Monday, 30 March 2015

Story: Oneiromancy, XVIII

(Part O , XVII , XIX)

"We have achieved some success, which is gratifying, not only because of my obvious genius but also thanks to your undoubted perseverance and powers of self-control. Let us assume for the moment that you are genuine examples of riders on the Dreamline, as Kibbel assures me, and not dilettante wackos or malicious fruitcakes. In that case, what would we do next?

A long time ago, before the wind down of Dreamline Alpha and the retirement of our research groups, we postulated many theories about why communication up and down the Line had ceased. The obvious answer was that the Line had been cut, just like telegraph poles in the old days, but how it had been cut? How?! Apparently, we now have a vital clue as to what happened.

I have Kibbel's notes of your previous dreams, and the notes I took from this last set. The 'Tweedy Woman', as you call her, is persistent and therefore either the cause of the cut in the Line or a symptom of said cause. In either case, her intentions are malign by manifest action. Even as I speak at length in this pompous style, I see your eyes glaze over a little, just as my students used to back in Greenwich. I shall do now as I did then."

Several kiwi fruits were thrown with great precision, and then Professor Goosing settled back into his monologue.

"Ah, yes, the nature of this woman seems malign indeed. How she remains within the Dreamline is the question that must be addressed, as is how we remove the problem, and by so doing guarantee your safety and sanity in the longer term. I have no wish or desire to be stuck with a pair of mental vegetables on my conscience.

So far, with the help of some fairly simple conditioning and meditative techniques we have managed to give you some small control while you are in the arms of Morpheus. Our contacts in high places have secured you both recrimination free leaves of absence from your places of work and cover for your bills. What we must do now is turn the tables on this interloper into the Dreamline, and to do that you must be... educated."

"What do you think we are now? Potted salmon?" interjected Stanley.

"A charming metaphor, but please be quiet for a few moments more. Here, at the outset of Dreamline Omega, we must be very careful and set things out with precision and without abandon. It must all be 'just so'. In order for you to stand a chance in this unprecedented life on the unconscious plane, you must be trained for more than just a few hours, and you must know more psychology than was picked up in an undergraduate degree or as a teacher in the schoolroom.

It is time to begin anew!"

Edouard Goosing was unprepared for the peach that splatted into his forehead, also with great precision.


There shall be more...

Sunday, 29 March 2015

A Ramble Down Obscure Roads

This could easily go wrong. I'm warning you that right now. Prepare the dust sheets of doom, and the rusty pickup truck of escape, for it might be a rough ramble ahead. It's inevitable that after a church wedding, a principled agnostic can get a bit disturbed, even as happily watching the married couple be united in blissful matrimony. A large part of it has to be that when you actually look at the words to a lot of hymns they're actually rather upsetting and disturbing, stacked with all sorts of implications and direct statements on the subservience of man and dominance of the theoretical deity in question. It can actually be a a very creepy relationship between deity and worshipper when things are taken too literally, and when thought about in depth. Let us, however, get away from ungraciously critiquing such things. There are plusses and minusses.

London makes so much more sense when you walk it. A foolish novelty plan to navigate the metropolis on foot has actually made the city a cohesive geographical entity, and not just a random assortment of spots linked by tube trains and busses. How many of those previous trips could have been so much less stressed? How many side jaunts to the Orcs Nest (excellent board game shop) could have been accomplished by pavement pounding instead of riding the underground metal death tubes? How much longer would it have all taken? Would a personal zeppelin have made it easier still? Now, there's an idea to bring into fashion: The personal zeppelin. How groovy. Might need a crest for it though, which will need some work.

Obviously, thanks to the grand traditions of the Quirky Muffin, today can not pass us by without at least a token mention of the accursed Daylight Savings Time, even now beleaguering people all over the country for the first time since October! Curses on you, British Summer Time, coming in and confusing my biological clock for the next seven months. Even now the brain of the Muffin is worrying at keeping two parallel times in mind, as it does involuntarily over the summer, until the last two weeks, when suddenly it will seem entirely natural just in time to change back. It's a cruel twist of seasonal depression that half of the happy period when the daylights hours are growing is hexed by Daylight Savings Time.

Is that enough? Have we rambled enough? Should there be a side jaunt into the world of SJ Perelman, hilarious if misogynistic humourist extraordinaire? Perhaps a perambulation to the wonders of the first season of 'Community'? No, another day would be better.


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Gadzooks! A Wedding!

Once again someone has taken leave of their sense and invited me to their wedding, and so off I go on the morrow to London. Do you think that perhaps the groom took a blow to the head at some point? You would think an ex-housemate would have more sense. A wedding! A grand opportunity to watch people be happy and wonder at the great river of life as it continues its irresistible flow through the channels of time. It's probably going to be very reminiscent of 'The Green Death' and 'The Sign Of Three', for those in the know, although at least this time I won't be watching an old infatuation walk up the aisle, thank goodness.

