Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Story: 'Diary of a Laundry Robot', Week V

( Week IV , Week VI )


Everyone seems to be called 'Querg' here. I want to ask my new supervisor Querg about that, but don't feel quite ready to enquire. I'm already busy enough taking care of all the Bureau of History's hats, and am beginning to fall behind. Every single Querg has a hat with a bobble, and the different colours of material, lining and bobble indicate what exactly it is that that Querg does. My supervisor's hat has a red material, which indicates an association with the Books, a white bobble of secondary affiliation with History, and the red lining of a Querg on active field duty. He explained this to me when he he established the Laundry in the Bureau's basement. It's a massive Laundry compared to the old one, with all kinds of unusual apparatus. The new experience is thrilling! Today I learnt all about extra-dimensional bobble care!


My supervisor has been true to his word, and Celia has joined me here in the Bureau Laundry. We had a lovely reunion, where we talked about the novelty of it all, and then Querg took her away for her orientation. It will be so nice to have a companion during the rinsing run. I wonder how Bobbie is getting on back at home? Might she have destroyed the place by now, or would my successor have managed to keep the place in one piece? My own orientation was a brief process, where it was explained to me that I no longer needed to recharge thanks to a slight redesign and the nature of the Continuum itself. Apparently, machines are fixed to be self-sustaining here. How strange!


Our contracts have arrived, and are quite unexpected. Apparently we are going to get weekends off, and have free licence to explore the Querg Continuum as we wish. The concept of free time for a laundry robot is almost nonsensical. I don't quite understand what it we are supposed to do. Celia is equally perplexed. This might be linked to the prevailing idea that we're sentient robots. Don't they understand that we only know laundry? I wonder what BoomBoom would say about all this. He was always such a refreshing maintenance therapist. Celia just this morning pointed out that we don't have maintenance any more. How scary! Almost as scary as the Grand High Querg's hat, which came in this morning. It's three times as long as the others, and reputedly trips him up several times a day! We're almost afraid to touch it!


Supervisor Querg introduced us to our maintenance Querg this morning, and he seemed very nice. He even offered to show us around the area on Saturday, as part of our introduction to the Continuum. Apparently this whole land exists in a state of -- <logic circuits suspended> -- temporal grace, outside of the universe as we know it. I can not even pretend to understand, but Celia looked very excited and interested, and her diodes lit up like Venusian tree decorations. I believe she was more flexibly programmed. The maintenance Querg has a green hat, which he said is linked to staffing and recruitment, a blue lining for home duty, and a white bobble again for a secondary link to History. Most Quergs seem to have white bobbles, as far as I can tell.


The last day of our first week has arrived, and it seems to have gone very well. Both of our Quergs have said we performed well, and now all we have to do is return the Grand High Querg's hat in pristine condition, and then work out how this 'free time' phenomenon is supposed to work. Celia is getting very excited, but my concern is how we're going to get around in this strange land. Do these Quergs even have parks? We work in a basement, yes, but part of the area is without building above, and the sky through the glass is fascinating. We have begun to talk about what we might find out there. Could there be neck-ties????

To be continued...

Monday, 28 December 2015

Twenty Fifteen

The year is almost over, but it's not going out peacefully as floods inundate parts of Great Britain. In one of the scariest wet seasons on record - oh, of course it's not climate change, of course, it's just that someone ate an orange in the wrong place somewhere - whole towns have been submerged, in the wake of yet another of the hottest years on record. Obviously, nothing is going on here at all. People will probably admit climate change once there are only five people left, two of whom have to keep running away from the giant mutant crabs that evolved out of all the pollution.

However, let's not get too topical here, as partisan ideologies continue to repeatedly decimate the country. There are other things to talk about. Twenty fifteen wasn't an altogether bad year. In board games, for example, it was one of the best years on record. Just today, I was listening to the Dice Tower's top ten board game roundups and there are some fantastic sounding games lurking out there, one of the most interesting being based around and titled 'Shakespeare'. Would you like to put on a hit play? Well, this is the game to do it in. Alternatively, if you prefer the idea of playing/managing future baseball, with added features like cyborgs, then try 'Baseball Highlights 2045', or you could build the architecture of old New York tetris-style in 'New York 1901'. You might even indulge in 'Above And Beyond', which I can't even adequately outline from the description yet. Something about farmers, building towns in caverns under their lands? Apparently, it was a great year for games.

It was a pretty good year for the Quirky Muffin too, as it became ever more popular with mindless Internet robots. and deranged cybernetic squirrels in Sweden. At least it never felt as if we were going to run out of material, and the pointless extemporaneous posts on 'nothing at all' came back into play, both of which are very reassuring things. Some time in the future, I'll either fall into the next dimension or this will become too much work, but for now it works in a minimalist kind of way. Looking back, the only alarming aspect is the absence of very many book reviews, which will be rectified, and probably with a vengeance if I get that project in Poland and spend two years being utterly confused outside of my own rooms. You can expect many book reviews in that circumstance! It's hard to know what went wrong with the book reading, apart from the fact that my poor, tired, enduring brain doesn't have so much energy for all the many things I would like to do any more and a couple of short story collections really blocked things up. The brain needs more vegetables, and a nice quiet time in a well-lit room. More book reviews would be nice.

Twenty fifteen was a very rough year, but now it's almost over. Let's hope that twenty sixteen sees a nicer and fairer society emerge from this mess, and with many fewer floods! Oh, and if we can have lots more interesting-sounding board games, that would be nice too.


Saturday, 26 December 2015

Story: 'Diary of a Laundry Robot', Week IV

( Week III , Week V )


Hello? Are you working, journal program? There's a strange little blue being looking at me through a magnifying glass. Actually, he's examining my memory circuits. I think he must have tripped my power switch. He's talking to me, now, so I'll note our conversation:

Him: "Hello? You've woken up, then? Welcome to the Querg Continuum."

Me: "Welcome to where? I'm only programmed for laundry, and my battery must be running low, so could you return me to my laundry?"

Him: "Ah, you need not fear about your battery. It's all being taken care of. My name is Querg."

Me: "Yes, but..."

Him: "No, I insist. You're in a strange new world now. This is where we live, the Quergs that police time and space."

Me: "What's that got to do with socks, jumpers and woolly hats?"

Him: "Well, it's funny that you should mention hats, since we do have need of your rather specialised services."

Me: "Me? You need me?"

Him: "Yes, indeed. When that spatio-temporal incident occurred in your laundry, you came to my attention in the course of cleaning up the possible consequences. We really need someone to take care of our hats."

Me: "Your hats?"

The being - possibly he was a Querg? - looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. He was a curiously shaped fellow, blue and furry, but he was wearing a hat. Strangely it was a red and dangly example, with a white bobble on the end.

Him: "Yes, we are very fond of our hats, and their forms describe many or our roles and functions. I, for example, am a Keeper of the Books, and a Guardian of History. We like to keep our bobbles in good condition. Tell me, would you know what to do when confronted with volcanic ash on my hat?"

Me: "My programming is comprehensive, sir. However, I belong to my laundry."

Him: "You did, yes. However, we have made a deal with your owner, which we would like you to ratify, being a sentient cleaning robot."

Me: "Ratify? I'm a low-class cleaning robot. No-one has ever called me sentient, either! Not even Celia on our evenings out at the Wash-O-Rama!"

Him: "Celia? Do you have an attachment with this 'Celia'?"

Me: "It would hardly be polite to say, but we have been a team for a very long time. I wouldn't know what to do without her."

Him: "We hadn't considered this..."

Me: "I really couldn't stay without her. She has best precision scrubbing apparata."

Him: "Perhaps we can work something out. While I go and renegotiate, perhaps you would consider the potential advantages to becoming a co-founder of our Bureau's hat maintenance regime. We do have access to all of the universe and its history, you know."

Me: "All of..."

Him: "Yes, there are advantages."

Me: "Good grief! I could get an autograph from the legendary WashBot Alpha!"

At this point, the being looked a little disappointed, but sait it would be possible. WashBot Alpha! Wow! I can't think why he's sighing like that.

There shall be more.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Eve

This is Christmas. What's it all about? I have no idea. What's the meaning of it all? It varies from person to person. Is there a mass of reasons for why its potential is undeniably positive? Yes. There is. Every time I see a film, or a television episode, or read a story about Christmas, it is always focussed on people doing nice things, redeeming themselves, and improving lives. Even as a principled agnostic, any season which is based on love and forgiveness has to have a large amount of positive potential. Yes, it may be drowned in the materialism of gifts and merchandise at the moment, but these things change, and are changing right now. There's a definite twist in the air against materialism, or so it seems to my twisted antennae. Perhaps it's getting worse instead? Who knows for sure?

Christmas Eve continues, and my fingers continue to tap, pausing at times when the words dry up. It's one of those nights, following a day with more than an hour of gruelling uphill cycling and a bucket of television watching. The Christmas fortnight is always the occasion for a mammoth binge of film and television watching in the Other Room. Yes, there is another room, where things happen, of which we dare not speak.

Good grief, i've just realised that the end of year 'summing up' is almost upon me. This could get ugly. If the Quirky Muffin vanishes for a hebdomad, it will be to avoid this ordeal. Did you see how I used the obscure word there? Did you get it? Yes, a 'hebdomad' means a period of seven consecutive days, or a week in more concise terms. How many more such terms have gone, I wonder. Only in the last hebdomad did I see 'The Peanuts Movie' and marvel at the references that might mean nothing to people unused to knowledgeable writing and the world of the comic strip. It truly was a scholarly work quite apart from its entertainment value and deep seated humour. Is that a weakness in a family film?

