Thursday, 30 April 2015

Television: 'The Adventures of Brisco County jr: Pilot' (1993) (Episode 1x00)

It was a gamble, but when it comes to the super-serious art of television watching, a gamble is sometimes necessary. Now, in retrospect, it wasn't a gamble at all. 'The Adventures of Brisco County jr' is definitely good. Yes, that's a generalisation, and one made after watching only the pilot episode, but it is in all likelihood an accurate one. The writing has that absurdist touch that some of the best cross-genre shows reach for, Bruce Campbell is wonderful in his own bashful way, and there's a horse called Comet! Yes, this show can go places, and doesn't care about stealing names from Superman comics. (See: Comet the Super Horse.)

How many movie serial inspired comedic westerns with science fiction overtones are there? Is there anything else to get close to 'Brisco County'? It may be that only 'Back to the Future III' is in the same ballpark, if we can lump movies and television shows in together. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see if it matches up to the potential of the pilot, which led off the show's single season in 1993-1994.

That was a crazy season for television, that year of 1993-1994: 'Lois and Clark' began, and was subsequently re-tooled into supreme blandness in succeeding years; 'Moon Over Miami' debuted and died in ten episodes flat with three left unaired; 'Brisco County jr' debuted and died of minute ratings; 'Frasier' had its first and debateable best year, and 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' had its final year. That is a momentous sequence of events for me, personally, and marks the biggest set of coincident misjudgements to land in television land that I can remember. What would have occurred a year earlier or a year later? We'll never know.

The pilot for 'Brisco County jr' revolves around Bruce Campbell's titular turn as the bounty hunter who is hired to track down the outlaw John Bly and his gang, who escaped from his father's custody and killed him in retribution. It's not about revenge, though. It's far far lighter. It's about getting the job done, and utilizing and subverting every Western trope you can find in the process, as well as incorporating science fiction elements via a mysterious orb found in a mine. Oh, and there are jokes. Lots and lots of jokes.

To be honest, there was a secret secondary motivation reason for buying 'Brisco County jr', in addition to the positive ravings you can find all over the Internet, and that is the recurring presence of John Astin - Gomez Addams himself - as eccentric inventor Professor Albert Wickwire. You can't ignore the Astin when he appears in curiously unknown television shows, you just can't, especially when his character directly inspires the first rocket railway car to be seen in the longest time. Has there been one since 'The Great Race' or Wile E Coyote?

Great pilot, now let's see what happens. This is no longer a gamble.


Retrospective Note: Ramblings on the final episode can be found at

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Long Coach Journeys

Long coach journeys are both wonderful and vexing. They provide both the opportunity for a magnificent amount of reading, and the curse of immobility in a vehicle that could be caught in a traffic jam at any moment. Generally, the opportunity outweighs the curse, as my recent twinned seven hour coach journeys to Nottingham and back can attest. With one whole anthology and three newspapers read, an epic letter written, and much thinking done it was quite the experience. Sadly, none of it was work-related thinking as there's still no work, but it was still worthwhile. Constructive thought is always useful, and reading can soothe a savage torment.

Long journeys can make people so bizarrely stressed, those people who have yet to acquire the skill of Zen travel anyway. Even if you're late, even if the journey is delayed and you will certainly miss your connection, there is nothing you can do to change it. The world is your stage, and the best thing is just to sit back and enjoy the ride through the scenery of your world. No amount of looking at your watch, cursing the driver for accidents outside of his control, and bowing your head in frustration will let you catch your connection in time, half-demented man who was across the aisle. Raving is not the solution.

There is a limit to the opportunity of long coach journeys, of course, as anyone who's spent more than twenty four hours travelling to Budapest, Bratislava or Warsaw would confirm. Once a travelling sleepover enters into the equation, paired with an inability to sleep in strange places, any journey becomes an insomniac nightmare of waiting for each service station while becoming progressively more and more tired and incapable of even reading to assuage the boredom. Finally, you emerge from the coach at your destination, blinking into the light as if you've never seen it before, and wondering how the world works without wheels underneath you. On the positive side, however, the reality of having travelled a long distance is something not to be missed. Travelling is real by coach or train. Real. Never fly, if you can avoid it.

As I write this, the supremely daft Rutger Hauer film 'Blind Fury' is playing, and being rather entertaining. Never would I like to see it again, but for a one-time foray into silly action it's unsurpassed, if a little gory. Also coming in for a verdict is the anthology 'A Study In Sherlock', which was problematic. With the exception of 'The Seven-Per-Cent Solution', in my experience there never has been a Sherlock Holmes pastiche to live up to the writing in the original stories, and perhaps there never will be another. 'A Study In Sherlock' is an interesting idea, a collection of stories inspired by and orbitting the Holmes canon, spinning off into a multitude of directions, but ultimately the whole just seems to have writing style no better than a bestseller pulp so it fails. Also, some of the stories are barely even tangentially related to the canon so it feels like quite a ragtag collection. Maybe next time will be better. Maybe I missed the point.


Thursday, 23 April 2015

Story: 'Pig Story'

(Note: Quirky Muffin now suspended until middle of next week, due to being in a different place entirely!)

I looked at the pig, but the pig wouldn't look at me. I couldn't blame him. Only a few days ago I had been a concert pianist, and now this pig had a better position in the house than I did. Such reverses are typical when a fake medium turns up and declares your pet farm animal to be a reincarnated Egyptian king. If this pig, Horace by name, had once been a Pharaoh then my name wasn't Phileas Clancy Jones, and this wasn't Hartford. An Egyptian pharaoh! Ha! Did that mean that Percy the Rooster had once been Alexander the Great? Was that why he always looked at me funny?

Oh, it had just been a chance mistake. After practicing some Chopin, I quite casually mentioned to the tea lady in the concert hall cantina the alleged former status of my pig, and she went berzerk! Raving about her parrot Ferdinand, and his prodigious feats of memory and love of pyramids, she drove me out onto the street without a clue as to whether she was the insane one or myself. I didn't believe the pig was a Pharaoh, after all, although my cat often seemed suspiciously regal. Cats often do, in a lazy sort of way.

