Sunday, 30 August 2015

Blackberries, Bank Holidays and Bandits

Coasting by on almost no sleep and a surprisingly light level of fatigue, it would be easy to consider writing a lunatic thing to do right now. However, it's amazing how much you can get done well while running on fumes, and this is no exception. Yes, these bank holiday weekends sure are conducive to getting sick and getting things done! In the distant past most of the best doctoral work was done while trying to remember what sleep felt like.

A computer whirs in an adjacent room, doing its best with a surprisingly heavy calculation. It may get done sometime before Christmas, unless the job can get handed over to a tougher computer, probably one with an eyepatch that keeps looking over its shoulder in case the police are watching. Can you tell 'Smokey and the Bandit' has been watched recently? Ah, it's a grand and light film to dispel those gloomy moods that befall us all from time to time. Sadly chauvinistic in places, but nowhere near as much as 'The Cannonball Run'. Hmm, did I ever write about 'The Cannonball Run' here? That's something to check in the aftermath.

Even with no sleep, and it only being the end of August, there are blackberries out there already for the picking and they have been picked handsomely (blackberries are 'moras' in Spanish, 'murés' in French, and possibly 'βατόμουρα' in Greek). Yes, the season of free food for the taking and free stings for the suffering is upon us once again, and once again there doesn't seem to be all that much foraging in this rural idyll. Don't they know that they're required to go forth and gather nature's bounty, sing songs, dance in a rural manner, and furnish pretty scenes that would make for ideal crime scenes in television detective series? Don't they? It's early days for blackberries, and the deluge of wet stuff and absence of sunshine over the last two months has made them just a bit soggy in nature so far.

If you can only keep writing in a long stream, then writing these things is incredibly easy. Not quite as easy as unicycling in a Moldovan cake shop, but close. Yes, the momentum is all you need, as well as a hazy head and a computer that's doing all the work for you in another room. With that, and with great relief for having written something coherent that doesn't relate to Blue Bananas, it's time to sign off and think about the magnificent Monday of Mathematics to come. It will involve a θ-scheme, elastoviscoplastics, and a lot of shaking of the head and worrying.


PS Take that, you accursed θ-scheme, ha ha!

PPS No, nothing on 'The Cannonball Run' yet. What an oversight!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Well, It May Be Nonsense, But So Is Reality!

What's that, you say? The world is going to be overrun by Blue Banana despots from Planet Z? What kind of madness is this? Could it be true?

Some days ago, while idly picking blackberries from idle hedgerows, one of the top carrier pigeons used by those accursed herbal dictators dropped its message in my basket, and the truth was revealed. What a devastating truth it is!

Long ago, in the 1970s, a delegation of Blue Bananas infiltrated the British botanical gardens under the cover of hybridisation trials. These Bananas promptly developed a network of crack espionage agents by mind control of greengrocers, before spreading out into Europe and North America, and then the world.

Apparently, the Bananas aim to rule by stealth, with the eventual aim of converting the whole world to Blue Banana worship, a tactical move to avert the eventual evolution of our yellow bananas to a sentient and spacefaring species, a species prophesied to rule benevolently where the Blue Bananas have conquered. Oh, so many planets decimated by their Tripods, so many economies undermined by planned herb gluts, and so many agents lost to atomic banana peels...

Yes, we must somehow stop the Blue Bananas of Planet Z, but how? Where will we find their weakness? Can the world be saved? Can Planet Z be reached? Who can reach Buckingham Palace with the Rubber Nose and Groucho glasses of victory? Will releasing the Prime Minister from servitude make things better or worse?

People of the world, unite, and put your petty differences aside. It is time for liberty! Down with the Blue Bananas!


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Story: The Glove, XIII [Obsoleted]

(Part I , XII , XIV )

"What's your name?", asked the man known as Banksy.

"Steffan", replied our protagonist.

"Steffan who?"

Steffan hesitated for a moment and then told the truth.

"Why were you asking so many questions about the incident at Canterbury, Steffan?" Banksy wasn't being aggressive or menacing. For now, he was just asking questions.