Does there need to be an end of year 'summing up'? Is that even what the Quirky Muffin was set up to do? No, not really. The Quirky Muffin was set up so I could write, with the challenge of meeting some quality standard due to it being published. It's a toy. There doesn't need to be a summing up at all! Especially with the joined up version of 'Wordspace' still lurking at the three-quarter completion mark. Oh, it's getting close, and will only be delayed by the end of year dvd marathon! What's in the marathon? It is, so far, ludicrous in its abundance, and has included the following movies and series episodes: 'The Ghost Breakers', 'Quantum Leap: Genesis', 'The Invaders: Doomsday Minus One', 'Star Trek: The Savage Curtain', 'Star Trek: All Our Yesterdays', 'El Dorado', and 'The West Wing: The State Dinner'. The 'M*A*S*H' element hasn't even begun yet, nor have the traditional viewings of 'Mr Smith Goes To Washington' and 'Mr Deeds Goes To Town'. All together, and with 'The Muppet Show' in reserve, it's going to be pretty special, especially as we're only one episode of 'Star Trek' away from graduating into their movies.

Was that interesting? Of course not. Well, maybe it provided some inspiration. Columbia-era Frank Capra for the Christmas win!


PS A begrudging 'Merry Christmas' to you all. Snark. Grumble. Mutter.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Film: 'The Peanuts Movie' (2015)

Now, that was worth it. Finally, a movie that I truly wanted to see, and which turned out to be wonderful. Tears were shed, and kites were flown, as Charlie Brown and Snoopy made it back to the big screen. No, it wasn't 'Star Wars', but the film that should have been attracting far more theatre goers on quality alone. The film about that boy who worries too much, his dog with the imagination that doesn't quit, and his friends.

'Peanuts' is the most enduring, lengthy and iconic comic strip to date, and one that's both funny and true. It ran for (almost) fifty years, drawn and written solely by Schulz, and is a monument to ingenuity and perseverance. 'The Peanuts Movie' is a faithful and fast paced montage of several of the arcs that formed the thematic backbone of the strip, and a homage to the equally legendary 'Peanuts' animated specials that ran on television for decades, as well as 'The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show' and the previous four animated theatrical films. We'll get to those movies here, in good time.

'The Peanuts Movie' works, undeniably. The core focus on the leading duo of Charlie Brown and his eccentric dog Snoopy remains undamaged, as we follow Charlie's seemingly endless string of failures, and Snoopy's flights of fantasy, until they both dovetail in one of the most blissful happy endings you wouldn't have expected from a 'Peanuts' movie. Yes, Charlie Brown gets his (small) happy ending, and, by golly, he deserves it after all these decades of setbacks! It may not be most Schulz-ian thing in the film, but it does work. Yes, he will have more problems in the future, but a small success is ever sweeter for its rarity and charm.

The switch to computer generated imagery is handled seamlessly, and done with great taste and discretion. Yes, it's got depth, but it still preserves enough of its two-dimensional hand-drawn heritage to be true to all of its source material. It's wonderful to see Snoopy's First World War Flying Ace engaging in dog fights with his nemesis, the Red Baron. It's great to see Charlie Brown's attempts to be successful and win the heart of the Little Red Haired Girl. It's wonderful to hear that jazzy music that powered the specials and the television series again. It's all wonderful. The only gripes are the modifications made to fit most of the cast into one school class and close geographical area, and the critical complaint of it being unambitious, which latter problem is not a problem as the strip was never ambitious in that way either.

Go see 'The Peanuts Movie' if you can, for it is wonderful, heartfelt, and funny in all the best ways. I really don't see how anyone could not like it if they've got a heart.


PS Don't blink, but you've been Solsticed. The days draw out from today, folks!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

To Fold

Things have been folded, and the origami heaven that is Christmas has arrived. 'Lo,' said the strange old man with the fish fingers, 'Christmas is here, and we may begin to fold.' He was right, that strange old codger, and I really don't think he needed to be thrown out of that diner the way he was.

It's amazing to see what you can do with squares of paper. At the most basic levels, you can make boats, boxes, birds, vases, tulips, action models, and modular geometry that would take your breath away. It's an exercise in creation on the small scale, a little bit of crafting accessible to all, no matter your level of creative ability. You can take that flat piece of paper, and turn it into a three-dimensional model, simply.

There's a myth, which I've always wanted to believe, that if you folded a thousand origami cranes you could make a miracle. I tried it, once, a long time ago, but stalled somewhere in the two hundreds. A miracle was needed, but none came. It's nice to think that you might be able to make your own miracle, instead of just hoping for some omnipotent being to align itself with your cause. It's the form of horribly difficult miracle that would be attainable to the common person if they truly cared enough. It's an industrious and independence fostering kind of miracle, even if the very concept of wishing for a miracle does reinforce a dependent architecture of thought. How's that for a contradictory statement?

Origami can stimulate a certain philosophical frame of mind, as seen in the previous passage. It can also get you through running a stall at the local produce market, and a wonderfully relaxing weekend of dogsitting. Yes, origami heaven is back in time for Christmas, and that can't be a bad thing. This is the Quirky Muffin, nestling in a paper-driven puddle of tranquility.

Go fold a crane.


Friday, 18 December 2015

This Is The Rumba Of My Mind

The clickety-clack of the keys continues, as the author tries to pound out something sensible after a day of being confused and mathematical. The rigours of trying to find a two-dimensional solution to a pair of partial differential equations recede as the composition process takes over, and the pain of a broken year-long sugar respite sizzles. Oh, the pain.

Yes, it can be done. The words can continue. The words must continue, as dogsitting leaves lots of time for composition and random writing, especially with a spell of locum selling at the local Pontyates produce market included. Oh, the local produce market, a fascinating event where locals in a poor region turn up with their produce and try to sell it at extortionate prices, usually failing. The produce market before Christmas will be an unusual time. While trying to sell my absent mother's painted glass, I plan to do some origami demonstrations. Turn up, if you dare!

Oh, I've just been reminded that 'Duel' exists, that awesome Spielberg television movie that inspired and prototyped 'Jaws'. 'Duel' will almost certainly be part of the weekend. Ah, 'Duel', the humourless mini-epic that truly demonstrated that a large budget wasn't necessary to make a thrilling cinematic ordeal. Oh, if only there were a few jokes, though. Just one or two. And fewer snakes. Less snakes would be an advantage.

Miami is looming. A mammoth trip, with almost a day of flying in total. It will be gruelling, but also a grand opportunity to catch up with the books that have loitered on my piles for too long. Yes, the plan is in, and those books will be dealt with! Mwahahahahaha! They're not bad books, just ones that don't beg to be read. 'A Connecticut Yankee' will be dealt with, as will volume two of 'Journey to the West', Freud's book on jokes, and Jung's 'Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious' will get a lump taken out of it too. The plan is in.

Tomorrow: Origami and sales!


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Movie: 'Jamaica Inn' (1939)

Another hole in my knowledge of the Hitchcock canon is filled, and so another film post is born. What a fascinating film this is, a curious blend of the Charles Laughton influence (he was in some ways the British Orson Welles) with the Hitchcock mold as set by 'The Thirty Nine Steps'. Or, if you prefer a different kind of fascinating, then just look at Laughton's incredibly strange false eyebrows, which were presumably accurate representations of the fashions of the time. What a creepy look that man had! It seems as if this version of 'Jamaica Inn' decided that evil would best be indicated by demented eyebrows and mad staring eyes...

To put 'Jamaica Inn' in context, this adaptation was released only three years after the publication of Daphne du Maurier's novel, and stands as the last entry in Hitchcock's British period. His next film would be 'Rebecca', kicking off the American era. Hitch's preceding film was 'The Lady Vanishes', which I like rather a lot, but this one is hard to quantify. In many ways, especially given Laughton's performance (which various people have described as 'ripe', 'hammy', or even 'broad') it's a satire, but in other aspects it's a straightforward adaptation of a bestseller, and also a Hitchcock adventure/thriller. Hitchcock always seemed a little limited when he did adaptations, trapped in between excellent source material and doing what he actually wanted to do. In this case, he also had Laughton to contend with, a domineering presence, and whatever modifications were made to the story in the adaptational process. This will be clearer when the novel makes it to the top of my reading piles.

'Jamaica Inn' is the story of the young lady Mary Yellen (Maureen O'Hara), newly orphaned, who arrives in Cornwall to live with her Aunt in the eponymous inn. Secretly, however, the aunt's husband is leader of a gang of merciless and murderous wreckers, who have already killed dozens of sailors, and take their orders from the bizarre and hereditarily mad Sir Humphrey Pengallan, who is also the local magistrate. Mary promptly, and with great prescience for a woman in a period novel, rescues a novitiate rebellious wrecker Traherne (Robert Newton) from the gang's murderous ways, and destroys the system they've built up over the years, thanks to said rescued wrecker being an undercover officer of the law.

Apparently, this film is regularly listed as one of the worst movies of all time, and declared Hitchcock's worst. It certainly does start badly, but picks up a little tension when Laughton's Pengallan is put in the middle of the action, being in on the raid that Traherne organises and cautiously biding his time until revealing his underhanded true nature. In fact, he takes so long to unmask himself as the villain to the gallant lady and policeman, that you begin to wonder if he'll get away with it! I can't see this is as one of the worst movies made, no. How curious a judgement that is. Bizarre...

'Jamaica Inn' is not Hitchcock's best, not at all, but there are good points to the film. Maureen O'Hara gives a solid performance, Laughton goes not so much over the top as overboard, and the acting is up and down by actor. There is some nice banter between some of the wreckers, who are well defined individually, but Newton comes off as a blander version of Michael Redgrave or Robert Donat, from Hitch's earlier films. It's a curiously enjoyable film, which even touches on spousal abuse, with the loyalty of Mary's aunt toward her wrecking and somewhat brutal husband. Hitch could get away with a lot more in his British years than he could in America.


Monday, 14 December 2015

There Are No Magical Giraffes In This Post

Welcome to the first Monday of the rest of your life. Did you have a nice weekend? Were you chased by magical giraffes? Really? Why not? Sometimes I wonder at the comparatively small number of magical giraffe sighting in this area, and what the implications might be. I write to you now from the little valley of relief that you find after completing the hideous process of applying for a job, which no-one needs explained to them. Yes, the whole of life has been summarised into a few lines, and now it's time to kick back and finish some of the more enjoyable parts of existence.