Walking down the street from the concert hall, and not at all inclined to go back and face Doris's wrath, I reached the Square and realised that things were ever so subtly wrong. There hadn't always been a pyramid in one corner, for one thing, and the Sphinx at the former location of Oscar's Fine Olde Cinema certainly looked out of place. Good grief, would my house still be in once piece?! I ran for home, an old farmstead on the outskirts of town, and was delighted to find it still in one piece. 'What about the blasted pig?', I wondered, and went to check. Horace was still in his pen, munching placidly, but was that a sly look in his eye? Some malice? Surely not!

The next day, the conductor came to see me, and politely asked that I cancel my performances that week. Apparently, Doris had begun a stealth campaign against me, smeared my name in the worst possible manner and called down divine vengeance from Osiris at the Sphinx. The Sphinx? I had forgotten the Sphinx in the strange events. Now, my position was untenable, and his best advice was to keep a low profile and tend the farm in the meantime, while the bizarre mysteries surrounding me seemed to multiply endlessly.

Hence, here I am now, tending my farm. This pig, who maybe is the reincarnation of Amenemhat I, who himself was maybe a divine presence here on Earth, keeps on munching and the populace is beginning to turn up and worship him as word has spread. The pig! What does it all mean? Why is the town suddenly Egyptian themed, and why do I get the feeling that rooster knows more than he's letting on? This is what happens when you let psychics meet your livestock. Never again!


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Five Hundred And One

A bold new beginning. No more of those wonky attempts at badly written prose, but grand shining examples of wit and intellect! On the other hand, that does sound rather hard, now that I think about it. Perhaps the old attempts weren't all that bad after all. Perhaps an aimless and self-indulgent mess with no clear throughline is the way to go. After all, it has worked so far while recruiting minimal readership. What a way to go! Okay, an uninspired retread of a beginning, with a complete lack of expectations for anything different. Excellent, that's how mental stability exercises should be sometimes.

With my new business cards beside me - artfully managing to have no mention of location on them anywhere, sigh - it would be easy to get all lazy and bob up and down on the waves of fate like human flotsam, but no, they must be distributed to the masses. How on Earth do people get rid of business cards anyway? Is there some secret skill to it? One hundred sounds like a lot, bus is it really? The lack of tutoring has been very strange, almost a void where nothing has happened at all. Will business cards make a difference, or would effort be better off invested in brushing up foreign language skills?

Actually, if there were one thing I would love to do, it would be to really relearn and refresh my French and Spanish skills, and add Greek into the mix. There's something about the intellectual challenge of learning a language that is very appealing, especially one in which you need to learn a new symbology too. A new alphabet is fascinating. Japanese is very interesting too, but goes too far in having two native alphabets and employing Chinese kanji too. It's less of a challenge and more of an ideal, especially with the artistic elements of writing the three different sets of symbols. Yes, languages are great things to learn, and also allow you access to new ways of thinking. The Open University has a Language Studies degree too, if only money were in abundance.

Different cultures are defined far more than you might think by their languages, and their underlying mechanisms. They are a large part of the reason why different societies think so differently to each other, as well as genetic differences and different histories of course. Not every language is based on a subject hitting an object with a verb, in a problem-based tool-oriented way. Hungarian, for example, is very construction based, building from stem-words out in a very structured manner, while French is irregular and contrary and German is indescribable as it it hasn't crossed this author's radar yet. Every language has its own quirks. Spanish is lovely and regular, but hard to be imaginative in somehow.

How was that for post five hundred and one? We can get back to proper post titles again now? Excellent...


Sunday, 19 April 2015

Story: (The Musketeers At Rest 1) 'Labs Don't Just Go `Boom!'' [Draft] [Quirky Muffin 500]

Authors note
A story based on some nonsense, and a lot of the toys my sister and I had as children. You may re-post but not use for your own profit, or adapt or copy. 'Tis mine!

The `Four Musketeers' of literary and cinematic fame were called Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan. Their adventures were told by the French authors known as Alexandre Dumas pere and Alexandre Dumas fille. These stories are connected in no substantive way with those magnificent novels of France.

Our stories are concerned with the strange adventures and incidents experienced by our four friends Dr. Pogo, Brownie, Rip van Bramble and Dai Daschund, who were known as the Musketeers at school. While there they were often entangled with the schemes of the legendary being known as the Clomp. With or without his heart of soot, he'll always pop up somewhere.

What will happen? We do not know. When you put a doctor, a teacher, a mad scientist, and a librarian in one place you never know! Especially when they're face to face with a Vortex, a rogue postman, or even the Clomp itself. And also when you work with Big Ted there are usually a few more surprises around each corner.

Read on, if you dare, about the Musketeers and what happened next...

The Eddie Memorial School is a mixed facility, teaching primary and secondary pupils as well as the adult learners present in all societies. The many necessary classrooms, offices and corridors are arranged in a fairly crazy manner, apparently resembling a `Snakes and Ladders' games board. If you enter through the main entrance, turn right and head down the brown corridor, then turn left and walk past the second canteen entrance, and finally leave the main building through the double doors, you should end up fairly close to Dr Bramble's science cabin, or the ruins of such depending on said teacher's recent activities. Bramble's conscientious blowing up of science cabins with zero damage and casualties is small price to pay in exchange for his abilities as an exceptionally daft teacher of science science, excepting Biology, which latter science is best not mentioned in his presence!

As we begin, it is a Friday afternoon, and Bramble is clearing up the mess created by a small explosion, which was instigated by the mixture of two volatile chemicals in a teacup. He sweeps the edges of the floor, and moves into the middle, carefully wraps up some broken glass, and puts it in one of the recycling bins. He then examines the counter. "Huzzah!" he cries, "A sufficient covering of ash!", and runs to get his latest invention out of the back room. Mad scientists always have a latest invention; It's in the graduation charter they must sign to get the certificate.

His new gadget is green and consists of three thin tubes connected to a small shiny silver drum. After a brief moment of contemplation Bramble plugs the tubes into some matching holes in the wall and rolls the drum across the ash-covered counter. "Not much action here...", he mutters, as the ash remains unaffected.