Weddings are never like the clichés you see on television and in films. They're normally quite sedate and polite affairs, unless I'm thankfully missing those kinds of parties where the hijinks occur. They're also just a teensy bit awkward, in the sense of being a passive observer to an event which is being put on for the audience usually or in some cases the overwhelming ego of the bride! Long ago, before giving in to the sheer inevitability of bachelorhood, I always thought a marriage should be an entirely different affair, quite unblended with the law and Church. Being romantic to the core, then and now, and utterly divorced from any possibility of romance, it seemed like the most binding form of partnership would be sworn in total privacy, perhaps on top of a hill by the sea or next to a roaring weir. No artificial bonds bonding people together so that complacency must inevitably set in, but an utterly voluntary union far from the things of humanity. It's a romantic notion still, a freeflowing expression of love untampered with by Church or State.

We are, however, all different and so to London does the Muffin writer dare to go. It's actually a rare opportunity to visit the capital in an unflustered and relaxed manner, not rushing to make a cross-city train connection or zooming off via Tube to make it to the airport on time. It's also a rare opportunity to eschew said Tube and busses completely and traverse the metropolis by foot, actually getting a feel for the place instead of just popping up like a mole and not knowing how it all fits together. Why not walk it, after all, and even indulge in the cliché of getting an 'A to Z'? What an obscure pleasure to weave! The one afternoon of leisure will be spent walking, and trying to get to the Royal Observatory on the - gasp! - other side of the river.

For a very long time, the 'other side of the river' was the 'wrong side of the river', mainly because taxi drivers were wary of making it back in one piece or in timely fashion and because it had fallen into bad times of decay and failure. Now what does 'the wrong side of the river' mean? And will I make it out in one piece to watch the joyous couple get safely wedded and whisk off to their honeymoon? Only time will tell, if it so decided. Meanwhile, it's back to 'Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased)', and hoping this trip doesn't block a day of supply work in places unknown.

It will be nice to see some happy people.


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Television: 'The Prisoner: Fall Out' (1968) (Episode 1x17)

Everything they say about this episode is true. It's absolutely as mad as a badger in a snowstorm, definitely written in a ridiculous hurry by Patrick McGoohan himself, who also directed the episode, and is a good basis for any interpretation you care to lay upon it. As an episode of television it's incoherent, nonsensical and at times borderline unwatchable. It might also be good, which is worrying.

So, 'The Prisoner', an odd duck of a television show that was an implied follow-on to star Patrick McGoohan's previous ITV series 'Danger Man' (known as 'Secret Agent' in the US), which featured a secret agent imprisoned in a scenic 'Village' incarceration centre and being toyed with and interrogated by a succession of chiefs known only as Number 2, in comparison to his own imposed label of Number 6. No-one had a name, and everyone had a number. The Prisoner's secret was the reason for his resignation from the Secret Service, and his identity, for those of us watching at home.

'The Prisoner' swiftly spiralled out of control, beginning as a series of shows about various novel and fantastical methods for breaking the Prisoner's will and extracting the truth, and ending as a sequence of experimental concept plays of varying success and occasional blatant insanity. From week to week in its 17 episode run, you weren't quite sure what you were going to get, and the idea of a final resolution was hard to grasp. It seems to have been hard to grasp for the makers of the show as well, as this finale decides to evade the issue and engage in experimental theatre of the most zany kind, a self-indulgence of McGoohan's creative mind under extreme time pressure. Thus, a bizarre inauguration ceremony as the Prisoner is declared the new ruler of the Village (scenic Portmeirion in Wales) is enacted, with surrealness pushed to its very maximum as he ultimately seems to reveal an insane version of himself as Number 1, and then destroys the prison by launching a nuclear missile apparently stored underneath it all. Did any of it really happen though, or was it just a massive metaphor, or did the Prisoner actually crack and lose his mind under the Degree Absolute interrogation of the previous episode? Was Kenneth Griffith a symptom of a total mental breakdown? We will never know.

'Fallout' will forever remain a frustrating mystery, a psychedelic mess of surrealism masquerading as an episode of dramatic television. Was there a plan for the finale originally? Yes, but script editor George Markstein fell out with the notoriously difficult McGoohan, resigning and taking the ending with him for McGoohan would surely not swallow his pride to use it. What it is is what it is, an indescribably weird episode of television, and the culmination of the era as a whole.

Reflecting, it's fitting that this post of little sense is made to describe such an experiment. Well done, 'The Prisoner', you went out in pure unsatisfying confusion, and made a place in history with it. Mutter mutter 'what does it all MEAN?' grumble grumble.


Sunday, 22 March 2015

What's life worth without a cuddly shark?

