapped in with spy stories, mind control and idiotic evil scientists. In the third season all traces of womankind got eliminated as did the expense of significant guest stars and the madness was ratchetted up to eleven as legions of monsters cascaded on to the submarine Seaview every week, with Crane being mind controlled on a regular basis, and Nelson becoming ever more exasperated while actor Basehart despaired for his very future. Finally, in the fourth season, and on a greatly reduced budget, the show reverted to some kind of a balance of episode types and credibility, but too late for the ratings and it got cancelled ironically after one of its strongest episodes. In fact, the fourth season is probably the first or second strongest season of the show, proving that ratings mean nothing for series quality, if we didn't know that already.

Oh, 'Voyage', you were silly. Nelson's handpicked crew often were so stunningly incompetent or slow on the uptake that you wondered how they passed the navy tests, but at least they could be relied upon to be serious at all times, which was something. Very often the most sensible person on the submarine was one of Seamen Kowalski or Paterson, both of whom seemed capable of fixing everything with no hesitation. Chief Sharkey, the only non-commissioned officer functioned mainly as an exposition monkey, and first officer Chip Morton had the grand honour of stolidly commanding the ship because Nelson and Crane were too busy most of the time being brainwashed, turned into monsters, or being ingenious to cover up for Nelson's terrible judgement in choosing scientists to run his installations. It was a fun, fun series, with only two or three episodes being so bad as to be unwatchable. Of those few stinkers the one that sticks out as worst by far is 'The Hear Monster', in which the Seaview is apparently menaced by a heat monster played by a bunsen burner on a small cart. Let us not finish on a low though, for this was one of the most imaginative series of the 1960s, however terrible it might have been at times. There was a freedom to be writing on a show that wasn't expected to make sense, and it must have been intoxicating at times, especially as they almost always wrapped up the plot with a brief handwaving explanation in the last thirty seconds.

I'll miss 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea', at least until I rewatch a few, but now it's time for something else: 'The Invaders' is coming! Or 'Quincy, ME', or even the long awaited 'Star Trek' rewatch.


Saturday, 1 November 2014

Comic: Supergirl 65 (February 2002)

There was something audacious about the Peter David run on 'Supergirl', especially if you didn't like what he was doing. The first fifty one issues were Christian angelic mythology overlaid directly onto superhero frolics, and then the last twenty-nine a mythic quest and unabashed comic book geekery. It was quite the ride, but I will always remember issue sixty, which almost entirely defined for me what superhero comic books could be, and almost always weren't. It was in this issue that Linda Danvers (the then Supergirl) fell over a problem that punching and kicking wouldn't solve, when she and her ex-demon travelling companion Buzz (he of the stupid one-liners) discover a school for deaf children being endangered by corporate legal shenanigans, by the same company whose pollutions may have caused a fair share of that deafness.

The first amazing thing is the amount of sign language that is incorporated into the comic book, mainly as Buzz makes fun of Supergirl behind her sign-illiterate back. If ever there was an admirable way to promote awareness of the deaf and sign language, then it was this, where the artist Leonard Kirk portrayed it so proficiently and elegantly that you wonder why you never learnt sign language as a direct consequence. Sadly, even though I very much wanted to learn sign language shortly thereafter, it never happened as the dreadful momentum of day-to-day life rolled on.

The second amazing thing, and one which has become increasingly rare in comic books that I've noticed, is that the plot is resolved not by violence (although Supergirl did try to rough up that slimy lawyer) but instead by the arrival of a veritable legion of superhero friends, making a massive campaign and event around the school and bringing the world's press to bear. In short, for once, we get to see the non-violent political influence of all those meta-humans working effectively to solve things that their fists never could, even if is their might that gives them that influence to begin with.

I'm just a big schmaltzy mess really. Mea culpa. It's lovely to see Superman get to do something that doesn't involve punching something, especially in the wake of the ultra-violent 'Man of Steel' movie. Thank you, people then at DC for allowing something nice to happen.


Note: Check out 'Hero Squared' for something else that's very interesting, and the Dan Slott run on 'She-Hulk'! Oh, and JLA 60 was awesome too, the great capper to the Giffen and DeMatteis run.