"I was there when it happened. Nothing like this ever happened back home in Burgh." Steffan tried to be as calm as he could.

"You're not in Burgh. You're in Edin. Why?"

"You're running a lie detector on me, aren't you?" The former apprentice piper risked a question.

A long pause ensued. "You'll answer my question, laddie."

"I was curious about the strange incidents Master Octavius told me about, before I passed on his remarkably generous job offer."

"Octavius?!" Banksy's silver eyebrows almost jumped to the ceiling. "You've met the Master Piper Octavius?"

"Yes. He was a funny little man. Very impressed with me, it seemed. Wanted me to be a master piper from the start."

"And you said no?" Banksy was incredulous.

"Yes, I said 'no', a negative response." Steffan was beginning to enjoy it all, despite himself. This was a lot more interesting than a straighforward recapitulation.

"Are you mad, boy?!"

"No. I don't think I'm mad. The order of the Pipers wasn't what I thought. Are you dissidents?"

A long pause.

"What do you know about the incident at Canterbury?" asked Banksy, again.

"I know I heard a man shooting from a church, and troops deployed to put him down. Is that enough? I know I was supposed to come here as an emissary, but instead came as a citizen. I know I want to know what is going on, and I know that I was knocked out and brought here because I was asking questions."

"You're an impudent whelp, with too much curiosity and not enough sense."

"This much I also know. Do you know why the exchange of students between Edin and Burgh has slowed to a trickle?" Again, Steffan tried to turn the tables.

Banksy remained silent and stared at him impassively.

"Do you know what there is to rebel against on this peaceful planet?"

More silence.

"Do you know why there were secret army emplacements at Canterbury?"

"What I know, and what I don't know, are not yours for the asking. I will ask one question more, and then we'll decide what to do with you."

"You had best make it a good one, for the lie detector." Yes, impudence was definitely habit-forming.

"Are you working for anyone?"

Steffan looked Banksy in the eye and replied.

There shall be more...

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Mirror

Beware, beware, for this is being written from deep in the Pit of Depression, and may not completely make sense. Is the warning taken? Good, then we shall proceed. It's okay, you don't have to hide under the Golden Fleece. It's only for decoration, and the pagan rites aren't until Thursday. Please return the Sword of Damocles to where you found it, and we will begin.

I have a theory. It's probably not original. It's based on the question, 'If I call someone judgemental, does that judgement not reflect on me more then them?'. On a broader scope, does a habit of declaring other people to be things just reveal a highly projective person seeking to imprint their definitions on others? Does any of this make sense? It's highly theoretical and possibly nonsense since any specific case could invalidate it completely. You can tell someone that they're generally angry without being angry yourself, and the same for sadness. Perhaps it is more applicable for behavioural traits rather than emotional states? It's food for thought, especially when caught with nothing else to write about.

Judgementalism is one of the nastier things about our species. It seems as if the vast majority of people are constantly primed to launch into their opinions of others and never think about themselves. It's so easy to never think about ourselves and what we do, but clearly we have to or the world will go up in a haze of smoke or pollution. What would happen if, somehow, people actually started to think? To do things thoughtfully? Would the world's destiny improve, or would the sudden surge in brainpower push global warming to a new level? Good grief, would people actually talk to each other instead of setting bombs? It's imaginable. So many things are imaginable, and could happen, if only a few people would think instead of whatever it is that they do do now.

Oh, there's a world out there, and a solar system. The solar system is part of a grand galaxy, and the galaxy is just one of many. Encompassing it all is the universe, as we all know, and its origins will remain shrouded in mystery likely forever. If we did find the answer to the mystery, then it would prompt even more questions! The universe is the mirror, into which we look for something other than ourselves, paradoxically seeking a different truth to the one we're given and don't understand. Of course, we have to keep looking, because it's the seeking that's important. We're explorers in the great space lanes of the galaxy, and in the innerspace of the mind. Which is more important is a question we each ask of ourselves, if we ask questions at all, with the answer being 'banana'.