How's that for an important question? What would your life be like without a cuddly shark, on the presumption that you have one to begin with? What? No cuddly shark? How do you get by? Where's the silliness? Oh, the madness of not accepting the madness is utterly insane...

To divert for a moment: It's amazing to see just how many different animals get the cuddly toy treatment in zoo shops now, utterly amazing. At Barcelona Aquarium, a sea turtle and a sting ray made it into my  collection, and a silverback gorilla at the zoo. It might even be possible to get a comprehensive cross-section of the mammal kingdom, if you have a small annexe to house them all and unlimited funding.

Let us however get back to the cuddly shark - mine is called Vera for reasons best left undisclosed - that great huggable ruthless predator of the oceans. Isn't it impressive that as a species we can render even the shark loveable in toy form? And the tyrannosaur too? It's fascinating how we take the most terrifying things and break their power to scare by loving them on some level instead. Yes, we would still be scared witless in an encounter with a real shark, but never away from the water! Making light of the horrors of the world is how we stay insane and functional.

Yes, we need the cuddly sharks, the fluffy rhinos, and the lighthearted fluff to avoid going sane, or at least I do. A sane person would have cracked decades ago under the stress of solitude and constant mess-ups. If you don't have a cuddly shark, then how about a blog of fluffy nonsense, which you write between turns at the mighty pipe organ in your supervillain lair basement? Or a magic greenhouse of exotic plants? Or a world full of jazz? At some point we're going to have to get to jazz, and not just the two general types of 'cool' and 'when does the tune start'.

A jazz trio would think nothing of having a cuddly shark. Can you bear being less cool than them? To the fluffy shark store with you!


Friday, 20 March 2015

Television: 'Moon Over Miami' (1993)

It's a romance, it's a detective show, it's practically unknown, and it will quite probably never be available to buy apart from on legally dubious bootleg DVD. It's also quietly wonderful, laced with laid back Latino vibes and retro undertones, and features some of the nicest quirky dialogue in my television experience. Is it a nostalgia love? Perhaps, but not a baseless love, as it's still a very interesting and cool jazz-tinged show.

Let's set the scene for this frothy fun detective show a little. 'Moon Over Miami' ran for thirteen episodes in 1993, the last three of which went unaired on the initial run, depriving the world of the incredibly well done rushed finale only seen in reruns and overseas. Set in the Walter Tatum Detective Agency of Miami, the first episode details how detective Walter and his operatives Tito and Billie track down the missing Gwen Cross, who has jumped off a boat before her wedding after watching 'It Happened One Night', and then the rest of the series is essentially about her integrating into the team over numerous noir-ish cases before finally winning over the cynical and reluctant Walter at the end. How many television shows use the name Walter anymore, anyway? Supporting leads Billie and Tito get together too, and the cases vary all over the genre map, featuring latino soap operas, industrial espionage, eccentric geniuses wandering the streets, Elliot Gould, the Maltese Falcon itself, the traditional 90s 'Minding the baby' story, and a decades gone missing jazz pianist.

The question to pose when talking about 'Moon Over Miami' is whether it's actually any good or just one of those things that only I like, and treated by the rest of the world as below mention. Being so out of step with the world at large can be troubling if you actually care about relative appreciation, and if you haven't accepted that the world is often very, very wrong and biased toward the least gentle of pursuits. The cast is interesting, headlining as it does with the ever reliable and underrated Billy Campbell as detective Walter Tatum and the fascinating Ally Walker as the goofy Guinevere 'Gwen' Cross, runaway daughter of wealthy society. Agustin Rodriguez and Marlo Marron complete the regulars, with the the guest star supreme J.C. Quinn adding grizzled recurring support as police detective Barnes. Barnes is interesting, evolving as he does from a grump with a plastic cigarette to a reluctant friend over a handful of appearances, apparently more by the power of Gwen than anything else. Yes, the power of Gwen... She was a lovely character, a rare example of a genuinely funnily written female role in a show mixed in with lovely casting. An early crush, easily confessed.

Interestingly, 'Moon Over Miami' was a perverter of clichés long before the trend caught on, making it a trailblazer of sorts. Dozens of tropes get flung into the spinning wheel of jokes, many of them never to be seen again. Mysterious couriers collapsing at the door, showdowns between inept spies, averted infidelities by clients galore, and of course the Falcon itself. The Falcon episode 'In A Safe Place' is fascinating, a little window into the little series that could, as is 'If You Only Knew' on the subject of stolen jazz compositions and Walter's backstory. All that and the choice to never indulge in 'will they or won't they' sustained romantic tension marks it out as a fascinating deviation from the norm.

Maybe it will never be anything more than an oddball of a curio from a time long gone, and maybe it will never appear on DVD, but it would be nice if it could. The finale alone is a fantastically fitting happy resolution, albeit bittersweet as it comes so early, and that final lowering of Walter's presumably battle earned romantic cynicism is tear-inducing as only the best of romantic nonsense can be. Yes, yes, man crying, get over it. It's difficult to sell light and frothy television that peddles perverted clichés gleefully, and with a heart of gold, so let's stop and move on with the day.