"Gadzooks!" Bramble expostulates as the table suddenly collapses, almost falling into the confused Bramble. "This makes no sense!" The floor of the cabin begins to buckle as the drum rolls, and Bramble scrambles to unplug his new gizmo. "Fascinating." The scientist picks it up and examines the label stuck on the bottom of the drum, pulling it off in the progress. `Liable to go BOOM!' The scientist reads, before dropping the drum in shock. "Oh dear!"

Rip Van Bramble jumps through an open window, just as the little shiny drum goes...


The science cabin is engulfed in a sudden ball of flame and reduced to ashes in moments. The noise is heard all over the school.

Bramble gets up from the ground and checks his extravagant blue furry hat. "Huzzah... I do believe that I've run into a bit of bother. It's time to see Harold."

*    *    *

Bramble strolls through the school until he reaches the head teacher's office. The secretary waves him through, and Bramble waves back as he enters Harold's room. The large hippopotamus is looking through the window with his binoculars, possibly ironically watching for rare science cabins that don't explode without any warning.

"Hello Harold, I'm afraid there's been a spot of exploding going on." Bramble says, while sitting down on the most comfortable guest chair.

"I did notice that. Was this your average type of Rip Van Bramble explosion, similar to the other three we've had this year?" Harold has long since become immune to Bramble's explosive tendencies. The scientist never endangers anyone's life but his own, and always replaces everything himself.

"I am afraid, head teacher, that there is a problem." Bramble looks at Harold quite seriously. "Somebody else blew up my science cabin. This is not my fault. Someone had tampered with one of my new gadgets."

"Good grief! Then this could have been murder!"

"Huzzah! It could very well have been murder! My murder!" Bramble faints and the chair falls backwards to the ground.

*    *    *

Brownie Bear and Dai Daschund are both sitting by Bramble when he finally wakes up. "Old friends... where am I?" The scientist doesn't wait for an answer, as he melodramatically rambles on. "The pain and suffering! The horror of what has happened to me! What can it all mean? And what of my lovely wife Miriam?"

"Miriam's on her way, Rip. You're lying down in the Nurse's room." Dai is a type of dog known as a daschund, more commonly known as a `sausage dog'. "How do you feel now?"

Brownie sighs and mutters under his breath. "Did you have to start him off again?"

"I feel bereaved and robbed of my innocence. So many happy hours were spent in that cabin, so many happy lessons."

"It was only delivered last week!" Brownie interjects.

Bramble glares at him, before resuming his oratory. "Happy times seem longer to me. Never again shall I feel that sweet happiness of knowing I am safe in my own laboratory, never again will I be able to switch on a Bunsen burner without fearing for a moment for all of our lives. Woe is I! Woe is all of us!"

"Pogo's on his way. He's going to give you a check up before Harold sends you home for the day." Dai tries to cease Bramble's monologue.

"Brownie, get me out of here before he starts torturing me with those medical implements he has! Quickly, I said."

"Nope, we need to know if you're okay. That wasn't one of your standard explosions, you know. That was a huge bang." Brownie puts his paw on his friend's shoulder. "Besides, it's been a while since I saw a good torturer at work." The bear jokingly pulls a malevolent grin.

"I'll go and get the popcorn." Says Dai.

*    *    *

Sergeant Dave Dragon of the Valley Police Department circles the school twice before coming down for his landing on the main sports field. Unfortunately, this early in his time at the town, Dave still hasn't quite mastered this aspect of flight, and he ends up rolling a hundred metres into the field.

"Bother and blow!" Dave's wings shimmer and turn back into his arms and claws as he rights himself and stomps back towards the school. "I'm never going to get this right!"

Harold is waiting for him as he approaches the main entrance. "Hello, Sergeant. It looks serious this time." He solemnly informs the police dragon. "According to Bramble -- and I have no reason to doubt him on this -- this was sabotage. I don't need to explain the implications of an act of sabotage in a school, do I?"

"Sabotage?" The red dragon considers this revelation for a moment, and then strides on into the school. "Well then, I had better get started, hadn't I?"

*    *    *

"Could you stare into the light, please?" Pogo asks the mad scientist known as Rip van Bramble. "I need to make sure that your sense of vision hasn't been affected by the explosion."

"Certainly, Pogo, certainly." Bramble stares into the medical light, resigned to enduring the endless physical examination. He is fairly certain that Pogo only became a doctor so he could torment his old friend. He remembers the label he removed from the drum, and digs into his deep coat pockets.

"I say, Pogo, this isn't my handwriting, is it?"

"Doesn't look like it, no. I can understand it, for one thing."

"A doctor speaking from experience, I gather."

"Indeed." Pogo retrieves his stethoscope from his little black medical bag. Brownie conceals a smile. "If you would please take off the coat..."

"Never!" Bramble never removes his coat in sight of others.

"I was afraid of that. That's why I brought THIS..." Pogo reaches once again into the black bag.

"You wouldn't dare!" Gasps Bramble.

"Try me."

"Oh for goodness sake, Bramble! Would you really rather have the KAT scan instead of a simple stethoscope?"


Bramble and Pogo are locked into a battle of wills. Meanwhile Dai has been studying the label dropped by Bramble in his shock. He shrugs his glasses back on his head and shows the label to Brownie. "What do you think of this mark? It looks familiar somehow."

Brownie stares at the label. "Good grief!" He looks over at Pogo. "Go sort him out, Doc. Dai and I need to go see Dave. Before you go, Rip, is this what I think it is?" Brownie shows the label to Bramble again. The colour drains from Rip's face as he stumbles to the staff room couch.

"What's going on?" Asks Pogo incredulously as Bramble actually removes his coat!

Bramble answers him faintly. "It's Bromble. He's back."

"Good grief."

*    *    *

Bramble is descended from a long line of pointy nosed mad scientists and was frequently referencing cousin Wilfred, his nephew Tangerine or his oft-mentioned but never seen Uncle Bart. There are, however, some relatives he only mentions once, whose infamy unnerves him even in his most bombastic moments. One such was his villainous and only ever so slightly insane cousin Victor Van Bromble, descendent of a long settled foreign branch of the family. While their name had mutated over time, their nature had remained genial, apart from the villainy of Victor.