Saturday, 22 August 2015

Book: 'Journey to the West' Volume 1, by Wu Cheng'En (16th Century) and translated by WJF Jenner

This was going to be about a blindfolded Gonzo the Great wrestling a half-brick and losing, but that is going to have to wait until an ever more Muppet-like moment. What else? It could have been about court-martialling a monkey, but that will be for when 'The Phil Silvers Show' makes it back into the rotation. No, no, this will be about the first volume of four of 'Journey to the West' by Wu Cheng'En, as translated by WJF Jenner. The whole sixteenth century narrative tallies approximately two thousand pages, and any discourse on that entirety would be an awfully long time in the reading.

'Journey to the West' is fascinating, a miraculous melange of all kinds of Chinese mythology that was compiled by Weng'En from the lore of the time, and later converted into a Japanese television series called 'Monkey', named after the lead character of this first volume, the Stone Monkey God. It's about a monk's divinely given quest to go and fetch the Sutra from the Western Heaven with the help of his disciples Monkey, Pig and Friar Sand, fallen Immortals all.

This is a fascinating epic of a story, and one that is not afraid to meander away from the plot for side stories aplenty. There are points in the narrative when this tangentialising can seriously affect your focus on the whole, but the fascinatingly light tone mixed with occasionally serious details always keeps you on track. This is probably THE historical Chinese classic that can be read universally, and it does excel. The one drawback is the translation of the songs and/or poetry from the Chinese, which can become very tedious in the English form of this translation. This may be an unavoidable feature of translating the epic. Translation of verse seems to be something of a doomed enterprise.

The story might pretend to be about the monk, but really it's all about Monkey, the cheeky and barbaric animal god whose mischief hinders and helps the quest in equal measure, and whose history entirely governs the first several chapters of the volume. Yes, this is one monkey that scandalized and looted Heaven, and whose redemption will perhaps dominate the rest of the story. With three volumes still to be read, it all remains to be seen.

How is a light tone? Well, if I said that each chapter ends with the equivalent of the wrap up to part one of a 1960s 'Batman' story, will that make it clear? There's immortality, reincarnation, a myriad of gods, Buddhas aplenty, bawdiness, humour, and a narrative that spans thousand of years before even hitting its stride. Oh, and to make it all the more unusual, it's all about a monkey.


Thursday, 20 August 2015

Let 'Em Fly

The tutoring job is done, and now all that remains is to wait. It's the hardest part. All you can do is prepare the student to the best of your ability, and then stand to one side. You're not the pilot, just the instructor, and it annoys and vexes in equal measure!

In the midst of waiting, and in the wake of losing a student, it's time to wonder what to do with all the freshly liberated time, and how to recruit new students while plugging away at research. What a wonderful opportunity it is to have time to commit to things, those projects that will make the future more secure, but at the cost of getting out into the world. On the other hand, it could be a wonderful time to finally take a dedicated plunge into the TEFL work or the accumulated DVDs just begging to be watched. 'Mission: Impossible', 'Hunter', 'The Wild Wild West' and more are waiting...

It's easy to get addicted to vintage television, especially from the golden age of the episodic format. It must be viewed judiciously, before it takes over your life. What really needs to be pushed forward over the next few weeks is language work. It's all very well to claim to be learning Spanish, French and Greek, but you do occasionally have to do the work! Greek especially is fascinating and demands large amounts of time. What a wonder it is to learn a language with a different alphabet!

So there are things to do, blogs to write, and projects to pursue. Right now, all that remains is to wait and bide the time. It's the hardest part. Blast it all.


Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Film: 'The Electric Horseman' (1979)

Well, this was an interesting one. I wasn't expecting a film that was so solid and thoughtful, although anything featuring Robert Redford has a good chance of being both of those things. He has always been the private man concerned about selling out, and in this movie he plays very close to home as the 'electric horseman' himself. This is a film about a champion rodeo cowboy who sells out and loses himself, before coming back to his senses with a bang and rescuing... Well, I won't say what or who he rescues. It's a very interesting film, and one that almost succeeds in pushing you away with the hero's unpleasant life before turning the corner to his redemption. That nastiness is often a very potent deterrent to watching a movie, and can easily be misjudged. For an example of a movie going a little to far, perhaps, check out the the beginning of my much beloved 'Joe Versus The Volcano'. I love it, but it does go too far into the land of nastiness.