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Balance The Equation

Four attempts in, and finally something is emerging from the fidgety fingers and idle brain, fully recovered from the zero effort expended in passing the literacy and numeracy professional skills tests. What, you didn't think I was literate after the hundreds of incoherent essays on this merry blog? Oh, what cynicism, pettiness, madness and wisdom! They were alarmingly easy tests, leading me to worry about the standard of education as a whole, not just idly but as a polymath and polyglot PhD who finds these things alarmingly easy. People have to resit them? Really? I shudder at the thought, arrogantly and with great insensitivity. You can throw fruit now, irate reader.

It's a strange thing to be tested, so long since the last time, and it was even stranger to not be stressed at all. Never was there a more boring and straightforward process. At least the whole endeavour prompted a trip to Cardiff, and with it the obligatory visit to 'Rules of Play', one of the best board game shops around. It's quite rare to plug shops here, but I'll do it this time, and recommend 'Rules Of Play' wholeheartedly. It's even pleasurable to visit as a penniless itinerant mathematician, armed with only a pencil case on the end of a stick and 'The Voyage of the Beagle' by Darwin.

Do Darwin and 'Moon Over Miami' go together? Do they have to? With only one episode left, it's an almost entirely academic question, but more on that show after the finale. Darwin was a lucky man to ship out on that survey ship, and satisfy the naturalist's urge within him in an era when exploration was still possible. Where now to go for those possessed by the wanderlust, and a raw need to live on the frontier of all that's known? Will they be satisfied by working in whatever jobs are left to them in a world ever more teeming with people? How do they stand it? Do they stand it or does the urge become perverted into other noble paths in life?

For my part, in my personal voyage of discovery, I'm struggling with the very basics of mathematical modelling. In my orange model quest, dimensional balancing has reared its ugly head, and it's a tricky thing indeed. If my grandiose verbiage seemed arrogant earlier, then now is the time for incompetence and inexperience to show its face, as I've never had to balance an equation dimensionally before. For the unitiated, both sides of an equation have to have the same units, so you can't have '1 kilo = 9 meters per second', to choose a most basic example. When you put together a model and set out your system of equations, the dimensional analysis is a tool to check that it makes some kind of sense. If sense isn't to be found, then you need to think again. How to think again, though? It's no good just making up some quantity to multiply by and 'fix' it all; there needs to be reality mixed into it, some science. It's going to take a lot of thought, in a problem that was supposed to be easy. More on this one later, too, if it ever works out and I don't go mad in the process. Does anyone have a good source for information on the life cycle and maturation of an orange fruit?

Is the humble-meter going off sufficiently? Did it all balance out to net neutral arrogance?


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Story: Oneiromancy, XVII

(Part O , XVI , XVIII)

The monkey barrelled down the hill on a bobsleigh, laughing. It was wearing tweed. Just before it collided with Stanley and Helen, the two twisted twenty degrees and vanished. The bobsled continued on, and the monkey screamed in frustration, before crashing inexplicably into a palm tree in a snow drift.

The venue shifted to a darkened and romantic restaurant. Helen was confusedly looking at the menu from a table for one, while Stanley hovered, waiting for the order. Suddenly the wine waitress appeared, brandishing a two gallon jug of milk as if were a lollipop, and wearing the wine menu like a tweed covered cap. As the jug came smashing down toward the table, Helen tipped her chair backward and Stanley twirled to face the attacker. He blinked and they were gone.

Stanley and Helen were in bed, watching television, and being bored by the antics of a Spanish soap opera on an obscure channel. The adverts rolled after the priest revealed the truth about his ancestral relationship to Cervantes, and the whole experience changed. The scene was a supermarket, an employee was offering free cheese samples to the customers, but then she suddenly looked directly at the camera. "Good evening, amigos, how are you? Como se va?" The expression became malevolent. "Now now, you can't get away that easily!" She gloated as the two hunted around for the remote control. Suddenly, Helen's memory kicked into gear and she rolled off the bed to pull the plug. The plug that was fused into the wall?! "Isn't it delicious?" Cooed the tweedy lady. "Don't worry, I've decided to not kill you. After all, why waste the entertainment?" Stanley mouthed the word 'fuse' at the Helen and they both went for a bedside lamp. "What are you doing?" The lamps were flung into the suddenly full bath in the adjoining bathroom and suddenly all was black.

There followed regular dreams, mostly about showing up for work on the wrong day, spending a few weeks as talking jellyfish, and the old classic of being arrested for cheese smuggling in the border Marches by a Daschund in a silly hat.