"Do you think he's still after you, Bramble?" asks Pogo, genuinely concerned for his friend.

"Huzzah! That twisted genius will stop at nothing to get my hat!" murmurs Bramble. He suddenly rises to his feet and proclaims, "He shall not have it!", before remembering his uncoated state and blushing deeply.

"Calm down there, old pal, we know the significance of your mad gadget hat."

"No one truly knows the significance of the gadget hat... and that's how it should stay!"

"But we know all about your hat!" Brownie interjects in his quiet way. "It does all manner of insane things, and then there are the water hats, cyber hats and critical philosophy hats."

"Huzzah! Quiet! Bromble could have secret transmitters anywhere! We must be very cautious." Bramble rouses himself from his distracted daze, grabs for his coat and covers himself immediately. "I believe it's time I showed you all something very very secret."

Pogo looks worried, Brownie looks perplexed, Dai the eternally wise looks relieved and at the other end of a secret observation signal Bromble grins deviously.

*    *    *

"Miriam! Fetch the children! We have to reactivate the Lair!"

"No no, dear, the Lair is all messy, and besides the children are away with their Uncle Tinker this week. They were so happy. And your brother's children went home last week. Next week we have our own as well as Dougal's and Dr Drax's..."

"Not here? Messy? Nonsense! We must be away before my nemesis grabs them and hurts their pointy little heads. To the Lair we MUST go."

Knocks rap out on the door, and Bramble looks about worriedly. "Could it be?" Miriam heads off to answer but is stopped by the name `Bromble' and a quick inspection of the label previously discovered. Instead they check the picture from the surveilance gnome camera, whose binocular and cameras are anything but jokes. Dave is outside, so Bramble opens the door and the bulky dragon makes his way inside, eyes widening at some of the more unusual and unlikely mementoes on display. "Is that a genuine Gehrlich?" he asks, indicating an orange on a stand.

Miriam flushes proudly. "Yes! You're the first one to ever recognise it. Are you an expert in fruit sculpture?"

"In a sense. I had to sort out all the problems when Clompie was counterfeiting the Gerhlichs and Spondulis last December. Had to do a fair bit of research and rouse out my old mentor Sebastian. He's quite the expert on Gerhlich's pineapples from his middle period."


Dave looks over the umbrella with the steam rising from the tip, and the giant paperclip that stretches from floor to ceiling on its end that is being used as an impromptu coat stand. On the floor there is a large yellow exclamation mark emblazoned in the middle of an otherwise dark blue carpet, and around the hallway various photographs and paintings are to be found. Most of the photos are of Miriam and Bramble and hordes of little ones, or of Bramble looking singed and holding up something black and smoking which presumably used to be important. He always looks pleased despite soot and the inevitable dishevelled hat and coat.

"I've come to offer my assistance, Professor. I understand there's some personal danger?" Turning to Miriam, he adds, "It's a pleasure to meet you, albeit under strained circumstances. Your husband speaks highly of you and profusely even when not recovering from his inane experiments." Miriam nods in return and mumbles a pleasantry.

"Huzzah! Assistance? Danger? Inane? I was almost blown up! The horror! The megalomania! Oh, if the universe were only a washing machine and all of life only a rinse cycle! I have a theory that if we all were to determinedly block up the fluff filter..."

{This portion of the story is excised by authority of the Quergish time censors.}

"... then we would all be up to our necks in Norsemen!" Bramble finishes after quite some time, before looking rather lost. "What now? Rah!"

"As I was saying, I have come to offer my assistance, as additional security to you and your loved ones. Not much gets past me or my deputy, Frederick." Dave continued, fairly smoothly.

"Yes, yes, of course. You're most welcome and appreciated. Would you like a scone?" Miriam heads off to the kitchen for refreshments.

"What about the super secret thing you wanted to show us?" Asks Brownie, not wanting the whole endeavour to descend into scone talk after the long wait they had already suffered through.

"Huzzah, of course! One of the most important things ever devised at BrambleLabs, and something that helped us devise the original town charter. Very hush hush. Sign these papers."

"Those aren't papers, they're scones." Points out Dai, helpfully.

"I say, thank you Miriam! They look delightful! Let's have some of the Level 4 security clearances, please. I have no idea where I left them, although I wouldn't rule out the greenhouse or the top secret bureau in the Lair."

"Of course. Do you mean these?" Miriam hands him some important looking documents and then looks fondly at her daft husband. "You left them in the fridge last time."

"I say!" Bramble hands a pass each to Dai, Brownie, Pogo and Dave, the last of whom produces a Level 6 pass and waves it aside with an ironic look. Three signatures later, Bramble leads them to the living room and pauses, passing a familiar instrument quietly to Dai, who begins ambling about while quietly scanning the decor. He pauses for a moment by the phone, and then moves on, before pausing again by a painting of Lorenzo Muskoxe, inventor of the clockwork alligator, and finally one more time by Miriam herself. Waving the instrument over her left shoe he cocks an eyebrow and mouths something. Miriam nods again, while Dai points at her foot, and winks before asking, "Are we all ready?" The blank looks of incomprehension not being a definitive answer, she pulls a candleholder on the wall like a handle, and the Muskoxe painting opens from the wall, revealing a well-lit passage of steps down into a basement.

They descend the stairs.

*    *    *

"Everyone, please be very careful. Don't handle the paperclips, Pogo, they happen to be prototype fusion reactors. Now, best close the door, as we don't want a draft to activate the polarization transitioning electro-discombobulator." Bramble reached for a switch, and the secret passage closed. "Now, we can talk! This portion of the Lair is completely transmission proof, thanks to the Bramble double density shielding!"

"Which originally was supposed to be a new type of synthetic rubber to save the poor rubber trees." Miriam offered.

"Yes, yes, as long as it turned out useful it doesn't matter!"