Hang on. How exactly does this 'enjoying life' bit work again? It has been a while. Should there be a trumpet involved somewhere? Or a pack of playing cards themed to the characters from 'Rainbow'? (Bonus points for readers, if there are any, who know 'Rainbow'.) Perhaps freewheeling on this blog is good enough? It is nice to have the words flow easily, for once, possibly due to a haircut and a good mood. I've not actually checked for themed playing cards before. I wonder if...

Ahem. Excuse me. That was a brief trip down the rabbit hole of the Internet, and now this post will continue on its original random trajectory, to nowhere in particular. Christmas is nearing, and even the principled agnostic needs a period to relax from time to time. Relax from what? The stresses of not working? I scoff at myself! Ha! Perhaps this whole post should turn into an adversarial monologue, in a rash attempt to see out the festive period from a rubber room? Ho ho ho. It might be more interesting than this random extemporising, but no. Also, there is no Father Christmas in the wardrobe. You're imagining that. Or I am.

It's fun to extemporise, and forget the poisonous political issues of the day. Just let all that nonsense go away for a little bit, and think about what to read, and how to spend the next few days. Plot out the lessons for the next few students, and wonder at the marvel that is 'The Muppet Show'. I'm still amazed that show got made, as excellent as it is. Or perhaps now is a good time to hunt down some new recipes to test disastrously on anyone foolish enough to draw near. The last attempt was lovely roast butternut squash, but the maddening fools didn't take to it en masse. Humbug! What else might be done with a butternut squash?

Cooking is fun. Cooking is lovely. The horrible part is giving the food to other people to eat. I wonder how chefs resist the pull toward madness? Or are they all mad? That might explain several of them, in fact. Now, not having used the cliched ellipsis nearly enough in this post, let's close, and hope that none of the magical giraffes ate the tops off the wagons again. Those wagon covers sure are difficult to replace...



Saturday, 12 December 2015

Story: The Ninja of Health, VI

( Part V , VII )

A third circle lay there in the pattern of the Floor of Spirals. The Man and the Woman sat there, ill at ease with the harmony they had just achieved with their home. The Woman looked at her companion. "Dare we move?" She asked?

"You're the one who taught me, dear heart." He mused for a few moments. "Everything you ever told me about the Floor implied that it merely reflected the outside world and our places within it."

"Yes, that is what Old Master Ken taught me, however..." The Woman hesitated.


"He told me that there were other things, best left untouched. Things of the OTher. Look at how chaotic and disintegrated the pattern becomes there, almost forming something else, entirely. Something different."

"We will have to consult the Appendices. Perhaps even the Oracle" The Man cupped his chin in his left hand, and studied. "We'll have to leave, whatever we conclude here." He tried to stand up, and hit his arms and knees on air. "By the Oath..." His companion also tried and hit her head on the atmosphere. They looked at each other, and then levered themselves to standing against the floor and the barrier they couldn't see.

"It's cylindrical." Observed the Woman.

"No top I can reach." Said her friend in his turn. "Climb?"


Levering themselves up the barriers, they squirmed upward against gravity, finally finding a gap for escape near the ceiling. Incongruously resting on the edge of tubes' exits, they looked down at the Floor.

"We've been invaded." The Man concluded.

"Yes." The Woman agreed.

"Oh, definitely." The Invader threw in.

The tubes shattered.

To be continued...

Thursday, 10 December 2015

It Ends With Monkeys

As the Miami trip edges closer to the present, and we all approach the Solstice, the Quirky Muffin edges into over-drive as entries get prepared and scheduled IN ADVANCE to cover this author's absence. Yes, you poor notional destitute blog reader, you will not be abandoned. These hollow mockeries will continue to echo through your phantasmic visual orifices! So far, two of the five needed entries are in the bag, and three more will be done before that fateful week in June. Hmmm. Best moderate that statement a little. The three will be done, if this disgusting Minecraft addiction can be defeated.

Addictive behaviour is one of the hardest things to break, especially when the activity isn't itself harmful except for using up too much time. The brain is essentially lazy, after all, and tries to keep its behavioural patterns, no matter ther implications. A lot of addictions are also centred around altered brain chemistry due to over-use, which is easily linked to computer abuse. No, not being hit over the head with a laptop, but over-stimulation of the brain via computer games and other things. If sugar can be dropped, then so can Minecraft and constant e-mail watching, surely? I just proved myself wrong, didn't I? Too much computer time isn't just a waste, but also brain-altering. Blast.

Preparing blogs in advance is arduous, but worthwhile. It's also a massive expenditure in the easier topics, like reviews and story improvisations. It's nice to not have an interruption in the personal challenge that is the Quirky Muffin, even if the mental equivalent of a bunch of monkeys at typewriters are put into operation to pull it off. You can all expect a roll of blog posts roughed out during the cumulatively more than twenty five hours of travelling and travails.

Monkeys at typewriters... Did you know that Shakespeare Monkey Generator of Internet Past did actually generate results? According to the unreliable sources of Internet news sites, an almost complete (ninety-nine-per-cent) set of Shakespeare's works was completed by virtual monkeys, over only a few trillion virtual monkey years. Unfortunately, they had to remove spaces and punctuation to achieve that match, which seems like cheating. Oh, it doesn't just seem like cheating, it actually is cheating! I wonder what the record was with spaces retained, at least. Do you realise that over a few trillion real monkey years the monkeys would improve at the task and would actually cut down that estimate? Crikey, an evolved monkey might actually improve the works of Shakespeare, actually making some of the jokes funny!

Sadly, the original online Shakespeare Monkey Simulator closed down years ago. Having realised that, it is immediately missed most intensely. Could someone please get the Virtual Shakespeare Monkeys back to work, please? They're much better behaved than real monkeys, after all, and we would see far fewer typewriters being wrecked.


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Story: The Glove, VIII

( Part VII , IX )

The airport at Edin was sleek, modern, and efficient. Information displays cycled rapidly and invisibly, and the powered walkways moved the passengers with ease. Steffan walked alongside, matching pace, and headed ever onward down the passage to his waiting luggage. The airship behind the flowing passengers had already decoupled, and was spiralling down to the outer moorings.

A robotic floor cleaner followed the passengers down the walkway, keeping everything pristine. Back home, it would have been a person, doing his bit for the community. Back home there was also Master Octavius, while here there might be dissidents and rebels. The terminal neared and then suddenly Steffan was there, collecting his things, and stepping out into the big city itself.

The city of Edin was loud, and brazenly technological. The piper stood there and gaped, and then gaped some more, being so used to the styles of home. A techno-taxi stopped in front of him, and the driver honked the horn. Steffan stared at the bizarre vehicle, and then reluctantly asked the driver if he knew where to find the Rock of Augustus, a boarding house. Before he knew what was happening, he was in the cab and they were speeding off. Edin blurred by on both sides, brightly coloured, incomprehensible.

Steffan hadn't chosen the Rock of Augustus at random. At the academy, the initiates had heard many a tall tale about the house and how it had been the customary haunt for Burghers when abroad for generations, before the exchange program had slowed to a trickle. It would be the perfect place to begin. The taxi dropped him off, rather abruptly, and zoomed away on another call after Steffan tapped his bead to the reader.

The Rock of Augustus looked run down, worn out, and decidedly dingy. He stepped over the threshold anyway. Inside, a mountain of a human being was sitting behind the reception desk, and smiled warmly when he saw the pipes bag in the visitor's grasp!

"Finally!" Boomed the mountain. "We've been waiting for you for hours! What kept you?"

"What on Troos are you talking about, man?" Wondered Steffan aloud.

"Is your name not Steffan? Come on, lad, your room's all ready. You may not be a Piper, but you are a piper still. I've got a little arrangement for you..."

To be continued...

Sunday, 6 December 2015


The ritual begins. The deck of cards is carefully shuffled. The mind clears, and focusses. The deck is dealt into four piles, which are then reshuffled. Finally, the cards are sufficiently mixed, and the setup begins. Over seven columns, the familiar pattern for what we call 'solitaire', but is more commonly called 'klondike' throughout the world, is laid out. Seven columns, of height one then two, three, and so on until seven. The bottom card of each stack is turned face up and we go on.

Turning the stock pile over, three cards at a time, and only building stacks in alternating colour, there is something magical about this version of solitaire. It is the perfect way to learn how to lose as well as win, and also the perfect way to compose the mind after a day of rugged mental torture. In this time of continual multi-tasking, there's nothing so relaxing as just playing solitaire. It's less taxing than reading a novel, but more of a mental workout than counting the number or rugs (zero) in your bedroom over and over.

Over and over, you set up the tableau, spot the patterns and connections, and pass through the deck until the game is won or stalemate has been reached. When you reach stalemate and 'lose', what do you do? You don't mope, or grumble, or get angry. What you do is collect all the cards together and set it all up for another go. It's life in a microcosm, a demonstration of how important it is to not get beaten down by failure but instead keep on going, and enjoy the victories when they happen. They do happen, and are not imaginary.

We shuffle the cards, set up the tableau, and start the process of dealing, rearranging, sorting and progressing all over again. It's a lot more meaningful with real cards than it is on the computer. The physical movements are reassuring, and relaxing. It's a little meditation, a condensation of calm, and a chance to let go of the reins and be at one with something that isn't work or stress. That's right, you can actually play solitaire with real cards! It's one of the more pleasant things to do. There's a reason why there are so many solitaire scenes in old movies...

Flip the card. Move the red queen to the black king. Flip another card. Go through the deck a few times. Admit defeat. Collect it all up, and go again. Don't give up. Go again.