So, we have a film, and it's an old fashioned directed by movie legend Sydney Pollack, which stars Redford and Jane Fonda, with a host of other memorable faces. It's thoughtful. Is it worth watching? Yes. It's a film, and one with its heart in the right place. Is it overwhelmingly original? Well, no, but it does what it does with a great deal of skill and expertise, and its success rests entirely on the uniqueness of its leads. As (mutter mutter) Ebert said, it's the equivalent of an older style star vehicle, where the quality is as much in the actors as the script, and that is true. It's a star vehicle for two stars. He also said that they didn't make movies like this anymore, and they still don't. This blog has been in danger of becoming a review of old movies and serial trasher of everything new for some time now, which would not be a completely true reflection of reality. There have been interesting newer films, but they're very difficult to find. For example, there's 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty', 'Fantastic Mr Fox', 'Moonrise Kingdom', 'Stranger Than Fiction' and 'Safety Not Guaranteed', to make a beginning. They're just unheralded, and exist as part of a substrata of mainstream cinema or superstrata of indie films. They aren't the films that make it to your cinema any more. In fact, I only saw one of those films listed in the cinema at all, and only then because an art house cinema was there during a holiday. Locally, there would be no chance at all. Nil.

Hang on, how did this become a tangent onto movies, Roger Ebert, and the state of modern films? That's not supposed to happen! This is supposed to be about 'The Electric Horseman', the titular character's hideous fluorescent show costume, Willie Nelson in one of his first screen roles, Jane  Fonda's stupid boots, John Saxon continuing his string of creepy villain performances, country music, and the joys of 'little and big' movies. 'The Electric Horseman' is little AND big, a quality that features in many of my favourite films. Than can mean a small story with large themes, or a large story with personal themes and implications, or many other implications. The point is that it's doing more than one thing, and operating on several scales at once, making it more than just story about a simple cowboy who turns a corner and does something rather heroic, or the redemption of a reporter who may have lost the trees for the woods. There's something very special about 'little and big' films, so seek them out wherever you may. You might start with this, one of the earlier examples, or even 'The Truman Show' or 'The African Queen'.

Good? Yes. Excellent? Depends on your taste. Eerily beautiful in places? Definitely. Is there a token police chase, involving horses, cars and motorcycles? That would be telling.


Sunday, 16 August 2015

Things Forgotten, and Things Remembered

It's easy to forget things. People do it all the time. They lose their car keys or their slippers, and they forget their anniversaries or friends' birthdays. It's a commonplace occurrence. We also all forget who we are on a fairly regular basis. This has to be true, as otherwise how could so many awful things be done, if not by people who've forgotten who they are? It may sound like a nonsensical piece of gibberish, but it has a meaning. I'm always forgetting that - please move some things to make space for the gigantic ego, please - I'm actually pretty good at maths and a nice, gentle person. This self-knowledge just leaves for no apparent reason, and with it a large portion of self-esteem wanders into the woods for a five mile hike, hopefully not to be eaten by a bear or a ravenous hermit. Good grief, on a good day, I'm even a decent writer! What might it mean for other people to forget more important things about themselves, and lose their own identities in the process?

One of the greatest perils of modern life is that no-one has any time to think any more, unless they consciously make the time. Maybe no-one ever thought in the old days, either, and this is just a modern myth, this idea that we're constantly connected and never alone. If it's a myth, it's one that feels pretty real. The Internet, for all its advantages, does have disadvantages. Everything has disadvantages. All bathroom things, for example, seem designed to fall over and be constantly unstable. Peeling oranges can make your fingernails yellow. Microwaves spit out gamma radiation. Good things come to an end. Letters take a long time to reach their destination. The Internet's great disadvantage, this week, is that under its constant bombardment of current information we lose touch with some of our constant self-knowledge. Knowledge and information are not the same things, after all. Reading a book is far better for your own stability and self-awareness than reading a forum or a terrible blog post.

(Go read books, you terrible blog readers!)

