Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Film: 'Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein' (1948)

Budd Abbott and Lou Costello trod a very thin line. When they missed that line, one of two things happened: Either Abbott veered off from his anti-comedic straight man persona to plain abusiveness, or Costello went from wise-cracking idiot to helpless loon, and the whole confection collapsed in either case. However, when they found that line they had few peers.

In 'Meet Frankenstein' they tread that line well for the most part. Yes, Budd starts off being overly nasty but it evens out pretty quickly once the parade of Universal Monsters starts pouring through the film, with Lon Chaney jr reprising the Wolfman, Bela Lugosi as Dracula, and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster. It seems ridiculous to think about it now, but Universal had the Sherlock Holmes pictures, its iconic monster movies, and Abbott and Costello all in the 1940s! Three sets of hits in one decade, and probably more I don't know! In all likelihood they tried to get Rathbone and Bruce to pair off again Budd and Lou too. What a movie that would have been: Nigel Bruce trading barminess with Lou Costello as Budd and Basil traded sarcasms over their heads!

'Meet Frankenstein' is pretty funny. I prefer 'Pardon My Sarong' from the few Abbott and Costello movies that I've seen, but this is pretty good fun. Yes, it degenerates into an overly long panic session at the end, but there's amusement to be had at the expense of Dracula trying to get out of his coffin while Lou reads his legend, or the Wolfman suffering more consecutive full moon nights than you could reasonably expect to see in any given month (oddly reminiscent of the 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' werewolf episodes). It's strange to see this and realise how urbane Dracula was as a screen character at the time, more of a Blofeld than a rampaging beast monster, and one who commanded mad and beautiful scientists to do his bidding and solve his problems. There's never a beautiful mad scientist around when you need one in real life.

This film does fall partly into one trap, though not as badly as 'Who Done It', my least favourite so far, which is that of trying to make profoundly grim ideas funny. In 'Who Done It', it was almost impossible to be consistently amused as our titular duo pretended to be police detectives, investigated a murder and were frequently endangered by the murderer himself. In this case, as one of the original squeamish ninnies, it's a bit hard to be amused at the notion of Lou Costello's brain being transplanted to make a newer and more docile monster of Frankenstein for Dracula to control. Monsters are just too inherently sad to be funny, at least to the overly thoughtful.  'Pardon My Sarong' was far better in this respect, and it also had an underwater bus sequence as well as the lie detecting tree! On the flip side of the coin, the sequence with Lou and the Wolfman in his hotel room is pretty cute.

'Meet Frankenstein' doesn't have an underwater bus sequence, but it does have Budd and Lou, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney jr, a spooky castle, animated special effects, electric sparks, a row boat, some fire, and a wobbly bat flying around on strings. Yes, that's right, the wobbly Dracula bat is back!


Monday, 28 September 2015

Words a.k.a. Idealism Runs Wild

Editing time is here again, as calculations whir on the other computer, and this time 'Wordspace' is getting the conversion to 'coherent whole' status. It's actually rather embarrassing to read through the original episodes, as they're full of contradictions. Full of them! The pronouns are in flux from 'he' or 'she' to 'it' on a sentence by sentence basis, there are sections which don't lead anywhere and have to be rewritten for consistency, and some spots of dead text to be excised. At the same time, there are some funny lines, and it will be great to see that first chapter in one piece.

Yes, 'Wordspace' is fascinating, and maybe the only story I've done so far to be legitimately proud of in concept. Yes, a world full of words as characters is still quite the leap, and one which in refinement gives more and more. Aren't hobbies wonderful for keeping the mind away from the sometimes terrible meanders of existence? Aren't words great in their pockets of the vocabulary, and in all their many translations in other languages? Isn't it fascinating that words have genders in different languages? Isn't it difficult that in Japanese and Greek so much gets built onto verb stems instead of forming sentences as we know them? Isn't it all wonderful, and sometimes maddening?