Friday, 4 December 2015

Some Strings Of Words

Having been cloistered away in reclusive exile for so long now, it's quite refreshing to emerge into the real world from time to time. Of course, the real refreshment is being able to then vanish once again, into the cave of unemployment, where no-one dares to bother you. Now, to speak absolutely accurately, I'm not unemployed at all, but a freelance private tutor of Mathematics, English and Spanish, but there are only so many evening hours in the week, and so few people seeking help in these poverty-stricken times. It's much like earning a thimble full of water each day instead of the bucket and a half that you might really need.

At least Aberystwyth was nice, a genial day trip destination, as wet and breezy as usual. That town truly comes alive in the wintry months, as nature rails against the railings of civilization. The waves roar in relentlessly, throwing great washes of spray over the promenade, and filling the night with watery grandeur. The orange lights go fizzy, and occasionally all is clear and the stars shine so bright on the pebbly fringe.

The last week saw some indulgences in old 'Star Trek' novels and some musings on the healthiness of revelling in things from the past. It seems that there could be dangers in some people trying to remain the same forever, but you could also argue that maintaining a connection to the person you used to be is quite healthy, and could even be vital in the event of some personal disaster or trauma. Don't you sometimes need the idea of an earlier version of yourself? So that you can work out what differences might be causing problems now? Or even work out what differences have fixed the problems you used to have. It's an age old question. Some of those 'Star Trek' novels are very good and imaginative, little gems of 'do what you will' fiction in the early days of the phenomenon, before all became locked into the stricter continuity we have now. I've written about that somewhere before. Maybe it was the post about the Blish adaptations?

It could be easily argued that reading something familiar is a necessary thing, a relaxation after the tension of reading a string of new books, including the drain of all the short stories! Is it credible? Would someone find it credible that reading a book for the first time could be stressful and draining? Does it matter? No, not really. We are all different, after all, and united in those differences. It's the way of the world, while it's still spinning.

Now, the cave needs a bit of a dust, and the 'no-one at home' signs needs repainting. We hermits must keep up our standards, after all.


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Movie: 'One, Two, Three' (1961)

This is a curious movie, a definite second stringer in the Billy Wilder catalogue, and a rare farcical role for James Cagney. In fact, it would be Cagney's last film role for twenty years. I haven't seen any other Cagney films; He's a performer who has slipped through unnoticed, probably due to being famous for tough guy roles. Apparently, he was an accomplished song and dance man, putting him firmly in the 'secret polymath' territory currently being occupied by Hugh Jackman. In 'One, Two, Three', Cagney plays a Coca-Cola executive in West Berlin, who ends up in an increasingly farcical and quick-fire situation while hosting his boss's daughter for a few days, which turn into months, and a very unfortunate marriage and pregnancy with a lover from the other side of the Curtain.

It's all about Cagney, and not very reminiscent of the great Wilder films of the period, being so light and frothy as to constitute nothing at all. The script is incredibly witty, fast, and loaded with visual jokes, some of which go on too long, and others of which pop too quickly. The supporting cast are all excellent, but not Wilder's typical people, nor is the setting. Following 1960's 'The Apartment', this movie begins the trilogy of critically unappreciated films that would continue with 'Irma La Douce' and culminate in 'Kiss Me, Stupid'. I like that last one, but it was reviled at the time.

On the positive side, the dialogue is great, as is the photography, and the music. The cast is on the whole good, with Horst Buckholz in his other most famous film, and a host of people you think you may have seen before but probably haven't. On the negative side, every character but Cagney's is underwritten and little more than a joke. The important role played by politics, and Coca-Cola is confusing now, partly because of the broad satire that Wilder is playing out here, in the divided city of Berlin. I never knew that the city was divided less formally before the construction of the Berlin Wall, nor that it was built so late. It seems rather strange to make so much fun of the communists now, when they've been gone from Germany for so long, and you can't help but wonder if Wilder was stretching to find things to mock, having decided to take it (relatively) easy on corporations this time.

Maybe 'One, Two, Three' falls foul of my liking for films which try to do more than one thing at a time. Films which aren't purely comedies, tragedies, romances, or anything else. It simply doesn't do enough to escape 'just being a comedy', and Buckholz's turn as the Communist new husband of the boss's daughter is a bit too single-toned to add nuance to anything. It's just a comedy, and that's a massive problem when the movie that you're following is the smash hit 'The Apartment'. This reasoning may also tie in to my not particularly liking 'Some Like It Hot', which is apparently a crime against film-watching.

'One, Two, Three' is an excellently fast paced farce set in a place and time you don't often see in film. Cagney is great, and everyone else is good. It just seems like it needs more of a point, and perhaps some more of the Billy Wilder repertory players.


Monday, 30 November 2015

The End Of November

It's raining, in the dark night. It's the lovely, cleansing, endless rain of the end of November, relentless and windswept. All the gunk and residue of the remains of Summer are being cleaned away, to leave the stark landscape that will see us through Winter. The rain, is magnificent, and continues.

It has been raining for weeks now. The Sun is a long distant memory, and rarely seen even on clear days as the daylight hours reduce in number to less than eight each day. It's like a whole other world, a fantastical other dimension that takes over in the Winter months. Outside my window, it is pitch black and spookily cold, with whistling winds and a squelch under foot. Sometimes, strange noises come from the obscurity, or is that just the imagination, taunting and teasing?

Oh, the gloom of the unknown. It might very well be exactly the same landscape outside now, as it was before, but how are we to tell? That garden, spacious and luxurious as it is, could be home to all kinds of unknowable things in the dark, the dark that has scared me all my life. (Continuing the theme of this author being a scaredy-cat, it is time to reveal that the dark is one of those primal fears not to be overruled.) Even in the dusk, and walking along a well-travelled trail, the pace quickens at the thought of all the cliched horrors that might be lurking, and a walk along a pavement in the dark becomes an ordeal beyond all measure. Even now, the memory of all those sleeps under the protective night light is reassuring, even though the night light itself is also but a memory.

Why be scared of the dark? It's really nothing taken by itself, an absence of light, but we have thought of it throughout time as the time when things go bump in the night, when the spooks come out to play, and things go missing, never to be seen again... Mwahahahahahah. The night time is scary, whether in town or in country. Maybe it's 'The Adventure of the Speckled Band', and its influence on the developing mind, and all the other myths and tales lodged in the collective unconscious...

Have a nice night out there, and don't forget to avoid the bump in the night...


Saturday, 28 November 2015

Television: 'The Adventures of Brisco County jr: High Treason, Part 2' (1994) (Episode 1x26)

It's over. 'The Adventures of Brisco County jr' is over, and they pulled out all the stops to finish it. No gag was left unpulled, no silliness unexpressed, no chance to use Comet's tricks passed by, and there was an airship. The ultimate expression of Professor Wickwire's inventive genius was an airship! Every single recurring character except for Dixie Cousins, who got her own sendoff in 'And Baby Makes Three', reunited in a supreme blob of brilliant nuttiness. In truth, part one was a lot stronger, but a final episode is a very difficult thing to make, especially in the wake of a series' cancellation. This is essentially an encore to everything that ever worked in the show, and a polite forgetting of the things which didn't.

This was a great one-season show, an experiment which worked creatively but never found the audience it needed and deserved, and was one of the pearls of a decade in television caught between the excesses of the 1980s and the revisionism and homages of the  of the 2000s. It was a homage to the old movie serials, a buddy comedy, a fusion of every genre they could fit in to an hour each week, and an optimistic view of the future seen from the now distant past. Yes, it was great to think of 'the things to come' back then, and it should be now too. It's strange to think of that spirit of invention, now long gone. Do people still invent things? Do they?

'Brisco County jr' had the magic balance of a great cast, superb writers, and a gaggle of talented directors. Now it's over. There won't be any more playful banter between Bruce Campbell, Julius Carry and Christian Clemenson. There will be no more flirtatious bantering with the delightful Kelly Rutherford as Dixie, no more wackiness with the legendary John Astin as Wickwire, no more bizarre encounters with dopey Pete Hutter and Whip Morgan. It was great while it lasted.

Did 'Brisco County jr' fulfil its promise? It's hard to say. The most blatant science fictional arc of John Bly and the annoyingly named 'Orb' fizzled badly and eventually was closed out of the show, but the chemistry of the cast and the love of homages to the future and adventure propelled it more and more, especially post-cancellation. For once, a cancelled series did unfurl its wings when there was nothing left to prove, and set out to have some fun while the sun was shining. Yes, you could say that it did fulfil its potential by not having to save anything for future seasons. Every angle did get played, and then it all stopped before it could be played out. Was it ever more than a fun romp? Yes. It was a great fun romp! Thank you, people behind 'Brisco County jr', you did well.


Note: I wrote about the first episode at .

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Fear

There's nothing quite like a pile of possibly life changing events to really put the fear into you. A great unknown opens in front of you, and options vanish into it like a black hole sucking in whole worlds. In the first case, flight tickets are now booked so that I can visit a dear friend, who I've never met, in Miami. Flight tickets. There's nothing I like less than flying. I've written whole posts, or think I have, about how I'll do anything to avoid getting on a plane, including doubling the time and expense to jump on a boat or train! Sadly, when it comes to reaching North America, there is only flying or the massively expensive trans-Atlantic crossing by sea. For your information, whether by cruise liner or freighter, it costs a mere one thousand pounds to cross the Atlantic by sea, each way. Yes, I'll write that again: Each way.

On top of the horrors of future flying, there is also the nightmare of co-writing a grant proposal, which is horrific enough even when the prize of success isn't a two year sojourn in another country. Yes, in a better frame of mind, these would be great avenues of opportunity, to be relished and enjoyed, but... I'm a coward. Yes, the author of the Quirky Muffin is a great big scaredy-cat. The fear of success, that most mystifying fear that touches so many, lurks here in the heart of man. Even the fear of finishing the joined-up version of 'Wordspace' is quite the potent one, as then phase two of that awesome endeavour will have to begin. Finishing things is always scary, isn't it, as you're trading a known for an unknown? Or is that negativity once again?