It's strange to remember that, for example, you're good at things, especially after a long period of time. Relearning large swathes of mathematics to tutor someone else is like uncovering a treasure trove of self-confidence after having it beaten out by the rigours of a doctorate. Egads, there was a time when I was top of the class, and not just a humble code jockey, punching programs into a computer. How odd it all seems. There were different times, and those experiences aren't invalidated by what happened later. Both eras are equally true. For a supposedly intelligent species, we don't seem to use our ability to hold mutually contradictory ideas simultaneously much, do we? There wouldn't be religious wars, if we could.

It's also good to remember to be happy. Tomorrow, or Tuesday, I'll write about 'The Electric Horseman', a film of which I had never heard, but which turned out to be lovely on today's viewing. It's nice to feel happy. One of the great powers of books, television, classical music and film is that ability to unleash the emotions and thoughts that remain dormant within all of us far too much of the time. Hey, who has time to be happy when there's this pile of work to be done, a commute home still to take, and a pile of laundry waiting to be folded after dinner? Who has time to feel anything? Too many people don't even have the time to sleep, let alone think or feel. It's a wonder that people don't forget their own names and addresses!

Yes, things get forgotten, and sometimes they're very important things. We can only hope that they are only mislaid and not lost forever.


Friday, 14 August 2015

Television: 'Parks and Recreation: One Last Ride' and 'The Mentalist: Brown Shag Carpet / White Orchids' (The Finales)

Grand series finales are tremendously difficult things to pull off successfully. Of all the television shows I've seen, I can only really think of 'All Good Things...' (from 'Star Trek: The Next Generation') as an example of a finale that excels and in which a whole series successfully culminates. There are examples of finales that work, but don't excel, as in 'Frasier', 'Cheers', 'Magnum PI' and examples of those that don't, for which 'Quantum Leap' is surely a suitably awkward poster boy, along with 'MASH' and 'The Prisoner'. So few series survive long enough to get a finale, that any experience of making one must be incredibly limited.

Where do the finales for 'Parks and Recreation' and 'The Mentalist' fall in this tiny spectrum, then? Unavoidably, they end up being awkward, and bearing the burden of being lesser than the penultimate instalments of the shows. This happens a lot.

'One Last Ride' sets out to be a distillation of the characters' future instead of the series' humour, and finally ends by reducing everyone's fates to predictable or mundane versions of what might have been. Ultimately, it is my own axe to grind, but why reduce every character to making the same life choices? Why not have some people be different? These are characters that have lived their screen lives being different! Oh, that's not fair. Becoming governor of Indiana is not mundane, but it is predictable for Leslie Knope, and Garry being a good mayor was a surprise. Actually, it wasn't a surprise, the man is a born diplomat. The preceding episode, where Garry was chosen as interim mayor, was for me the true finale. It seemed like a natural ending, and that 'One Last Ride' was a postscript of little interest. C'est la vie. We all choose our own natural episodes to finish on. Overall, it's a solid hour, but one that feels very jumpy and disconnected.

What about 'The Mentalist'? This show fared a little better, even while being in the same situation of being given a surprise extra half season to wrap up a show that had already been given an emergency finale at the end of the previous season, one of many impromptu finales given throughout the run of the show. The last two half seasons of 'The Mentalist' were very curious things, coming as an epilogue to the end of the main arc, and leaving us without the drive that Patrick Jane's quest for vengeance had previously provided. Instead, we got no replacement arc except for the long delayed romance between the two lead characters, Jane's adaptation to regular existence, and a sense of languidness and tranquility. However, it was nice tranquility, and perhaps the correct way to go. A wedding, a serial killer taken care of with ease, and no real danger. Was it good? Well, it failed on the grounds of not representing the series as a whole, and succeeded in tying up loose ends and leaving strands for the future. Every finale should leave a sense that the story continues past what we see of it, at least in my idealised version of narrative fiction. Every story should begin and finish 'en media res', in some way.

Neither of these finales truly feels 'right', or like a true and surpassing symbol of their series as a whole. 'Brown Shag Carpet / White Orchids' does work a lot better than the other, even if it does feel a little too slight. As said previously, these finale episodes are really difficult to make. Getting to a level of coherence when you have to end everything is a miracle in itself.