"If this place is transmission proof then won't the person at the other end of the bugs be able to track us down?" Dave asks, looking pointedly at Miriam's left shoe, which she takes off along with the other and offers to the sergeant. "Hmmmm. I think it's hidden in the sole, like one of those old-fashioned shoe-phones. Where did you get them?"

"A shop on Tiger Tiger Lane, next to the old Fire Station."

"That's one lead. I'm still not convinced this is anything to do with anyone called Bromble at all."

"My husband Rip always jumps to the Bromble conclusion when anything bad happens, but despite all his achievements he has no other real enemies. If anyone were going to try an utterly incoherent plan it would be Cousin Bromble. He's after the secret of the techno-hat and anything else he can get his hands on. He thinks there's some kind of top secret invention hidden here in the Lair. Also, there's this label. Bromble is a compulsive labeller."

Dave examines the label, which reads: 'Property of Victor von Bromble. If found, return to...' Eyes disbelieving, he looks at Bramble's wife. She nods and sighs.

"Bramble, is there something here he would want?" Asks Brownie, "Apart from the techno-hat."

"No, nothing particularly important. Most of the -- Gadzooks!" A warning light pops out of Bramble's blue fuzzy hat, and starts blinking rapidly. "What colour is it?"


"Everyone! Above ground please! Quickly!" Bramble practically shoves Miriam up the steps after hat-bumping the switch, as the ground begins to quiver. "He must have realised our silence meant the secret was actually in the Lair!" They scramble up and up, just in time to see the landing of a giant helicopter through the window, its blades shaking the walls with each rotation. A incredibly familiar-seeming figure jumps out and for a moment Dave is convinced it is Bramble himself.

"Good grief! You were right!" Dai exclaims! "I was thinking it might be the headmaster gone mad, or an insurance agent who cracked under the stress."

"Quick, to the spoons!" Bramble shouts, and grabs a metre long duelling wooden spoon from the wall before dashing out to the hallway.

Dave, then new to the valley, absolutely had to ask: "Did he just say 'Quick, to the spoons!'?"

"You'll get used to it." Replies Brownie, grabbing another duelling spoon and following his friend. Pogo sighs, grabs his medical bag and a spoon and follows them while Dai and Dave look on bemused.

"Why aren't you going?" Dave asks Dai, who was quite short and unsuited to duelling as a Daschund. "Sorry. Forget I asked."

The two of them rush out and behold a magnificent spoon fight between Bramble and Bromble, against the backdrop of the giant helicopter. Dave sets off for the chopper even as two spoon-wielding Bromble acolytes stumble out of it, quickly entering the fray with Brownie and Pogo, who have thoughtfully slopped their spoons full of tapioca and proceed to make the best of a sticky pudding fuelled duel. The acolytes last not even a moment before taking the pudding route to oblivion. The main duel continues, with much prancing back and forth, Bromble always trying to get close enough to take the hat, and Bramble dancing around and trying to defeat his cousin's demented plan. Finally, Bromble having been maneuvered close enough to the kitchen window, Dai throws some souvenir clogs and knocks out the cousin, even as Dave takes control of of the now-empty vehicle.

"Huzzah! What wonders will never cease! How wonderful it is that good has triumphed once again, in parts due to the valour of my old friends and the sturdiness of these grand old spoons handed down over so many generations..."

"Not now!"

Bramble looks aghast, and then recovers. "Blast! I never got to ask him what he did to my gizmo that blew up my cabin!"

"He tried to kill you with a duelling spoon!" Shouted everyone at once.

"Yes, but family is family. I'll ask him over cake and tea wherever he ends up."

Dave, by now looking thoroughly fed up with all the silliness, gathers up the unconscious Bromble and prepares to make his way back to the police station.

"Why so gloomy, Sergeant?" Miriam enquires.

"I've been doing this for three months, and still haven't managed to say 'You're nicked!'!"

"Oh dear. Would you like a cup of tea?"

The End.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Four Hundred And Ninety Nine

Yes, one last post before mighty five hundred, which is nowhere near complete at this point. Is this what we call planning? Is it? No, of course not! Welcome to the Quirky Muffin, last organised properly in late 1994, when in paper form and indescribably more boring. Oh, days gone by, somehow not seen through the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia. Somehow nostalgia never made it into my mental patterns, except possibly in television terms, where the 1960s has become a virtual 'home era'. Yes, the 60s had chauvinism and misogynism problems, but it was moving in the right direction, and they were making television that everyone could watch. If there's something to be nostalgic for then it's broad spectrum broadcasting! Yes, the best shows are probably better now, but they're also tightly targeted.

Now, putting that oft-repeated rant back into its box, what's going on with Quirky Muffin 500. Potentially, nothing at all. It's an arbitrary landmark after all. We wouldn't be having this discussion right now if weren't equipped with five digits on each of our hands and feet, and five appendages in total, prompting ancient man to jump up and down in a blissful epiphany and start counting in fives and tens. In some ways I envy the eccentric civilizations that decided to pass on that ludicrous system (see Babylonians?) and count in other bases. Yes, you wouldn't find them worrying about what to do for blog post five hundred! What is going to happen? Does it matter? Is anyone actually counting anyway? Auntie Google knows, but then she knows everything, even the things you wish she didn't.

I'm watching you, Auntie Google. You were nice when you were small but now you're a corporate behemoth you're totally untrustworthy. The beady eye is watching.

The plan is this: A long unfinished story has been stuck on hold all week, caught in the morass of waiting for supply work that never comes. Much like 'Clomp Squared', it is firmly based in the stories my sister and I used to make up about our toys. Hence, it may make very little sense, feature many anthropomorphised animals and a zeppelin. There may or may not be lakes of custard and a space journey to the great Swirly Thing underlying this part of the space-time continuum.

It's a landmark year for the Film Bin as well, since commentary one hundred is set to land, under a veil of greatest secrecy, later this year. The only hint as to the choice of film is that it features a train. Make of that what you will. How much later this year it will happen is a difficult question to answer, as we've had more delays and disruptions at Film Bin Central this year so far than anyone would have expected in two whole calendar years. Such is the way of things, but we will get to the mythical beast that is number one hundred and give it a nice bowl of milk for the anniversary. Ooh, what a cute commentary! Tickle tickle.


Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Story: Oneiromancy, XX

(Part O , XIX , XXI)

It was a timeless fall across the Dreamline. The patterns became hypnotic after a while, and it was only the touch of Helen's hand in his that kept Stanley from drifting off into a total reverie. Swirls and clouds, ribbons and storms. What strange phenomena might all the colours represent, if they represented anything at all?

Helen knew, as they plummeted, that it might go on forever. There might be no floor to eventually reach, just a huge empty void. 'Empty void': A ludicrous thing to say, she thought, as if there were any voids that weren't empty. Gripping on to Stanley, she watched the alternative world all around them, and thought about her body, as far away as it was and yet just a moment away.


They found themselves in a shallow sea of water, stretching as far as their eyes could see. Standing upright, Stanley could breathe fairly easily, while Helen had to tilt her head back just to stop from getting a mouthful of water.

"What do you think?" Stanley asked of his companion.

"It could be anything, but if I had to guess then we're far enough away from our hostile friend that we're beginning to influence it ourselves. This is our own unconscious at work." Helen tried to sound confident at her own baseless speculation.

"Or it could be her work."

"Yes, it could be her work. She's starting to remind me of my Aunt Mabel. She was barmy and collected Austrian Polka records."

Stanley smiled, while trying to not take a mouthful of water. "Sounds like my uncle Edwin. He liked jazz, but he wouldn't try to kill us or trap us in that cage."

"There's something over there in the distance. Do you fancy a swim?"

The two paddled to the 'something in the distance', which turned out to be a faintly familiar island. On the beach, scrawled in the sand, was the long ago missed message: "Help me."

Stanley and Helen looked at each other apprehensively. Was it possible that they weren't the only ones loose and hunted in the Dreamline after all?

More? Of course!

Monday, 13 April 2015

On Call

It's tense. Every morning, you wake up early and get ready for a potential day somewhere unknown. You can't make plans, and you can't make appointments unless they're vital and urgent. You've got to be prepared, because you are 'on call'. Yes, you may only be a supply teaching assistant, but you've got to make a good impression, blast it! Oh, the tension as the clock ticks on until nine o'clock, when you declare the wait done and convert your notions for the day into concrete plans, and rue the loss of earning and learning opportunities. Hopefully all this stress will go to some good end, or at least a good reference. That cold tight feeling in the stomach and lack of sleep won't be entirely wasted.

Oh, it's so silly to worry, as nothing bad is going to happen. Medics on call have far worse troubles, so do public defenders and cover gladiators. You wouldn't believe how the market for supply entertainers in the coliseums has decayed in recent millennia. Back in the old days, you could make a decent living covering for busted hamstrings and lions who wouldn't get out of bed for less than ten pieces of gold and a bowl of rice pudding. Still, no-one ever expected any of this to make sense, right? All I have to worry about is being an assistant and dealing with small groups of students learning, at the very worst. That's easy. Why the terrible stomach, then? It's probably the phone aspect. Phones are terrifying things.

Away in the real world, suddenly after months of nothing, there's a possible student in the works and it's time to be on call on a whole second level. Will this be the breakthrough? Will the straw finally break the canoe's back? Will tutoring take off? Can these metaphors can get any more twisted up? It's going to be an interesting challenge if it works out, as the student has dyslexia and I'm going to have to learn a whole new bucket of tricks. Teaching language is one of the nicest things in the world, as it truly is the tool that brings us all together and enables every other topic of learning, although this is not what you say to the student at the time, as the pressure would be insurmountable. The necessary things are really interesting and arresting texts to practice with. It's always got to be the texts! Also, using verbalisation to help the flow seems to help.

What are good books and stories to begin with? How to best motivate writing and spelling? What are juvenile males interested in reading at thirteen years old? These are good questions. Obviously, this is going to be fascinating if it works out, and why wouldn't it? In a blatant display of lack of thought and resulting ignorance, my mind had never considered how a print learning disability might affect mathematics learning, which is something else to consider. For once it's lucky that my ego is larger than Manhattan Island and that this is an opportunity to help that should be taken. Now, where's the cape and the magic wand of mighty magic...? What's that? 'No capes!'?


Note: Presumably this post will curse me in the usual way, tempting fate as it does. If relevant people are out there reading this... Well, rest assured I can do it.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Movie: 'Batman Returns' (1992)

I used to dislike 'Batman Returns', but now it seems so much better than the contemporary crop of mass produced superhero movies that it might be a classic. What has changed? Was it me? It's certainly still a Tim Burton-y mess with too much of The disgusting Penguin and more style than substance, but it's also quite intricate, the sole example of diverse independent villains functioning together well in a film, and rather beautiful in its own way.

It's hard to not talk about the Catwoman when you write about 'Batman Returns'. Michelle Pfeiffer was and is the defining symbol of the film, after all, and putting the shiny costume aside she does give an awesome performance as the Selina Kyle who breaks down completely after being pushed out a window by her corrupt employer and then apparently being resurrected by a bunch of stray alley cats. Throughout the movie she very decidedly does play insane in the most entertaining and delightful manner, while at the same time being ever so slightly undermined by being black and shiny. Pfeiffer is definitely at the core of the film with Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne / Batman. Tim Burton's apathy about the title character in this and the last film seems obvious by now, but Keaton isn't as neglected as you would think. It's true that he again doesn't get a big moment to sell, a big speech to give, or even the grand triumphant moment but... Okay, he's sold short again, and I change my mind. It works in the context of the film, and makes the whole movie a superior example of its type, but the lead actor is clearly doing his best while the director farms out the best bits to the villains. It's a shame as Keaton's Bruce Wayne is the best ever to appear on screen.