The two woke up blearily in Goosing's flat - although 'palatial appartment' might have been a more accurate description - finally somewhat rested after days of stress. The professor looked at them with some relief. "Code words?"

Helen's dazed expression eased a little, and then she pulled herself together to say "Rutabaga", while Stanley was still half in dreamland. She nudged him from her bunk. "Code word, dopey!"

"Muffin", the teacher said dreamily, "You look pretty when you're half asleep, messy, and getting annoyed."

"Oh, go shoe a horse!"

Goosing's relief was hidden pretty quickly as he watched the two bicker. On another day it would have been tiresome, but on this occasion... "Well, children, are we all happy some of our training paid off?" He smiled. "Now, tell me all about it..."

To be continued...

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Four Hundred And Eighty Two

As I wallow in the enjoyment of the long defunct detective show 'Moon Over Miami' - perhaps never to be seen on official DVD - it's easy to regress back to the joyous days of seeing it for the first time, and not realising it was cancelled with only thirteen episodes in the can. What a waste of witty writing and jazz! Today's post won't linger on that lovely show any longer, however, as it will get a piece all its own once I've made it through all the episodes.

This is post number four hundred and eighty two, and it's time for a renewed burst of panic as number five hundred edges ever closer. It would be nice to have an awesome idea, so witty and elegant that all the brave, loyal and foolhardy readers of the Quirky Muffin can appreciate and enjoy. It would be nice to have pre-planning in mind so that on that glorious day, at most thirty six days from now, one click of a button will reveal something awesome to the world. As it is... Well, you may get a pen picture of a cake, or be exposed to a ridiculous machination of the Clomp from the old story archive, or perhaps this is all a blind for an incredible idea! Procrastination is a lot easier than pre-planning, he said, while miming the role of a paper sculptor in a flying glass elevator.

Four hundred and eighty two blogs later, and there is still nonsense flying loose in the realms of the Quirky Muffin. Who would have thought it? Certainly not myself, as it has only ever been an excuse to blow off nervous tension and occasionally approach the horrors of real life obliquely. To approach real life directly would break the 'minimal self-indulgence' rule, although it is ironic that this week's odd trip out of town is to take professional literacy and numeracy tests. Should I take along the brick thick mathematical thesis and explain it to them as a backup, in case the tests go badly? At least it's sure to be fun, and a trip to Cardiff is always welcome, hopefully inspiring another of these bouts of silliness. Also, there's a board game shop in Cardiff, a tempting and torturing prospect for a penniless perambulator.

In other notable landmarks, the one hundredth Film Bin commentary is approaching, and after much deliberation we think we have chosen something very appropriate. The original, and hopefully current, motivation for Film Bin was to champion movies and television series that had perhaps been overlooked or underrated, to shine a light on things that were abandoned to the dark a bit too eagerly, or were just woefully misunderstood. The very first commentary was for 'The Seven-Per-Cent Solution', and we have something just as silly and fun for number one hundred. It's only fitting. Bring on the silliness, after the preceding five or six catchup episodes are finally done...

I now return you to your regularly scheduled Sunday. There are weird stories about medical ninjas and dream-talkers to be written, more episodes of 'Moon Over Miami' to enjoy anew, and of course that colourful guardian of the land of slumber remains to be bargained with as the dark hours wind on.


Friday, 13 March 2015

Book: 'The Wise Man's Fear' by Patrick Rothfuss (2011)

The term 'epic' applies to this book, and in many many ways. In the most literal sense, it is a nine hundred and ninety six page novel and the second part of a trilogy. Does that sound epic enough? How about its status as part of an autobiographical account of a legendary arcanist and adventurer, being related from his own self-imposed retirement behind the guise of a modest innkeeper? No? Gosh, you're difficult to please. Let's add in 'rites of passage' and 'coming of age' to the list of characteristics and move on.

Nine hundred and ninety six pages is an awful lot of paper, and my getting through the whole thing without resorting to another book for a break is a testament to the power of the prose, the humour of the author, and the sheer amount of enjoyable detail built into the world he's built. This is certainly a trilogy that has been built with a lot of thought, and a lot of heart. As with so many things admired here at the Quirky Muffin, that solid emotional presence at the core of the book is what makes it work, above everything else.

Two whole paragraphs down and still no substantial non-spoilery clues to the nature of the novel. As a second book in a trilogy, it's not at all essential to have read the first as I never have and didn't miss it at all. 'The Wise Man's Fear' is an epic fantasy novel, chronicling the middle part of the story of Kvothe, as told by the man himself, a legend in his own lifetime. It's a fascinating endeavour, and one that works spectacularly well. If the first book was about the childhood, then this is the adolescence and coming of age, and it does veer towards the mature side of things from time to time as a result. There were periods of some embarrassment during the reading, although that could be an overstatement as I was thrown out of saint academy for being too pure, and for naming all the candles after characters from Peanuts.