Goodbye, 'Parks and Recreation' and 'The Mentalist'. You were my last running current television series. What will happen now? Oooh, some books! Excellent...


Wednesday, 12 August 2015

How I Learnt To Stop Worrying And Love ACME

There is one Looney Tunes character who transcends all others, in my own personal Hall of Fame. It's not Bugs Bunny, despite all his fame and popularity, not is it my own second favourite Daffy Duck, whose sheer persistence and endurance make him a role model for all who may lose their way in the labyrinthine pasta trails of life. No, they are eclipsed by the one, the only, the magnificent Wile E Coyote.

The Roadrunner cartoons have almost nothing to do with the Roadrunner. They're really all about the Coyote, that manic genius who is pushed ever onwards in his quest to catch the nefarious bird, at the cost of massive expense and reason. Indeed, if he used any of his apparently vast fortune to buy food instead of equipment from ACME, the canny carnivore would never be hungry again. Why doesn't he? What's the motivation there? Why is he so eager to catch the Roadrunner? Why so many gadgets? Who are ACME, really?

The Coyote is not driven by hunger, despite the frequent pangs evident in the shorts, no his real motivation is his own twisty obsession, born from years of frustration. The Coyote must persist, because if he surrenders, then he will have been defeated by the universe itself, which manifests itself via the Coyote's endless bad luck and the apparently mindless bird. It's not even clear that the Coyote is a bad guy. Isn't he really just someone driven by his own basic needs, which have become distorted over time? In his early days of seeking sustenance you might consider him the heavy, but as the shorts roll on and the sheer indignities imposed by the Roadrunner accumulate he becomes the king of the underdogs, and we are programmed to love underdogs.

Yes, Wile E Coyote is the best of the Looney Tunes, an urbane madman with a dedication that surpasses all common sense, and the star character of one of the greatest cartoon series ever. No-other character gained from repetition in quite the same way. Take it away, Wile E, you're our hero. You'll get that bird one day.


Monday, 10 August 2015

Untitled Melange of Nonsenses

Okay, it's the first post after a break, and the last thing written was about being published? Good grief, when did that happen? It must be a clerical error, a compilation of all the conspiratorial obstacles that were pushed up against its ever happening, including one of the authors' names still being wrong on the first online offprints. The sheer number of things that get un-fixed after final submission is astounding. Beware the typesetting process, people out there who might be considering getting published in the future, beware.

Coming back from a break is usually a very refreshing experience. There's something liberating about getting out and about in a place where no-one knows you, where you don't get compared or sometimes forced into some already established persona that everyone expects. It's nice to spend time with friends, or play five games of pool solitaire in the diversions centre, or even spin on the spot for no reason. These are all good things. Oh, society, you really must stop programming people to conform at all costs. It's not healthy, and you're only making future money for therapists and chocolate ice cream makers. Anyway, breaking those patterns is wonderful, especially if you can carry the refreshing new flexibility over into the life that waits back in the gloom of routine.

In alternate news, Film Bin is closed down. We made two hundred and six total postings, including a few announcements, and that's not bad. It never really turned out to be quite what I wanted at the outset, and sometimes just ended up being about wallpaper and people's hair, but it was a good thing to try and sets a good pattern for improvement in the future. So, thanks go out to the Film Bin Crew for a fine job done. Now it's time to refocus on the ultimate challenge of writing about things at very little notice and with almost no plan, here on the Quirky Muffin.

Ah, the Muffin, that grand undefined project, that internal challenge to write and keep on writing, and somehow allow self expression without dropping into maudlin sentimentality and ludicrous personal detail.


Thursday, 6 August 2015

Suspended for Fun

The Quirky Muffin is suspended until the middle of next week due to holidays. Seek ye your nonsense elsewhere...

Tuesday, 4 August 2015


It should feel better to be published, finally. It should feel different. Why does it feel like nothing at all? It's actually very similar to the grand anti-climax of finishing both degrees and the HND, if a doctorate can ever be said to finish. I think those moments after that last undergraduate exam will haunt me forever: that walk to outside the Sports Cage, that realisation that it was all over with no hullaballoo of any kind, and that aimless stroll back to pack up the stuff for moving out. Such is the matter that life is made of, and none of it is the coffee creme.