'Batman Returns' is definitely a curious film. For one thing, it features three antagonists, each independently motivated, and each a few sandwiches short of their respective picnic lunches, while for another it has moments of sheer insanity you won't find anywhere else but in Tim Burton films. (I have a theory about Iim Burton being an exact negative to Sam Raimi in certain key respects, but it will have to wait, as it's almost certainly totally wrong and reminiscent of nothing even vaguely reminiscent of reality.) The Penguin drives the Batmobile via remote control on it's rocking and rolling arcade equivalent, rubber ducks abound, and penguins waddle around Gotham with satellite dishes and bombs strapped to their backs. Surely there must have been a way to make the film without the sheer grotesquerness of Danny DeVito's Penguin, though, even if that would break one of the Tim Burton tenets. The Penguin is just too icky.

It's actually very difficult to write about 'Batman Returns', it being quite fluffy and ephemeral as a film. It might be more interesting to talk about the genesis of the movie, and the break it made from being a direct sequel to its predecessor. Alternatively, the fascinating ball sequence where Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are the only ones NOT in fancy dress is pretty interesting. What about the distinctions between the Burton Batman movies and the rather grim and tedious Nolan versions? All these things can be found in other places. Let's just say that it's a picturesque and stylish Batman caper, roughly equal to the first film while losing a smidgin of the roughness one might find interesting.


Thursday, 9 April 2015

Prelude to a Time of Chaos?

Next week, things could all get a little crazy. That's the suspicion being harboured as term time looms, and the realities of being registered with three different supply agencies become closer to being fulfilled. Good grief, there's grand potential for chaos in such choices! Let's hope it doesn't all explode into a fiery massive disaster. It can't be that difficult to be a teaching assistant, surely?

Casting about for a profession is a chancy business. You can book TEFL courses, apply for teaching fellowships, sign up as supply teaching assistants, copyedit textbooks and try to drum up business as a tutor but if none of them work out you do tend to have a problem, one not easily ameliorated by anything short of a miracle. What do you do? Go to sleep and try not to think about if for a while? Put up some shelves? Practice your juggling?

Let's think about weather instead: It's a heat wave here in Carmarthenshire, still, and the peril of being pale is taking its toll. After months of being able to go out and take the constitutional midday walks that prevent a total nervous explosion, it has all become rather difficult, but evening walks do become the order of the season. Oh, to not be so pale but constantly flushed would be a lovely thing. Also, to not be a compulsive buyer of DVDs and books would be nice too, but let's not ask for miracles twice in one paragraph. It might upset the karmic wagon.

'Karmic wagon'? Karma is a fascinating thing, that idea that your actions can directly influence your own future in a metaphysical manner. It's a keystone of many Asian religion and systems of thought, intertwining with reincarnation quite elaborately in places. The God-less systems of thought and belief have been interesting for a long time, involving as they do meditation and self-exploration and sitting between faiths and psychology much like a keystone. This will all require some more writing, should I become more knowledgeable on the subject. I tried to meditate a few times, but the heart beat was so loud that it kept throwing things off...

One can only hope that if karma is real then things can only improve. That's a nice thought. Nobody will ever find out about two lives ago and the hijacking of that zeppelin to take a leisure trip to Bognor. How could they?


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Story: Oneiromancy, XIX

(Part O , XVIII , XX)

Sleep. The soporific haven for billions of people all over the world, a refuge from all the troubles of life. A potential battleground if you're the only two active Dreamwalkers in the world, and you've caught the attention of the Tweedy Lady currently stalking that abstracted place and trapping all the flies that wander intrusively into her spider's web.

Stanley and Helen hovered, holding hands, staring out into the broad swathes of colour that swirled all around them. Their long experiences together had bonded them even before the eerie attractive powers of her eyes and his sheepish disposition began to work on them. For the first time, and with surprisingly little training, they stood with some awareness in the Dreamline.

"If the professor is right, and who knows if he's even marginally sane before we even get to 'right', this should be a medium that sees all kinds of scattered fragments of dreams, unconscious chatter, and stray information popping back and forth like flotsam in unpredictable tides. There should be things happening all around us." Helen spoke fairly calmly, even while being momentarily swamped in green swirls.

When the swirls passed they were standing on a paved purple lane that cut through the abstractions all around them, a new gravity acting to keep them on the path.

"Perhaps there are. No-one said we would be able to understand it. It's just like standing in a river, except instead of water we have all these swirls and colours. And textures. Ouch!" He waved a hand in pain. A bunch of the abstractions darted at his hand again, but he and Helen backed off down the road a ways and the swirls hovered there confusedly.

"That could be her", Helen observed, "in her natural state in this place." The swirls began to move toward them down the lane, colours shifting furiously.

"If it's not her, than what is it? There's not supposed to be anything here. Whether it was truthful or not, she said she eliminated everything else. I'll try something." Stanley closed his eyes for a moment, the dream version of his eyes, and a shimmering translucent dome appeared over them before winking back out of existence.

Helen screamed as the swirls began plucking at her. Stanley pulled her further down the lane, the swirls never overtaking them, but neither falling far behind. Stanley's mind jumped to a nasty suspicion as something began to loom out of the colours. Gravity and a path, a purple path at that, and a persistent but not merciless predator. "We're being herded."

"What?" Helen gasped.

The structure was becoming clearer now, a solid silver prison, complete with platinum bars. She stopped. Stanley stumbled to a halt too, and then looked at her boldly."It's either the cell or we try sky diving. What do you think?"

She squeezed his hand as the storm of colours approached. "If we weren't already asleep this would be terrifying. One..."

"You're not wrong. Two..."

"You shouldn't hunch so much. Three..."

"It's part of the teacher training. Jump!"

Stanley Simonson and Helen Ostrander jumped off the purple lane, and plummeted, while the swirls contracted into an angry ball increasingly high above them and seethed.

To be continued...

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Piles and Piles...

On my computer there are dozens of unfinished stories from back when I was doing my HND, which incidentally was remarkably easy. They just sit there, lurking and muttering and waiting to be completed. Why do they remain unfinished? It's a tricky question, especially when there's no lack of opportunity. Some people are just afraid of finishing things, of succeeding or not, of making the last few steps across the finishing line. IT's crippling, paralysing and demoralising. Also, a lot of those stories were begun by a much happier and crazier person, so finishing them requires a mass of revisions both written and personal before new content even hits the page. However, with Quirky Muffin 500 approaching, maybe it's time to dust off another one and finish it, just as occurred with 'Clomp Squared'. Oh, 'Clomp Squared', you will eventually have a lot to answer for...