It's quite hard to classify 'The Wise Man's Fear', as it begins in an arcanist (wizard) university, segues into a court intrigue in a far off country, then a mercenary mission, and finally a fairly naughty fairy tale before finally returning to the university through the aftermaths of each of the intervening tales. That's what you can do when you're playing with almost a thousand pages, if you're a brave and thorough author. What kind of brain do you need to be able to write something like this? Is it all plotted out on the side of a building somewhere, do you think? For all my writing life, advance plotting has always been the thing I can barely even approach to handle. That's why all the stories here go on indefinitely, without ever seeming to get anywhere at all, and also why I admire such an accomplishment.

Of course, there is an emotional cost to reading a thousand page novel, and that has to explain the tears that flowed at the end. It's not necessarily a sad ending, but the implications are clear. Big things are clearly to come in part three, whenever that volume finally emerges. A very good epic fantasy. Now I might have two current authors to follow!


Note: This might be a 'man' book. If anyone has any comments on that, then please let me know!

Thursday, 12 March 2015


What was I going to write about today? It was always a mystery. The interview yesterday was a massive and impenetrable barrier in time, a black wall through which nothing could penetrate. Now only questions remain. What questions! What oddities! What are we all thinking when we do the silly things of life? Why do so many people exert themselves so badly and bury themselves under pressure for money they don't need? Why are we talking about money? What just happened?

<reboots head>

What would it be like to be good at interviews? To not panic and turn into a mental mush? To give a presentation that doesn't trail off into a messy pile of nonsense halfway through? Anyone who has seen one of my presentations will attest to that fuzzy vagueness, or the alternate frenzy that can drive the presentation through at double speed straight into the bushes that mark 'no man's land', next to the nuclear blancmange lake and the fossil rhubarb. Good grief, how do people do all they things they do for money without going utterly crazy? Ah, that's an assumption, perhaps they have all gone utterly crazy, and I'm right in the padded wagon with everyone else, just looking out the window from time to time. What kind of world is this?

Introspection is fascinating, and so easily forgotten. It had utterly slipped my mind that I get sick when I do things for money. Some people get sick when they break their word and lie, while others have a breakdown if put under the slightest of pressures, and a few suffer all of these things at the same time and go through life being far too sensitive to the world around them. Tick me in for the last box. What to do in that situation? Aim high and breakdown under the unnecessary pressure, or do something that makes you happy and content with your lot in life and not prone to emotional shock and trauma?

So far, every career I've tried or considered has been overwhelming, dominating both worktime and leisure time. Teaching would be that, academia was that, and it prevails wherever you see large salaries and the word 'professional' tagged to a job. You don't get to spend your evenings writing blogs, learning Greek, practicing your juggling or doing anything else. That is the principal stumbling block to, if it's an accurate idea. Is it accurate? Are you better off having a simpler job, but one that lets you do some interesting things in your spare time, instead of planning lessons until oblivion or reading papers that go on forever?

Such questions, and such troubles!


PS Some times soon, expect a book review for Patrick Rothfuss's 'The Wise Man's Fear', and a retrospective for the 1993 television series 'Moon Over Miami'. Oh, 'Moon Over Miami', the only bootleg I ever bought... Also, 'Oneiromancy' is on deck right now, and will be driven to its conclusion. Somehow. Someway. Somewhen.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Story: Oneiromancy, XVI

(Part O , XV , XVII)

Excerpt from the diary of an evil entity.

"I've been trapped here a long time. It's possible that I've gone utterly mad. How would I know? Even when out in the world my greatest playtime was senseless destruction, and that was already supposedly insane. Ha ha.

You might wonder how I manage to keep a diary in this dreamspace, where everything is fluid and malleable to the mind. It was a tricky habit to develop, but now maintaining the diary in its whole costs almost no effort. I can flick backward and review the entries, and they are eidetically just as I remember writing them. Perhaps, though, it's all a delusion and really I'm locked up somewhere in a straitjacket, frothing at the mouth. So many people were ruined in that University incident, after all, and just to prove an academic point...

Academic points are most important, you know, the reasons why we progress at all. It was such an important one, too, even if the results were just a teensy bit messy.

Yes, people died, but the point was proven and the 'civilized' people locked me up in this pathetic dreamspace, little knowing what havoc might be wrought by someone quite so ruthless and diabolically inclined. Modesty is not something I treasure, being born to greatness before having it ripped away. Not a person has left this place that entered it during my incarceration, and the details of every single extermination lie here in this diary, waiting to entertain me whenever the tedium of this place drives me to the greater depths.

The problem with gleefully eliminating every confused person who wanders into this place is that it has become ever so quiet. A quiet that stills the bones, or the memory of bones, and dulls the senses as this half-life continues in whatever environment the last wanderer leaves behind them. Maybe a sane person would leave some of them alive, just for the conversation and opportunities for entertainment they provide? Indeed, who knows, perhaps they provide far more opportunities even than that.