Some day we'll use words to bring peace to the world. It will take work, but it can happen. People will look at the differences imposed by the codification and ossification of long-dead ideologies and gently push them to one side to emphasize the similarities that unite us all instead. It will happen, facilitated by the Internet and the modern world of telecommunications, until the enclaves of censorship and media indoctrination collapse in upon themselves. Words will save the day. It's a nice dream, isn't it? Until then, I'll plug away at these stories, and debunk whatever nonsenses pop onto the windscreen of life.

Enough, enough, bring on the house elves!


Saturday, 26 September 2015

Story: The Ninja of Health, IV

( Part III , V )

The marble wobbled, and cracked, revealing an utter absence of content. The Man and the Woman stared confusedly at the empty marble fragments.

"I was convinced something hideous or misunderstood would erupt out of that thing, prompting an adventure of uncertainty and some danger." The Man observed finally.

His companion took his arm and led him away as the emergency services approached. "I know what you mean. It's a positive anti-climax, but at least the Pattern is..." The Woman swayed and sagged into her companion for a moment.

"What is it? What's wrong?" He asked of her, alarmed.

"I don't know. We have to get out of here."

They hurried as invisibly as they could away from the allotments, the Man looking carefully after his charge, who recovered quickly. Reaching a bench in the park, they settled down in a mild drizzle and pondered for a few moments.

The Woman looked up at the sky, and pushed out her senses. "There is something else."

"Yes, I know. That ball did contain something, didn't it?"


"We are going to have a drama again, aren't we?" The Man asked apprehensively

"Yes. Blast it."

To be continued...

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Box

There is a box of books that I haven't yet read. It sits in another room, waiting to get emptier, and for the mysterious packages that come in the mail to replenish its stocks. Sometimes the books therein are good, and sometimes bad, but they are all unknown for now. Massive numbers of short stories sit there, taunting me for my failure to dig in and read them. Oh, curses on all of you short stories! The box will sit there and wait for a while longer, as procrastination and love of the books I already have read wins out.

Is there anything wrong with liking to re-read books? Some people I've known, naming no names, think it's a totally pointless activity and carried a look of disdain about the whole idea. Others delight in having old friends to pick up and devour over and over, word by word. It's a very divisive issue, and there are whole episodes of book podcasts devoted to the topic! Personally, I love re-reading novels, finding that it add a personal connection to the work and to be a very comforting experience. Yes, the joy of reading is to experience ideas and narratives that you haven't come across before, but it's also nice to have something reassuring to hold on to while cooling down for sleep. The box won't contain the same books forever, or so I hope, knowing that some books have been in the 'in progress' piles for a very long time indeed! I'm looking at you, 'Voyage of the Beagle'!

I'm assuming that all of you out there know about LibraryThing, but if you don't and you love to read then you might want to check it out. It's a fascinating website which can be used in any number of ways. I personally am gradually building and rating my book collection record on there so as to get some more book recommendations on where to go next. It has already been a major success in pushing 'Bridge of Birds' by Barry Hughart into my life, and has prompted some investigation into 'Groucho Marx, Master Detective' and 'Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat'. The depths of fiction and non-fiction are amazing, and there to be plumbed. It's just sad that the only way to read most unusual books is to buy them in, the libraries not being rich in anything but the most contemporary editions or populist classics. Oh, to be able to make libraries eclectic again, in that strange parallel dimension where services actually make sense!

Anyway, to avert the incipient rant on libraries, please consider Library Thing as a useful resource. It also has a social aspect, and has extended to include DVDs and CDs. People in the relevant areas can even get in on the free book programme and review releases early at no cost! That could be a good thing for the more omnivorous readers amongst you, who aren't quite so tame as myself. Now, perhaps it's time to get back to ignoring that box and re-reading some 'Star Trek'. Yes, it's time for 'Dreadnought!', 'Ishmael', and then 'Battlestations!'. Let's have the work going on in the subconscious for a while.