Piles and piles of unfinished stories, a fear of finishing, a fear of having become less crazy, and a habit for procrastination. It's hardly a recipe for success, especially when you add consistent interview failures and a dodgy spell of lecturing into recent work history. Plainly, any sensible person would go hide in a hole and become spelean, not book a TEFL course and try to build his way out with only misguided optimism and a radical plan to make 'Secret Of Monkey Island' jokes at every opportunity. Yes, you too can call me Bobbin Threadbare!

spelean: cave-dwelling

Back to stories, maybe it won't just be one that gets finished. Perhaps it's time to really dig into the backlog against the backdrop of supply work after the holidays, and whatever else is in the pipeline. It can be part of Operation Elimination, details of which will remain undisclosed until the last Quirky Muffin reader is carted off to a funny farm and the blog is converted into an encyclopedic webpage for all you want to know about white sand. Is that obscure enough? No? Mutter mutter. People are hard to please. I would call them 'children's stories', but we're really talking about tales that go here, there and everywhere, and fit in no box whatsoever.

What kind of different life must all you people out there who like finishing things lead? Is it fun? Are you still terrified of success, with all the changes and responsibilities that it entails, or is that all part of the fun? Oh, humans! We're an intractably confusing bunch, aren't we? Enough of all this mock introspection and pretend contemplation of the weirdness of the species, for it is time to get back to text polishing and passive absorption of 'The Mentalist' and 'The Six Million Dollar Man'. Ah, classic shows...


Friday, 3 April 2015

Film: 'The African Queen' (1951)

A fascinating movie, adapted from the CS Forester novel, directed by John Huston, and featuring Huston's poster boy Humphrey Bogart as well as my favourite Katherine Hepburn. A lunatic endeavour filmed partly in Africa on a real river, and mainly as a two-hander between two screen icons: What could possibly go wrong? We'll never know, as it actually worked, and the unlikely combination of Bogart of Hepburn is as much responsible as anything else. However, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

In 'The African Queen', a missionary and his spinster (oh, how I loathe that term) sister are tending to their flock in African jungle, when World War I breaks out, and the Germans promptly abduct the native villagers, burn everything to the ground, and indirectly kill the missionary with a broken heart. The sister, Rosie Sayer, is then forced to flee with the river traveller Charlie Allnut on his steam launch the African Queen, who had been supplying their mail and supplies from a nearby town. What follows is then an extremely touching romance, and ultimately silly attempt to torpedo a German boat commanding a lake down the river and then escape to freedom. Ultimately, the trappings are unimportant, as it's all really about the unlikely love pairing of Bogie and Hepburn, two of the wildest legends to ever grace the big screen.

If you ever need to sell Bogart as an actor who could play more than gangsters, then you need to show 'The African Queen', and if you ever need to explain how an actress can remain vivid and alive despite the passage of time then again show this film. The rule also applies if you ever want to show someone how a simple film which never tries to do more than one thing at a time still manages to be compelling, and how a love story will always win out when given a chance by quality storytellers and performers. It also wins the Quirky Muffin award for not employing snakes on screen at any point in the proceedings, a great advantage for future rewatches, and presumably a hard temptation to resist in a film which features an awful lot of jungle.

In many ways it's difficult to write about 'The African Queen', as it's a tour-de-force for Bogart and Hepburn, both playing increasingly against type as the narrative progresses. It's even more impressive when you realise that Hepburn was almost constantly sick during the location work, as were most of the crew. Bogart escaped via whiskey, apparently, which I rather wish I didn't know. Strangely, there's not much music in the film, or at least there appears to not be, but it is there lurking fittingly and unobtrusively.

'The African Queen' was far better than I expected it to be, and in a reconfirmation of my bias, yet another example of Hepburn being The Woman on screen. There never will be an actress so vividly alive, wild, and full of classy fire in a film. She would have been a great Irene Adler in some never-made adaptation of 'A Scandal In Bohemia', but for which Sherlock?


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Beware the April Fool

Higgledy piggledy. Pudding and pie. Throw the feathers, and then let them fly. There is absolutely no obligation to make sense on April Fool's Day, even if the magical midday hour has long passed us by. Look behind you! It's a three headed mime! Yikes!

A three headed mime? Is there anything scarier sounding than that? Even now the shudders are terrifying... Well, they're not really, but it's better than talking about politics. The first of the propaganda fliers came slurping through the door yesterday, so it must actually be election season after all, and we are all doomed to a few weeks of electioneering. Other countries would laugh at that sentence, though, especially the USA, where only a couple of months seem to go by between presidential election cycles or House elections and campaigns last for years on end! Elections are much more sedate here, but still fundamentally messed up by people blindly voting traditionally instead of on their candidates. As a result, who knows what will happen?! It's not my intention to talk about politics much on the Quirky Muffin, being both independent and mildly bored by the whole process, but my vote will be exercised scrupulously and hopefully so will many other people's. It's good to vote, readers, and good to vote responsibly. Even as the world spins eccentrically, it's a good idea to use what power we have wisely.

Away from politics, and trying to not think about unemployment too much, what else to write about? TEFL job opportunities and courses? The world of 'Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)'? 'The African Queen'? 'The African Queen' will actually be revisited next time, after having seen it for the first time today, and realising once again just how much of an icon of cinema Katherine Hepburn was, a status which has never really been in doubt for her co-star Humphrey Bogart. However, more of that next time.

After wavering over stories for a while, it will now be 'Oneiromancy' all the way until its conclusion, which is now definitely set up. It will all flow much better in the compiled story, surely, losing a lot of the mid-story stalling and probably adding a lot more jokes. It's not a good story without added jokes, as any Jasper Fforde read will tell you gleefully.

Well, this has been a hodge podge of miscellaneously bagged together items. Sometimes that has to happen... Consider it an update as number five hundred approaches.