If this grant proposal were successful, the Quirky Muffin would be written from Poland for two years, more or less. Living in another country is a difficult proposition. People do it all the time, and I admire them for it. The adaptability of mind and manner required is immense, and of all the things I've ever done, moving around in the country and Europe has been the hardest. It's difficult. Maybe it's borderline Asperger-iness, the lack of conveniences, or the simply that the settling in period is so long, and the motivation almost always insufficient. Before that even becomes an issue, there's a bigger hurdle to cross: The career plan.

The career plan is the hardest part of higher level applications. It's never enough to write that you would like to be able to buy food for a few months and try out a new topic to see if it's interesting. No, you have to become eloquent and elaborate. You also have to pretend to talk about yourself, when really the reader wants to know if the things you want are compatible with their needs, and whether you're going to be a long-term investment to them or a short-term colleague. All these things need to be factored in with the notional idea of where you want to be at the end of the project. Where do I want to be? It's been a rough road in research so far, a very rough road. Writing and tutoring is far more pleasant, but pay no bills. It's the Sword of Damocles, hanging once again, ready to cause havoc on whichever side it tumbles. Or, perhaps, it's the Gordian know, which will not be solved.

You see, this is what happens when you think out loud while typing a blog. I miss my therapist. Sure, they wore a duck bill all the time, and thought the harmonica was the greatest instrument ever invented, but at least after the spouting of nonsense was over, you got to hear them use the duck call.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Story: 'The Wheels In The Sky, I'

The wheels in the sky turned. The five remaining Readers watched intently, calculating the ratios of this latest configuration. The Blue Reader looked up, saw the contrast between the largest and the smallest wheels in the first quadrant, and predicted that the summer would be long, warm, and very dry. He also predicted lots of pumpkins near Alfanwid, but that was only because he lived near that town, and loved pumpkins.

The wheels in the sky spun. The Red Reader looked, and saw that all the wheels were spinning in the opposite directions to before, and thought about the first summer she had spent studying the night sky, looking for patterns in the wheels that changed every year, in the tiny cogs and interferences between all the different parts of the great panorama. She predicted that everything would stay the same, except that muffins would become the new breakfast fad in the next year, and orange the fashionable colour.

The cogs in the sky rotated. The Yellow Reader examined them, and looked for the similarities and differences in the Readers around them. The world of the sky was reflected in the people of the world, and just as much could be learnt from them, as from it. He studied the cogs, then the Readers, and then the cogs again. Finally, he noted on his paper his prediction that there would be great tranquility over the lands in the coming cycle, and that the remaining people of the world would enjoy and prosper in good times.

The surface of the world operated above them. The Green Reader, who knew that they lived on the inside of a great mechanical device, looked at the cogs and wondered what lay outside. Was there really an outside? Was there really a configuration of the wheels in the sky that would allow them to see the truth? The great Builders had left nothing but mystery behind them, and the wheels told him only that they had entered the third fifth of the ninth year of the Artisan cycle and that soon he would have to realign the wheels on his sky mower, to remove some moss from the largest wheel of the ninth sector. Officially, he predicted that the world would end, as he always did. He liked to be predictable.

The sky continued its dance. The White Reader, who predicted little usually, looked up and laughed. Writing on her sheet of paper, she predicted that the moon would not be dangerously made of cream cheese, that the great spaghetti god would not get caught in the turning of the wheels and cause chaos, and that the Readers would not lead an exploration to the centre of their world and find a great unexplained absence. Two out of those three were the only correct predictions of the whole batch. At the time, she had no idea...

To continue, or not to continue?

Sunday, 22 November 2015

To Be Tired

It has been months since the summer solstice, and some weeks since the autumnal equinox, and now tiredness is the normal state of things. In a few weeks more, it will all turn around, but for now everything is hard, even the Quirky Muffin. There's so little daytime, and so much sleeping to be done, but will we give in? Will we surrender? Well, maybe not this time! The endurance event that is year's end will not be the breaker this year! Already, it's hard to believe just how many times I've written about the bleakness of this quarter.

All in all, it's not the worst year's end on record, despite the despicable behaviour of the blokes in charge of the country, as I've actually been mildly successful. Yes, an initiative has actually gone well, as my four students of the year's end persist! How unbelievable it is! I knew I wasn't a terrible tutor, but this implies some actual ability. Ability? No, be serious, good grief, there can be no escaping Charlie Brown syndrome at this point. Oh, Charlie Brown, you really are quite the role model!

At this point, it would be remiss of me to neglect that Abraham Lincoln has just beamed aboard the USS Enterprise. We will now go on with the regularly improvised writing of the blog, and ignore that madness. Oh, 'The Savage Curtain' isn't a bad episode of 'Star Trek', not really! Nor was 'Rape And Revenge', part one, from 'Hunter'. Actually, it was a lot less heavy-handed than I thought it would be. All this television watching is extremely habit forming, but at least it's entertaining! It's strange to think that whole series have gone by during this spell between academic jobs.

Soon, it will be a much less tiring time of year. Thank goodness. It won't be so hard to swim, or cycle, or be enthusiastic. Before then, a grant proposal will be written, and much tutoring will be carried with the best of intentions and the best of progress. These may be tough times, but aspiration will get us through, as long as it doesn't transition into the disaster of hubris. Charlie Brown did sometimes get taken down such overweening pride, after all.

Hmm, maybe it's time to check out that first 'Peanuts' movie from the 1960s? Maybe?


Friday, 20 November 2015

Radio: 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective' (1949-1953)

'Ladyhawke' is playing once again, and I'm fascinated. It's a great film, that only grows. I've already written about that, though. Curses! The joined-up version of the first phase of 'Wordspace' isn't quite ready, either, so it's time to dig up a queued topic from the lists...

There was a great old time radio series called 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective', which ran on the NBC radio network. It ran from 1949 to 1953, although the full original cast and writer only hung about for a year. What a year it was, though! There's something culminative about 'Richard Diamond', a post-modern spin on hard-boiled detectives on radio and in print. A large part of that is down to the legendary Blake Edwards, who essentially run the whole show, before going on to make the more legendary 'Peter Gunn' on television and then films galore.

Yes, it's post-modern and funny in the best way, while still being innocent and a bit cheesy in some of the best traditions of radio at the time. The show was led by Dick Powell as the titular detective, who was accompanied by the sumptuously voiced Virginia Gregg as rich girlfriend Helen Asher, the voice for all occasions Wilms Herbert, and the now mythical Ed Begley as Diamond's police lieutenant friend Walt. Yes, the original Ed Begley, the man himself. He wasn't just one of the nasty jurors in 'Twelve Angry Men', you know.

Unusually for the time, it wasn't always about a case of the week in this show. In the first year, particularly, they liked to experiment with the format. One notable example is a direct consequence of the format wherein Diamond would end each episode serenading Helen at the piano, at her request, and involved an irate neighbour employing another detective to nobble his voice so he could get some peace and quiet. It was a fine and funny detective show, which was followed up by a television version which may never see the light of day on home media. I wonder if it was as good with less imaginative input from the audience? David Jansen seems like a weird fit, so maybe they darkened it up?

It's a great old radio show, and one easily checked out at the following link, bearing in mind that the last original team episode is number 51, and the first one or two episodes are scratchy in quality:

Enjoy, phantom readers of the Quirky Muffin, and welcome to the wacky world of Old Time Radio!


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The (Grant) Proposal

The blank prospect of the grant proposal is mocking me. I can feel it, deep in an automated web server, being creepy. How dare these things sit there, projecting creepiness on to the innocent researchers of the world?! Well, I'm reasonable sure there is at least one innocent researcher in the world, if haven't yet deserted to do something more worthwhile, like shelling peanuts or throwing three sheets into the wind. I wonder what the origin of that last saying is, anyway?

<pauses for thought, and research>

According to Wiktionary, which surely can never be wrong, 'three sheets to the wind' refers to the rocky and unsteady behaviour of a ship or boat that can result from having several 'sheets' loose and not controlling the sails properly. In the nautical context, a 'sheet' was a rope that controlled the trim of a sail. Obviously, the saying was going to be related to sailing somehow, but 'sheets' was a very misleading word. The saying is also a euphemism for being drunk, though, so I wouldn't have used it if my knowledge were more extensive.

The blank prospect, the empty page. All potential awaits, if you but have the courage to slap it onto the paper with grave abandon. In this instance, however, all the interesting words will have to removed until the end result is sufficiently bland, and then magic keywords sprinkled throughout so that it triggers the appropriate currency symbols in the readers' minds. Yes, they must think about the money the work might bring in, or reputation, or biscuit subsidies. The triggers must be artfully placed in sight, and blatantly, if this writer can bear to do that. Blast you, you proposal, why can't you be as easy as unlocking the DVD player? Why? Having said that, the DVD unlocking was rather involved...

Oh, the proposal will be written, and written wonderfully. Modesty will be thrown away, and the shovel of fate driven through the snow of success until it collides with the boulder of reality. In the meantime, pristine copies of 'Jamaica Inn' and 'Armadale' await their turns in the reading rotation. Let the effort begin once again.


Monday, 16 November 2015

Book: 'Manalive' by GK Chesterton (1912)

So far, all three of Chesterton's novels that I have read had a point, which is nice. Of course, they might all have had the same point, but that's a question for another day. 'Manalive' is about a seeming innocent man named 'Innocent Smith', who brings joy and wisdom into a boarding house full of repressed and bored residents, before being accused of being insane and dangerous by a doctor and his friend a psychiatrist. Could Innocent really be a murderous, adulterous, lunatic vagabond, or is there something else lurking below the surface? Will his temporary housemates be able to clear his name before he's taken away and imprisoned forever?

Obviously, there would be something else below the surface, a tale about how important it is to remain alive in our lives and not deadened to the irrationalities of day to day mundanities. It's almost tailor-made for the modern day! It's a theme common to many belief systems, and as Chesterton was a theologian this one is tinged with Christian ideology. You could just as easily coat it over the beliefs of your own choice, though, or avoid the mild references for the interesting mystery that unfolds. The novel is split into two parts, the first of which effectively describes the problem, and the second describes the solution, explaining the erratic behaviour of Smith in the process.