Tuesday, 22 September 2015


Busy days beget numerous words, about a last spurt of blackberry scavenging, the advent of pastry making for future pies, and some actual translation of Spanish into English. Actual translation! How awesomely strange it is a thing to do.

Translation is not very different to original composition, except that you are trying to write somebody else's ideas into your language instead of your own. Otherwise it is the same fascinating and intangible process of making something intangible absolute, of drawing definition from some unknown source and putting an 'idea', a set of concepts which only exist (in English) in your head, on a piece of paper. It's wonderful and terrifying to assimilate the source text and then recrystallize it into a whole new language, a whole new mental system. Or I could just be speaking drivel. Who knows?

Some time ago, so long ago that it's a shame I never actually followed it through, someone suggested to me that I take a blog post and translate it into Spanish. In fact, they - it was Flighty Fernandez of Seville - suggested the original theme as well. It was 'The Solitude Of The Swimmer', and would have been a major challenge. Perhaps that would be a good idea, now that so many plans have fallen through into the sands of failure and mathematical programming code is dribbling pitifully onto a grand pile of unsuccessful nothingness. Good grief, it's been a rough time tor projects coming to grisly standstills! Yes, perhaps some Spanish translation practice is a good idea... Also, I have to get rid of the ellipsis ('...') habit... Oh, blast!

Golly, jeepers, criminy and splat. Maybe analytical work is the way forward. This is a terrifying thought. Can anyone remind me how to do mathematics? Is it more complicated than short crust pastry? Is it less hazardous than braving brambles for their blackberry booty? Send all answers via magic balloon to the Quirky Muffin. Magic balloons available at all good Mystic Muffin outlets in Great Britain, and parts of France*.


* No, of course not! Are you mad? Oh, really? Well, that's actually rather impressive. Thank you. Have a magic balloon.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Story: The Glove, VI

(Part V , VII)

"You can't just refuse the honour. It's a preposterous thing to do!" Octavius couldn't understand what was going on. "A Master Piper, lad, the best of the best, and you say 'No, but you'll go on the trip anyway'? Is it a game of some kind that you pick and choose?!"

"I made it through my studies to be a piper and a musician," Steffan replied (little realising that the two were actually mutually exclusive). "Not to be catapulted into some global crisis. A few days ago my main concerns were meeting the demands of my examiners, and making it through the day without a collapse. This is ludicrous. It's a ludicrous thing to happen. How could this happen? WHY could this happen?"

Octavius paused. He honestly hadn't expected the lad to be this smart. "You are a supremely talented piper, and worthy of the highest honour available."

"According to your mission, the highest honour has little to do with music. You don't even have an instrument in here. This was about something else." Steffan was definitely not going to give up, now without some severe admonishment or serious explanation.

"Remember that you're speaking to the Laird of the Pipers, and speak with more respect!" Steffan stiffened, and stood more straightly, eyeing the Master Piper with a tad more discipline. He was, after all, surrounded by the ancient Implements of the Craft. The Harp of Ages was standing against one wall, and a the Four Horns hung from the wall behind Octavius's smaller-than-expected desk.


Octavius glared briefly, and then muttered dark things.

Steffan played with his fingers a little, a musical fidget. "It seems as if you play these games quite frequently."

"We weren't expecting quite this reckless a response from the top of the class. We weren't expecting an outspoken tyro."

Steffan remained at attention. "It seems as if far more goes on here than people think."

Octavius, now clearly balanced once again, refrained from spilling any more of the mostly true beans. "This interview, Mister Steffan, is at a close. Please don't hesitate to leave."

Steffan left. Outside the door, he uttered only one word: "Ludicrous!" The secretary smiled, and he left.

There shall be more...

Friday, 18 September 2015

Take That, Good Sense!