It has been so so long to be alone..."

End of excerpt.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Patch

In a past age it would be embarrassing to admit that I took needlework at school instead of metalwork or woodwork. The rooms for those hardcore disciplines were alone daunting, and what about all the banging and bending tools?! Yikes! Actually, it was a just bit too noisy and violent, and home economics had a super scary teacher, so needlework happened by default. All strange things happen by default! If you look up 'default' in a picture dictionary you would probably find a person walking across a bridge made out of banana peel and wincing.

Hang on, why did I begin with an embarrassing admission? Oh, because this is entitled 'The Patch'. Of course! When do you use a patch? When the rip is too large to be sewn together conventionally. Some damage is just too big to repair without extra material. This can be extended metaphorically to any situation, as long as you can rationalise the nature of the material. What does a psychotherapist use for a patch? His own psyche. A cook? Pastry. A comedian? Well, nothing, as they're extremely vulnerable and probably just collapse off stage. Darn, I didn't want that to end sad.

My hope is that the upcoming week won't require some remedial patchwork in the aftermath, involving as it does some possibly traumatic or triumphant events. Will the final PGCE interview day go well? Will it go badly? Is any of it a good idea? Is Worcester a real place, or a trap set by some nefarious schemers out to capture the rogue? You can never be too careful, especially when you're still wanted dead or alive by the Hungarian National Symphony. Good grief, who would have thought they would have had a problem with an infatuation for Pam Dawber from 'Mork And Mindy'?! I'm just glad I never mentioned Carolyn Jones from 'The Addams Family'!

'The Patch' has another reason for being at the top of the page. It has been two hours now that the parental units have been trying to get the cursed sewing machine to work in order that I can patch some pyjamas, being the penniless idiot that I am. All my money goes on international stamps and buying bootleg DVDs of the abortive 1990s detective show 'Moon Over Miami'. (It was a jazz-filled minor television show that happened to be rather lovely, and was so unknown that it's never even surfaced on DVD after more than twenty years.) Yes, it is more important than pyjamas and elephant slippers, of course it is!

Ahem, as this post degenerates into utter stupidity, it's probably time to stop. At any moment we could all fall prey to an oboe equipped with a silencer, or a helium-filled kettle drum, or worse an attack by Stravinski. Quiver quiver.

No, not Stravinski!


Thursday, 5 March 2015

Television: 'Crime Traveller' (1997)

Now this is a strange one that may go over a lot of people's heads. 'Crime Traveller' was a science fiction mystery show that ran for eight episodes in 1997, and was then sadly unrenewed allegedly due to their not being a BBC controller in place at the time. As a result, one of the most interesting, cheesy, fun and intricate television shows just got forgotten, and went on to become an enduring cult favourite.

What is the basic idea behind 'Crime Traveller', written by the innovative Anthony Horowitz? It was a detective show based on the unlikely partnership between detective Jeff Slade and police scientist Holly Turner, who has a time machine in her apartment. Upon discovering the time machine he obviously starts using it to solve crimes, as you do, and resurrect his deeply troubled career. So far, so goofy and lovely.

One of the chief fascinations of 'Crime Traveller' is the intricacy of the fixed history time travel. History couldn't be changed, but that didn't mean the two couldn't participate in it. No, it meant that everything they did was already a part of their history, that they had to travel in time in order to establish their own present. Even if it didn't always make sense, it was great fun to identify the incidents and events that may have been orchestrated by the time travellers who had yet to step into machine, and the chemistry between the lead actors Michael French and Chloë Annett was great fun. The show also inherited the luxury of casting from the grand set of British character actors still around in the late 1990s, and the timeslot from the equally fun but less intricate 'BUGS'. Oh, the good old Saturday evening slot was a fun place once upon a time!

'Crime Traveller', to switch tacks, was a massive collection of clichés that clung together into a daftly entertaining whole. Slade was the very definition of a maverick police officer, his police department was run in a ridiculously television-like and messy way, every simple murder motive was displayed over the course of the eight episodes, all the other police officers were comical to some extent, and the undeveloped romance at the show's core was one of the more promising to ever be cut off before flowering. It was a fascinating mix of all things, and one that alternated between charmingly goofy and goofily stupid. It's not quite a classic, but lots and lots of fun, and people still like it enough for there to be DVDs. Oh, why couldn't it be renewed and not lost in the shuffle?!

According to Horowitz, part of the power was in the shifting of classical murder mystery tropes so that the culminating flashback that explained everything was converted into the time travel jaunt that the detectives use to observe the crime directly instead. If you were doubting the word 'innovative' earlier, you have to dispel those doubts a little now, surely? Also, on the positive side now, there is the greatness of seeing 1997 Saturday evening production values all over again. Yes, that's one retro-silly time machine, and nostalgia demands it be loved.