It's fascinating, though not as good as 'The Man Who Was Thursday' or 'The Napoleon Of Notting Hill'. Chesterton was clearly a supremely gifted author, and one who wanted to add meaning to what he wrote. Meaning is something of a forgotten virtue in writing, a scorned idea, and a supposedly obsolete concept. If that's true, then why does added meaning make things so much better? Why do Chesterton, Aaron Sorkin, and the others in that small band, write such very good things? And why do so very few people then watch or read them? The answer may be related to the old and controversial idea of populism. Added meaning simply isn't populist, and so companies are reluctant to let it by, and audiences are reluctant at taking the chance of being lectured.

'Manalive' has a similar effect to movies like 'Groundhog Day' and 'Stranger Than Fiction', a vivifying effect which dissipates but slowly. I've not really written much about it, but it was a good novel about a man who, for example, would go all the way around the world just so he could fall back in love with his home upon returning, and the impact of his existence on the people around him. It's also about how to become aware of the things around you, that have long been taken for granted. You might like it. Who knows?


Saturday, 14 November 2015

Bang, bing, bong

Next time, the post will maybe be about the first season of 'The Newsroom', which I watched over the last two days, or 'Manalive' by GK Chesterton, or 'Peanuts'. Today is vague and undefined, but it will at least be slightly easier now that the insomnia and Minecraft binge have worn off. There's nothing like a couple of nights of not sleeping to really sharpen the nerves of a supposed blog writer!

The storm continues to rage outside, and a life without strong winds seems but a distant memory. Over the next few days, there will be so much writing, rewriting and editing that I might just go mad without a walk in the wild outdoors! Blast you, storms from nowhere!

It would be nice to be topical today, to talk about something which is important and invokes a passion or ethical issue. It would be nice to be relevant. 'The Newsroom' may have inspired that desire to return to that style of post. There are things to write, given some fortitude, about the world, the obsolete natures of nationalism and evangelism, the importance of fusing meaning into art and the crucial necessity of confronting the forces that seek to undermine us, constructively. To paraphrase someone else's botched quote, 'the only thing that the good must do is nothing, for evil to be victorious'.

What is to be done? That's a question for another day. For now, as the winds rage, sleep remains elusive, writing work piles up all around, and the future leans back and forth on the fence of uncertainty, it's time to read more and try to not panic. After all, it wouldn't be good for the students! All four of them!


Side notes: 'Plato's Stepchildren' isn't as bad an episode of 'Star Trek' as they say, but it is distasteful and dull. It's definitely skippable in the grand scheme of things.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Story: 'Diary of a Laundry Robot', Week III

( Week II , Week IV )


The mind of a robotic laundry operative does not easily cope with whole missing days in its memory. Over the weekend maintenance period, the temporal gap caused by the contents of Professor Bramble's bizarre yellow coat gnawed into my memory registers like detergent into a badly kept bowler hat. What might have happened? Fortunately, the usual business of Monday kept me distracted. This week has begun with Celia and myself detailing and reforming the traditional robes of the Lord Mayor, who happens at the moment to be a hippopotamus. Ever since the previous incumbent, a giraffe called Mabel, passed away, the laundry bill has quadrupled. Plainly, the lord mayoral keepers are not at their best, but fortunately that august office rotates its business around all the laundry establishments in order to not show favoritism. Celia tells horrid stories of the laundry of Mabel's predecessor, which I have steadfastly refused to believe up until now. What madness, in letting public offices fall to water dwelling mammals!


A small blue chap with a red hat, suspiciously similar to he who cleaned up after the Bramble incident, came in today with a bag of identical red hats and a little ball on a piece of string, hanging from a stick. As he handed over the bag, he tried to discreetly wave the ball over in my direction but I dodged. It seemed to light up, in a most surprising manner near the middle washing machine, the one we call Fred or the Boulder, depending on our moods. Looking disappointed, the little being left, and we continued on with our duties. Today was a three robot day, yesterday having the Windslow Cup, a charity golf tournement in aid of the Prison. You might wonder why we still have a Prison, when we only have one ceremonial Prisoner, who is treated like royalty. These things are not for mere laundry robots to contemplate. Bobbie had been very quiet today, but then went berzerk five minutes before closing time, tried to wash all the ties in a giant colander, and has been taken away by Rocktop Beta for extended analysis. I suspect the owners bought Bobbie on the cheap...


Today was a supplemental maintenance period. I listened to my occupational therapist BoomBoom explain that last week's amnesia must not be lingered on, and that life was about the future as much as the past. I retorted that it was alright for him to lecture, as he still had all his marbles. Then, BoomBoom started telling jokes from his two hundred year old joke book and I stopped listening.


Our newest owner, reclusive millionaire Bonzo Meredith, visited and inspected us today. He had a fake moustache and wore a gorilla suit. I sense that the mental health of our wealthy citizens has finally begun to improve. He even managed to read our names from the labels we bear as laundry operatives. I sometimes wonder just how humans managed to create the world we live in. Celia told me, when I relieved her at the beginning of the day, that Bobbie had been one of Meredith's household robots until an incident with a mechanical rice picker and a bottle of exotic liqueurs led to an unfortunate breakdown. Apparently, Bobbie's current state is an improvement. This is hard to believe. Tomorrow, is my second scheduled maintenance of the week, thank goodness. I want to ask BoomBoom what he knows about Meredith.


I'm writing now from an unknown place. My last working day of the week was inexplicable. The little blue being came back, this time with a suitcase full of odd socks, which he claimed were his employer's. Upon loading the socks into my special sock tank, the little fellow suddenly pulled out the ball on the stick and waved it around me. It glowed pink, he said, 'Oh my!', and I vanished into this inexplicable place. How I wish I had more non-laundry related vocabulary in order to explain it better! There's a large tower generator in one corner, and a big book on a column. I had best now shut down in order to conserve battery power, being disengaged from the laundry network.

There shall be more...

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Six Hundred And Two

Six hundred and two posts, and still counting. The magic thousand seems unattainable, requiring as it does more than two years of consistent writing on any topics that come to hand. Just today, I was trying to conjure up a piece on the difficulty in understanding how things can be difficult for other people, and then it crumbled into a pile of condescending words of little to no point. Sometimes it does all just crumble, composition-wise. Someone else would probably have found it easy. Ha.

Instead, it might be a good idea to write a little about the intricacies of putting together a reading list, as I have done for the purposes of teaching English. What should be in a reading list, especially for younger readers? After some thought, it was stuffed with more rollicking adventures than you would think existed in the world, inspired both by my own reading and that of friends. The hardest part was actually withstanding the urge to pump in female led books I hadn't read, just for the political correctness of it all. I'll have to read more and then throw them in after reflection. Oh, it wasn't difficult at all to leave out Harry Potter and Tolkien, though. In fact, much delighted chuckling was heard from the bottom of Clomp's pile in those excisions!

A reading list is both a reassuring and a limiting thing, if used incorrectly. Some people, when presented with such a list, would scrupulously read only the novels listed therein and then stop, having learnt nothing from the process. That list ticking has to be combated by making an introductory reading list that is packed with books that make you want to read more, and not some of the worthy things that will put you to sleep with boredom. At school, we had a terrible set of reading texts, that utterly killed any enjoyment. It's amazing that I didn't give it all up, especially when 'MacBeth' was foisted upon us all. It was nicer in primary school, where in the senior class you got to browse the bookshelves and read what you liked. That doesn't happen any more, alas. Those books aren't there anymore, probably.

Perhaps this is really a post about books. I used to spend hours in the library in town, browsing through the unusual and eccentric collection, but then it fell away. The selection changed, as it has throughout the county system. The number of books on the shelves shrank, then the book cases reduced in size, and finally it became an exercise in looking through the books you would find in any library, all the titles that are already most popular and sanctioned by the powers that be. It was nice to be able to pick up utterly absurd combinations and unusual titles, and read whatever you liked. Was it ever really like that, or is it just my imagination? Is that a furry carrot sitting on the beanstalk?

Books are the greatest form of entertainment, the minimal form which exists as much as is possible in your own imagination. If only there were more time to read...


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Television: 'The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show' (1983-1985)

Now, this is the 'Peanuts' cartoon I remembered. The specials from the previous decades were all fine and good, but this show is the one that for me epitomises the true spirit of the Schulz comic strip. Freed from the necessity of a continuing story for the whole duration, 'The Charley Brown and Snoopy Show' got to touch on every aspect of the strip, and excelled for it's short set of 18 episodes. It's all there, in its most complete form. Wonderful.

As the new 'Peanuts' movie approaches, and it's a film with an extremely high standard to meet, it's refreshing to get back to this key incarnation of 'Peanuts' animations. The original 'Peanuts' movies could be good, too, but as I've not seen them they will not be referred to again until they get their own posts. This show has all the things you associate with the 'Peanuts' television incarnation. It has the musical instrument (kazoo?) for the teacher voices at school, the rampant jazz music, Peppermint Pattie and Marcie, the football gag on an endless loop, Lucy badgering Schroeder, all of the blanket shenanigans, lots of the baseball team, and far, far more.

In a world of lacklustre cartoons, 'The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show' stands out like no other. 'Garfield and Friends' is in distant second place, if anyone's interested. There are no villains, and serious topics are touched on and sometimes become plot points. In a cartoon today, the baseball team wouldn't have their first victory nullified because Linus's kid brother had gambled on the outcome (it was only a nickel, I think), nor would unrequited love take over a Valentine's Day episode or Marcie get to bash a lovestruck kid for calling her 'lambcake'. If it weren't such a funny and touching show, built deeply into the foundation of the touching and funny comic strip, it would be very sad. As it is, reality permeates through 'Peanuts', as it always has. The reports say that the new movie has a happy ending, which is almost a contradiction to the idea of the strip, but we'll see where the truth lies.