I had an idea for this post, while out walking amongst the grass and the trees earlier, but now the idea is gone, blown away by stressful interludes and adventures in the land of computational programming. Oh, what would life be like without programming, if not a heaven beyond all imagining? How lovely it might be! Ah, if only it could all be writing stories and nonsensical gibberish for the notional readers of this blog, the august and barely competent Quirky Muffin...

As a challenge to one's ingenuity and skill in dextrous wordplay, this Muffin is just as invaluable as it has ever been, even as topics dwindle rapidly in number and the fabled six hundredth post approaches, bearing with it much mythic significance and the customary sigils of a job barely done. Six hundred? That's nothing! The real milestone is one thousand! Could this possibly go to a thousand posts? Really? At some point, it could well degenerate into nothing but story entries and ramblings about the desperate world of unemployment as relieved only by the occasional private student.

Ooh, did I mention private students? I learnt something while preparing for giving a tuition this week, and it was the lattice multiplication technique. This is an absolutely brilliant calculator-less multiplication method, and one that beats out long multiplication for integers. It should also work for decimals, with some fiddling, but I've yet to try it. An explanation will go up on the tuition blog, which currently gets far less attention than it ought. As an advert, it's very much the equivalent of proclaiming that the author pops in every month or so, looks confused, and then leaves again with a feather duster and a boomerang he found behind the filing cabinet.

A thousand posts? Could that happen? It's a fascinating idea. Presumably it would become easier if a job appeared miraculously, an unintentional gift from a bizarre confluence of events. Oh, it will happen anyway, no matter the cost or difficulty, as this is the Quirky Muffin! Here we do things no sane person would attempt! Roll on one thousand, in at most two years time! Whoop! Whoop!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled lifestyles.


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Film: 'Notorious' (1946)

This is a curious film. Truly, it can not be said that I liked it, but it is good. The problem is that a Hitchcock film without humour is barely a Hitchcock film, at least to someone raised on the high points of 'North By Northwest', 'The Thirty Nine Steps' and 'Rear Window' or 'To Catch A Thief'. In reality, most of Hitchcock's movies were deadly serious, and so is 'Notorious'. It's so serious that it's hard to like, especially with the presence of the lovely but enigmatic Ingrid Bergman as the 'notorious' lead character. In an extra bid to be confusing, Hitchcock has Cary Grant playing an American agent, and Claude Rains as a German conspirator in South America. Cary Grant as a serious member of the establishment? How bizarre! The man was born to play mavericks, and Claude Rains was born to rave!

So, 'Notorious', the classic Hitchcock film. It's nominally about the scandalous woman Alicia Huberman (Bergman), whose traitorous (Nazi?) father gives her an advantage in helping the secret service infiltrate a post-WWII German ring in Brazil. Escorted by secret agent TR Devlin (Grant), she reforms, they fall madly in love, and then her assignment is revealed in heartbreaking detail: She is to romance her father's old friend Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) and find out the truth behind the ring. Cue the melodrama, followed by drama, followed by genuine thrills. The movie is technically very good, although it has all the weaknesses in setup that its immediate predecessor 'Spellbound' had, as well as a common factor in Bergman. For one thing, the setup of Alicia being notorious doesn't work, and for another the question of why she agrees to do all the things she does is only tenuously answered.

Ingrid Bergman can be a problem, carrying a sense of remoteness with her that is at best offputting. In 'Spellbound' it was a problem, and it is here too, although it's a problem that fades over the duration of the film. Is it a style of acting or just a perceived problem from the observer's point of view? How did Hitchcock compensate over the course of the filming? It's hard to say. In 'Spellbound' it was compounded by the Gregory Peck factor (think wooden, then double the thought), and here by the peculiarly humourless Cary Grant. In fact, Claude Rains may be the most passionate and human character in the film, which is strange given the overall cast. Watching Cary Grant not being witty is like watching a genius try to play violin music with one arm tied behind his back. How strange it is!