Surely, there must be some satisfaction in finishing something sometime?! Am I just utterly inured to all joy, thanks to the constant strings of disasters that come sliding down the hillside of experience? Such cynicism does tend to ruin enjoyment of things, even when you are successfully juggling two students, a proofreading job and a couple of research projects. Perhaps 'successfully' is too strong a word. Some of those things are on 'dead stop' at this time! Who can really juggle so many things! It's wonderful that there are friends and correspondents to stop me going crazy...

Oh, that's one assumption made. Madness, madness!

It's odd, then, given this pervasive sense of anti-climax, that anything ever gets done at all. How on Earth are things ever enjoyed? There must be a clerical error somewhere because watching 'Legal Eagles' recently was lovely, and the final seasons of 'The Mentalist' and 'Parks and Recreation' are fascinating and enjoyable for their sheer audacity in deviating from their respective formulae. Oh, 'Legal Eagles', one day you'll get a post of your own. One day! 'One Hit Wonderland' by Tony Hawks is still great, and Darwin's 'Voyage of the Beagle' is fascinating.

Perhaps this has all be an accident waiting for happen? Perhaps the final result of this post is an anti-climax? Yes, sometimes life does resemble meaningless words scrawled on a page.


Sunday, 2 August 2015

Book: 'The Most of SJ Perelman' by S.J. Perelman (1958)

It's fascinating how so much literature falls through the holes in the net of history. You would think that the prose of Woody Allen, 'The Ascent of Rum Doodle' by Bowman, and 'Three Men In A Boat' by Jerome would live immortally in the minds of all who read, but in actuality they just drift into the hands of the select few who seek out such things, the bunch who read about what to read: The hard core. What a wacky world this is that you have to actively find out about Rum Doodle! SJ Perelman doesn't quite fit into that golden cohort but he does come close, if this collection is at all representative. Perelman was a literary antecedent of Woody Allen, a prolific creator of short humorous stories, and someone so articulate and erudite that you can't help but salute him even as he makes his written somersaults through the rubber rings of humour.

More than Woody, Perelman was a satirist, but one with a palpable sense of 'heart', that quality which permeates the best of most media. What does it mean to have 'heart'? It would be a three hour essay, but for now let us say it an absence of cynicism and a commitment to the thing being made that demands quality beyond itself, with a healthy dose of humour thrown in. Or, less incoherently, a deep sense of caring somewhere in the making. Perelman had that in his writing, in a dog-eared and mock-cynical way. Did the man have it himself? It's hard to say, and reports are contradictory, but it's a shame his work never jumped to my attention before. It's fascinating. 'Fascinating' is a funny word to use for a humorist, isn't it? Does it mean something?

A lot of 'The Most' is filled with references that no-one has seen made for more than fifty years, and as such might fall upon stoney ground. The writing is wonderful, though, and rich with a quality of prose that would make many modern authors green with envy. Ultimately your enjoyment will be based on your level of historical awareness, and your ability to appreciate things in their own context, which two things are sometimes very rare indeed. Due to immense training and a willingness to jump into the grand historical archive, it's not wasted at all on this ground, and is at times highly amusing indeed.

'The Most' collects from many periods of Perelman's career, including the highly notable 'Cloudland' articles, wherein he revisited various old movies and books from his youth and recounted his newer reactions in rigorous anecdotal form. The whole collection is amusing, but the 'Cloudland' episodes are the ones that stick in the mind, although not as forcefully as the highpoints of Woody in his own scribblings. It's a shame, but as much as I like Perelman, for his wittiness and intelligence, he doesn't hit the peaks or the lows of Woody Allen. Perelman is a far more reliable beast, and one with a thousand stories to tell, most of them untrue. The average is high, higher than you'll find with many other writers of short prose. It's also highly chauvinistic at times, as it would be from that time period.

Ultimately, somehow it's not quite recommendable. Not quite. Seek ye 'Rum Doodle' instead.