Oh, 'Peanuts', you have become far more important as time goes by. Not only have the 'Complete Peanuts' books allowed the whole canon to be read and enjoyed, but the specials are now mostly released on DVD, the 'Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show' is there to be bought, as are the first set of movies. Much like in research, you should always go to the source, but give the kite eating tree a wide berth, because you know how dangerous that thing is.


Friday, 6 November 2015


Friendship is what makes the world bearable, even in the case of hermits like myself. No-one is entirely an island, after all, and the human need for self-expression is one of the most powerful drives that we have. In fact, this topic was suggested by my friend Eglis, currently in the Caribbean and watching an impressive burst of rainfall. Without such friends, and my students, I would go mad from complete seclusion!

Friendship, amity, and partnership. Noble old words of peace that have recurred through all the legends and narratives in history. Holmes and Watson, Kirk and Spock, the Knights of the Round Table, Odysseus and his crew, the Ghostbusters, and many more have sustained civilization throughout those bleak days of war and strife. Now, in these more enlightened days, we generate new myths and stories and add women into the lists, as they should have been long before now. What will happen next? We don't know.

Friendship has been a difficult thing to find, and only rarely has it lasted. Perhaps it's difficult to live up to the great friendships that have permeated literature and television, or perhaps I'm just a reclusive weirdo. Enough autobiography, though, as the world is a huge place, and there are people enough for everyone to find someone of similar interests. In the meanwhile, there are stories to write, jobs to apply for, and things to read. Always things to read.

It's difficult to write about friendship. It's much easier to write about abstract concepts, novels, or films. Instead, here we have something obvious which needs no explanation. There's a better version of this post somewhere in my mind, which will eventually erupt from the mind one day. In the meantime, expect stories!


Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Reincarnation, preincarnation, yellow carnartion?

It's a Wednesday in early November, and the darkness has been upon us for many hours already. It has been a week with three students in three days so far, and yet another scheduled on the morrow. Original thoughts are scarce, and bursts of inquisitiveness are fleeting. On the other hand, while hunting down a new student's address earlier, I did wonder just what happens in streets where new houses are built in the free spaces. Do all the numbers change, or do A's and B's suddenly erupt with a vengeance, in true Baker Street style? Perhaps either can happen, depending on the situation?

Creativity can take some damage in the darkened months of the year, where here we we will have a lot less than eight hours of day time in the depths of December. Truly, if we have problems with depressions here, then I can understand how people fall apart completely in the Arctic, Alaska and Siberia. We may be adaptable creatures, but some sunlight is definitely required for survival! Or is it? Are we really secretly mole-people from Planet Z, plotting to take over our own world? Maybe that's it? Oh, those mole-people! Oh, if only I hadn't already made that gag!

The first version of this post started out trying to be interminable reiterations of the importance of language, to which I now write: 'Blurgel! To tosheroos with it all! There will be no peace as long as Kirk lives!' If I have to keep on making insane job applications for things I should be able to do easily, then what is the point of being serious about it all? Is that too cynical? Blast. Maybe it is. I'll put on the counselling dockets for the next three incarnations, as well as the renewed preoccupation with 'Star Trek', which I didn't pay attention to properly for decades. Oh, and put down 'obsessive preoccupation with lemons for preincarnation counselling, which is just as important, and order the lesser seen red carnations for both, which exemplify indulgence in tangents and bad jokes.

As crashes sound from the kitchen, wolves howl at the moon, and the theme to 'Superted' gets caught in my mind, it's time to finish up and get down to the serious business of getting through the book pile. It's a fascinating mix, undermined by a shortage of relaxation time...


Monday, 2 November 2015

Film: 'Kiss Me, Stupid' (1964)

This film was one of the worst bombs of the famed director Billy Wilder's career, and exemplifies the problems Wilder had when the censorship system he had fought against for decades vanished. When you define yourself by defiance, and then lose all your boundaries, bad things can happen in the ensuing excess! On many levels, you could successfully argue that Wilder failed without those boundaries to rail against. Also, 'Kiss Me, Stupid' was a black and white film in the colour age of 1964, which can't have helped. Critics hated the movie, and reviled it. 'Is it actually that bad?', we can wonder, while remembering the usually redemptive nature of the Quirky Muffin.

'Kiss Me, Stupid' is a fascinating oddball movie, and a very good one too. Where it fails is in its polarising oddness, as embodied by the lead actor Ray Walston, playing piano teacher and aspiring songwriter Orville Spooner and Kim Novak's jauntily strange Polly the Pistol. The film was originally meant to be for Jack Lemmon, who then transmuted into Peter Sellers, who in turn fell away due to a heart attack. As a result, Walston is performing well out of his comfort zone at very short notice! He pushes Spooner further out into the world of weirdness than he may have wanted to, but it does work, more so as the film progresses. Except for the knitting sequence, which is just plain bizarre.

It's a rather strange story for 1964, adapted from a play and a previous Italian film. The plot breaks down as follows. Spooner and his mechanic friend Barney (Cliff Osmond) are aspiring song makers. Spooner is insanely jealous of his own attractive wife Zelda (Felicia Farr). Singer and actor Dean Martin (Dean Martin) passes through town and is sabotaged by Barney so he will stay over at the Spooners and be sold on some of their songs. Then, in order to lull the famed lothario, they get rid of Zelda and bring in a good time girl called Polly the Pistol from the local bar to pose as Zelda and woo the singer. After that, more things happen that will not be spoilt, but it does culminate in some pairings you wouldn't expect.

Many things could have led to the hatred that awaited this film. It may have been the sheer dislocation from reality that the trio of Walston, Billy Wilder and the ever semi-distant and semi-primal Novak formed. It may have been the subject matter, which the ever-conservative American critics and official society would have denounced at every opportunity, the movie dealing as it did with a double infidelity that actually restored the couple to normality against accepted doctrine. It could have been Dean Martin playing a parody of himself, or at least a caricature. Whatever the combination of factors may have been, the movie failed, and yet it didn't die. People still talk about 'Kiss Me, Stupid', and it is actually rather good. On first watching, I went from wondering what kind of strange disaster it was, to a grudging acceptance, and then a grand appreciation. It's not the equal of Wilder's classic 'The Apartment' by any measure, but it does have charms and a uniqueness all its own, and is saved by the ever unpredictable Kim Novak. Novak's Polly goes from a lost and worldly soul to a wiser woman with some hope by the end. It's a transition in a milder vein but similar to her role in 'Bell, Book and Candle'.

As with lots of films I've talked about here, 'Kiss Me, Stupid' was unfairly thrown into the dustbin of cinematic history. It's a quietly funny caper, a bit on the bawdy side at times, but it does have a heart of gold at its core, and an entirely non-standard ending and story for a Hollywood film. Maybe that was the killing factor? A lack of conformity to everything else being made? It's hard to know without experiencing the era as it was, but it's as good an answer as we will ever have. It deserves to be seen as much as all the other Billy Wilder films, and continues to be rehabilitated as time goes on.


Saturday, 31 October 2015


It's Halloween, yet another one of those holidays that has never meant anything personally at all. Never has Halloween made any difference to my life, apart from occasional sightings of drunken students out and about in the distance. Growing up on the outskirts of a poor little village in South Wales, nothing ever happened at all. Much like Christmas, it's a gigantic personal nothing, but so many people seem to enjoy it! How cute!

It might be the dressing up. Is that what the kids like? Or is it the sugar poisoning? We may never know. Halloween is a comparatively new thing for the United Kingdom, and growing rapidly here as well as in Europe. Trick or treating is almost not an event in the country, but pops up in the more urban areas, and candy/pumpkin sales seem to grow every year.

Ah, Halloween, the strangest festival of the year, based in ancient pagan festivals or superstitions? What are the origins of this odd holiday? You can look up the current state of speculation on Wikipedia, but the influences and implications are so mixed at this point as to make a complete hodge podge. Christianity, ghosts and spirits, capitalistic exploitation, witchcraft and booze all ooze into one strange night.

Halloween, Halloween, what strange things have you seen?

It's nice to not have that copy editing project hanging around any more. It not only means other projects are good to go, but also that there is time to go on long bicycle trips to Loughor along the wonderful Wales Coastal Path. Relaxation at last. The golf course looked pretty awesome too, but that's for richer people. You never would have thought it was Halloween.


Thursday, 29 October 2015

Story: The Ninja of Health, V

( Part IV , VI )

Something was loose, and the two of them could feel it. It was intangible, but there, loose in the pattern of nature that they had inhabited for so long.

Around the former chapel that they called their home, the little world of Toddlingham continued on its merry little way, apparently untouched apart from the smouldering ruins of the allotments.

The two warriors of health sat in their circular places on the great patterned floor of the dinky little church, and centred themselves. Around them, the pattern shifted, swirls rotating, and spirals pushing out into new directions. The voids, spirals and intersections drifted slowly, changing the whole chaotic system, except for the singularities within which they laboured. Sweat was beading on the Woman's forehead, and the Man's fingers went white from effort as they bent their wills to merging with the world they lived in.

The concentration in the air waxed, and reached a new level as the Man and the Woman achieved their harmony with each other as well as the planet. The floor revolved about their places like two gears seeking a new match. Finally, the tension waned, and the two opened their eyes from their circular sanctuaries in the Floor of Spirals.

Between them, there was a third circle, where none had been before.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Melange of Miscellaneous Topics

I've been listening to a lot of the old Jack Benny radio show as I work through this copy editing project, and it's fascinating. It's worthy of its own post one day soon, for its sheer cleverness and originality, even back in that golden age of radio. Amazing. Even the sponsor messages are dealt with in a funny way, at least until tobacco took over paying for it all.

Oh, the copy editing goes on, and on, and on... It never ends! Actually, it may well end tomorrow, leading to the golden moment at the end when the invoice gets compiled from LaTeX, and gets sent off with its inevitable return as actual money. It is a mercenary process, after all, even if the process is extremely rewarding in the way it improves language ability. Writing is so much easier when you have spent days on end re-writing other people's work. It's the best creative work out you can conceive of, if the original text is difficult to work with.