Love the time machine!


Tuesday, 3 March 2015


It's one of the great intangibles, something so abstract that it can not be pictured in the mind's eye. The presence or absence of it can change the course of history substantially, and yet many people go their whole lives without ever even thinking the word. It is confidence, the bogeyman of people to whom things do not come easily, the blancmange of desserts, the scourge of things that must not be named for it can never be forgotten.

If you have always had confidence you don't think about it, and if you've lost it then you think about it constantly. The absence is what you feel. One person, faced with a fairly vital interview morning next week, would smile and prepare diligently, confident in their ability to deal with the forthcoming challenge in good spirits. Another would feel themselves tensing up into a mental corkscrew, becoming more and more agitated as the time draws closer, until finally being so much a mental wreck on the day that they end up flunking from sheer exhaustion and second-guessing.

What can be done if your confidence is but a memory? The important thing is to somehow not dwell on it, and build from the positives of what goes on around you. Don't get caught in a negative spiral, but become involved with something else just so things keep moving somewhere. Hold on, this is all very patronising, isn't it? When you're deep in the bowels of that feeling, that horrible feeling, of thinking that nothing will ever go right again, it's almost impossible to believe the contrary. Ultimately, you just need to take a small step and start something new. And then something new again, and again, and build from the horrible feeling to something just a little braver. Just a little. A fall from grace is instant, but the following ascent can be arduous and lengthy, but it's worthwhile at every inch if you don't want to live as a shadow of what could be.

And now, the personal aspect. Oh, great candy glockenspiels, interviews are scary! Another PGCE Primary interview to come, and all the self-criticism of the previous one threatens to burst out, but it shall not prevail! Nerves take over the stomach, sleep tries to defect to the other side, and a random goldfish keeps swimming past the window but insanity will not take over. Or, perhaps insanity already did take over, and the whole world is not making sense for a reason. What a daunting idea. It would explain Putin, the Republicans, all the guns, and blancmange anyway. Ick.


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Movie: 'Ball of Fire' (1941)

'Goofy' is definitely one of the dominant words that come to mind when considering 'Ball of Fire'. It has got that goofy charm that glued itself to the best of the films from the golden age of cinema, as you would expect from a movie about a showgirl and gangster's moll who hides out with some encyclopedia compiling professors. Yes, the premise alone is goofy, but it has a heart of gold like most of the old romantic and screwball comedies. It also establishes Howard Hawks as a master of the art in my mind, completing a remarkable hat trick along with 'Bringing Up Baby' and 'His Girl Friday', and not even including the other comedies I've yet to see.

What are the principle strengths of this film, an extremely loose reinterpretation of 'Snow White And The Seven Dwarves', and why does it work? To begin, it was partly written by Billy Wilder, which is a genuine mark of pedigree if ever there was one, even before you add Howard Hawks and his snappy dialogue-driven style into the combination. If that's not enough then the starring duo of Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, both excellent and naturalistic, must lift your expectations? Okay, what about one of the best constructed supporting casts put together to form the seven backup oddball academics, each imbued with his own distinctive quirk? It's definitely a fascinating film, if nothing else.

What makes a movie fascinating? In this case it's the curious mix of the oddball academics and the hoodlums, both of which converge on the curious charm of Stanwyck's character, the colourfully named Sugarpuss O'Shea? Perhaps it's Cooper's turn as Professor Bertram Potts, an English professor who sets out into the world to update his knowledge of modern slang, one in which he expertly plays himself once again but in the most suitable and appropriate way. The Cooper effect is a fascinating one, evident in 'Mr Deeds Goes To Town' as much as it is here. For someone who does so little, the expression is extraordinary! Maybe the appeal is in the gorgeous sets, which are things I miss very much now, or is it the extraordinary vignette of the professors singing 'Sweet Genevieve' a capella at the impromptu bachelor party? It's extraordinary to find so many gentlemen male characters in one film, so many gentle people in total, and then placed in opposition to hoodlums of the first order. It's sweet, revealing just how much of a soft touch I might be for sweet movies, as well as for snappy dialogue.

So far, and so much said without mentioning Stanwyck to any great extent. She's a curious actress, capable of great extremes in sweetness and worldliness, and yet still somewhat a cipher. She's brilliant in a complex way, while still carrying out the time honoured character reversals to end up with the right man at the end. How many other actresses could conceivably mesh so well with an octet of character actors? Could it have worked out without the dynamite Wilder screenplay and influence of Hawks? We'll never know, but it does work.

Overall, 'Ball of Fire' is a fascinating screwball comedy from the classic mould. That means it's well characterised, snappily written, and in this case rather smart. Where else could you mix split infinitives and yum yum? As I said, one of the operative words is 'goofy' and that's not a bad thing.