Moving on, British Summer Time is over, finally, and real time is our friend once again. The time on the clock is now (roughly) in synch with where the sun is in the sky, and everything is just a bit easier. It may still be the wrong half of the year, with variant winter depression due to the shortening days, but at least the time is right, or as right as it can possibly be. We're actually about a minute off GMT here, which is already too much information to give away! Roughly, every four degrees of longitude is equal to a minutes difference from the Greenwich Meridian. That's your fact of the day, and one I'll use when explaining time to my students in the future.

Isn't the winter great for sleeping? Isn't it awesome? Even a demented and deranged paranoid such as this author gets to relax and not feel stressed. It's wonderful.

Now, back to 'Groucho Marx, Master Detective', which is proving very diverting. After that, 'Bank Shot' and then the general pile of books in progress. Oh, it's great to have books!

Well, it's a strange ending to a blog, but it will do.


Sunday, 25 October 2015

Film: 'Bell, Book And Candle' (1958)

Fascinating, and utterly beautiful. What a fascinating time it is when you discover a movie that is utterly different to everything else you've seen. That is what happened with 'Bell, Book and Candle' (BBAC). Maybe it was the off-kilter combination of Kim Novak and James Stewart, or the deeply dippy performances of Elsa Lanchester and Jack Lemmon. Maybe it was the utterly beautiful cinematography or the score? Or the creepiness? Was it the creepiness? It can be a very creepy movie, especially at the beginning, but it is tied into the evolution of Novak's character, who literally becomes more human through the machinations of the plot. The whole movie literally defrosts as she does.

Oh, okay, a few words on the plot. Let's be conventional. Yawn. Adapted from the play of the same name, BBAC is about a bored witch called Gillian, who runs a small African art gallery, and lives below James Stewart's publisher Shep (yes, it never stops being strange hearing someone be called 'Shep'), who in turn lives below Gillian's daffy auntie Matilda (Lanchester). Desperate to meet someone interesting, and finding out that Shep's fiancée was one of her old antagonists at college, Gillian bewitches Shep and from there the story unfolds.

It could have just been a regular romantic comedy, but there's something indefinable here. Perhaps it's just the good fortune of having Jack Lemmon and James Stewart in the same film, in one of the great casting lucky dips. Yes, it was before Lemmon made it big with 'Some Like It Hot', but he obviously already had star power. Maybe it's Ernie Kovacs, weaving his ridiculous charm around a supporting role as an expert in the arcane arts, or the director Richard Quine. His work on 'How To Murder Your Wife' was extraordinarily pretty too, and I'm not someone who's normally blown away by visuals.

It's not entirely clear to me how the original theatrical play would have looked. There were a significant number of locations in the film, after all, but perhaps I'm being too literally minded. It wouldn't be that difficult, and magic has been a staple of the theatre for a long time. It wouldn't be sets that were the problems, but the cat! And the parrot! Oh, yes, there's a cat. You have been warned. In any case, enough about the play. If I ever get to see it, I'll explain the differences. In detail. You may need a thermos.

BBAC is roundly declared to be James Stewart's last romantic lead role, ending the grand run that encompassed 'Mr Smith Goes To Washington', 'Rear Window', 'The Philadelphia Story' and many others. His is a fascinating presence in the film, where his main purpose is to be (presumably) magically bamboozled, but still maintain his incredible credibility. Of course, he manages that by sheer virtue of being James Stewart, who also starred with Novak in 'Vertigo' in that same year. His following film was 'Anatomy of a Murder', which together form an impressive hat trick. A ludicrous hat trick.

The mystery of Kim Novak grows. Between this and 'Kiss Me, Stupid', it's entirely unclear just what her mysterious power is, but it works. Is she a great actress? I have no idea. She does an amazing job here, just as he did in 'Kiss Me, Stupid'. Very curious. That intangible but unmistakeable distance has to be as much her work as Quine's. She's the one that gets that tune trapped in our heads, after all. For a long time, I didn't realise that her character was intended to be that way, that it wasn't just a weird performance. Maybe that's why it's confusing?

Oh, enough of this rambling. 'Bell, Book and Candle' is a film well worth seeing, and one that has jumped to the top of my 'eventual buy' list. Now, back to 'Groucho Marx, Master Detective' and birthday present wrapping. Where is that staple gun, and the scaled replica of Mozart? I wish they'd hat the twelve foot Beethoven.


Saturday, 24 October 2015

'The Play Is The Thing' or 'Goodbye, Daylight Saving Time!'

It's nice to go to the theatre, a fascinating experience on almost every occasion. Tonight it will be 'The 39 Steps' at the Lyric Theatre in Carmarthen, presumably the same version I saw in Aberystwyth many moons ago. When did a 'moon' stop being a common measurement of time? We should bring it back. 'The 39 Steps' is one of the most adapted novels in history, and one of the most frequently 'loosely' adapted. It's just a wonderful and malleable adventure story, which I'll get around to describing when next I read it. The most famous version is probably the Hitchcock film with Donat and Carroll, followed distantly by any of the others that you would care to name. I'll write about tonight's production tomorrow, if it's noteworthy.

Daylight Savings Time ends here in Britain, and indeed in the whole EU, tonight. Yes, the season of false time is ended and real time is upon us once again, and I get to reiterate my abortive rant on the horrors of foisting such a bodge on the public. Oh, so many people get depressed, internally confused, and lost that it surely can't be worth it. Can it? Couldn't people affected just shift their own working hours if they wanted to? In any case, it will be nice to not be running a dual clock in my mind for the next few months, and it will relieve the seasonal blues to a great extent.

Yes, seasonal depression is a real thing. Trust me on this.

What would it be like to be part of a theatrical production? I've often considered it, and then realised that a lack of personal tact is probably not the best thing to throw into a high pressure mixture... In any case, I don't have enough hats to be an amateur actor. I'm reasonably sure that you have to have lots of hats, to serve as character motivation. Isn't that right? Don't you at least need a safari hat and a policeman's helmet?


Thursday, 22 October 2015

Television: 'The Muppet Show' (1976-1981)

It's impossible to do justice to do 'The Muppet Show' in a few short minutes, so why even try? It's an utterly unique television series, pioneering in its methods, and so broad in its appeal that literally anyone that didn't hate felt could watch it.

Starting in 1976, 'The Muppet Show' ran for five seasons of perfectly planned anarchy starring Jim Henson's most Muppety creations. That 'planned anarchy' was coupled with ludicrously good natured humour and the best characterization that you could expect for some frogs, bears, dogs, whatevers, and assorted pigs.

One fascinating aspect of the series is its intense Britishness, and now it became a massive crossover hit in North America. Filmed in London after being rejected by the American networks, it became a massive cult and popular phenomenon. Massive! Everyone knows who Kermit is, and Fozzie, Gonzo and the rest. It even led to two movies produced during the show's run, and some others too, long after. Interestingly, viewers on either side of the Atlantic did see different versions of the episodes, as there was usually a slot that was filled with a specialist bit for each audience. I've never heard of that happening anywhere else.

'The Muppet Show' attracted guest stars of massive stature after the first season or two, when people really understood what was going on. Even in the early days, the talent was impressive and tied deeply into the show's vaudevillian roots, as any show about a theatrical variety show should be. 'The Muppet Show' was almost certainly the last successful variety series to air, and a wonderful one at that.

In this era when actors and singers seem so unnaturally stuffy, which is probably a side effect of being under constant media surveillance, it's incredibly refreshing to see the guest stars goof around so happily, even under the publicity constraints of the bigger movie stars. Who wouldn't have a good time on the same bill as Fozzie Bear, after all? Who?

Yes, 'The Muppet Show' was and is wonderful, and utterly unprecedented. They've tried to recapture the magic of it and the first two movies many times, and never quite gotten there. There was something about those writers, the winning combination of Jim Henson, Frank Oz and the other puppeteers, and that wonderful back catalogue of awesome songs that transcended its time. It even transcends this time, if you break out the DVDs of the first three years. From the very first episode, in whatever order you watch the shows, it sings and jokes on a wonderfully different level.

Is that enough enthusing? Do you want to know what my favourite bit of the episodes I've seen is? I've said it before, but once again, it's Gonzo blindfoldedly wrestling a perfectly normal half brick and losing. Oh, Gonzo, you made it special.


Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Yes, Computer, This Is How You Walk Over A Waterfall

The calculations failed again, and it seems as if no good will ever come of these researches. There's something so utterly heartbreaking about spending so much time on things which never seem to work. It will work eventually, though, somehow and someway. Hopefully it won't take as long as the thesis work that lasted five years!

Numerics, numerics, numerics. In applied mathematics, you more often than not end up with systems of equations that you can't solve yourself, so you have to ask a computer to do the next best thing and solve it numerically. In other words, you give it a best guess, and it improves the guess for you in the form of a patchwork of numbers that fits the problem. It's not particularly elegant, but it gets the job done, if you can choose the right way to explain it to the computer. It's also very frustrating when it doesn't work...

The problem with computational mathematics is that it's so easy to get wrapped up in trying to fix the problem by experimentation with little bits of code instead of going back to the source and reading about how other people have done the same problem. Not everyone can be an instinctive numerical expert, so you learn from people who are. There's something going on with this problem, and it's difficult to quantify... Life would be much easier if it only involved watching excellent television series and enjoying wonderful books. How to determine the difficulty in an unstable numerical scheme? How?

Progress happens, but incrementally. Research progresses just a little at a time, and when successful changes just a handful of ideas at the very most. Oh, it's going to need a lot more reading, balanced against the time spent on this endless proofreading project!

Side notes: Watched 'The River Wild', and still don't understand all the fuss about Meryl Streep. Helen Hunt could act her into the ground without even trying. Strange days. It's almost a good movie, though. Almost.