The tension in 'Notorious' is palpable - a favourite adjective - once the movie gets going, and the photography excellent. It's a Hitchcock film firmly in the 'Suspicion' and 'Shadow of a Doubt' portion of his catalogue, and definitely not a film to be sneered at. I just wish that I liked it more. The pieces are all there, after all: A starry cast, technical brilliance and uranium. It will continue to be acclaimed and revered, but give me 'North By Northwest' over this any day.


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Beware the Befuddled

I'm reading 'Manalive' at the moment, which is fascinating. We'll get to GK Chesterton in the blog formally sometime soon, with his masterpiece 'The Napoleon of Notting Hill' and the Father Brown stories topping the list, and 'The Man Who Was Thursday' following closely behind with 'Manalive'. He's a curious writer, that Chesterton, but an entertaining one and not one to let his own faith get in the way of the point he's making.

It's nice to read, to get lost in the pages of a good book, and forget the rest of the world for a while. How wonderful it would be to get caught up in reading fanciful works for the rest of time. How wonderful it would also be to fully convert a good idea into a good story, and get caught up in the throes of creation. There are two participants in the story process, after all, the performers and the audience. The recent slash and burn on 'The Glove' will hopefully lead to a story enjoyable to both sides. It doesn't feel right to throw away so many episodes (figuratively, anyway, as they still exist for the most indefatigable searchers), but it has been done. Now, there will be something different, hard as it is to meaningfully carve a new narrative channel from the one you already tried.

Blast. This is definitely a writer's block day, with not much emerging from the brain box of fate except chatter about rice pudding, 'Hunter', the original 'Wild Wild West' and the ongoing mystery behind the partly missing and soon to be released on DVD 'Doctor Who' serial 'The Underwater Menace'. What a strange combination those all make with 'Manalive', 'Les Trois Mousquetaires' and 'Conspiracion Octopus'! What kind of world is it where all these things coincide with each other? They also coincide with desperate migrants being turned back at borders and caught in political limbo, which is even harder to comprehend. Can you believe that all of this still happens here, even after decades of supposed enlightenment and progressive thought?

The world is better inside 'Star Trek' than it is outside, or in many other of those more idealistic shows. We can all stand to learn how to be a bit more humane instead of plain human.


Sunday, 13 September 2015

Story: The Glove, V [Replacement]

(Part IV , VI )

"The early history of our colony here on Ganymede was a strange one. We were possessed of a fierce Scotch cultural identity but separated by the differing calls on our natures. By turns artistic and ruthlessly curious our scientists got on badly with the artists and vice-versa. The intoxicating new plant forms here did not make the situation any easier. Deciding that it would be better to diversify our power base and maximise our chances of surviving a catastrophic event we founded two major settlements in a coincidentally helpful way."

Steffan listened as Octavius continued to work through the traditional speech to new members of the Order of Pipers. Tradition would be endured as it itself endured the rigours of time.

"Here in Burgh we concentrated our efforts in fostering the creative and artistic aspects of culture, while in Edin they focussed on all things technical and scientific. Thanks to the wonders of later generations and our communications technology we could never become totally disentangled from one another and it was thought that exchange of the talented and youthful could only lead to greater integration in the future. For three centuries this has not been exactly the case. Our two cities have remained in contact, but have not integrated as it was thought we would."

"As a Master Piper our tasks are many fold but chief amongst them is to act as covert couriers between the governing bodies of our two fair cities, to be ambassadors at large, and to investigate the strange occurrences and frictions that arise from time to time under the pretence of seeking out lore and legend. As an initiate you knew little of these other duties, and even as a journeyman you would not have been told even a fraction of the secret duties of the Pipers. We are an important and humble part of society, the glue that holds all together."

It was odd to find out that the pipers were so much more than he had thought, more than travelling minstrels and vagabonds. It was almost like being... a spy. He closed that thought down for the moment, claiming paranoia.

"Over the last thirty years the prevailing exchange of students has slowed to a trickle. In the last academic session we sent only twenty-two new youths to study in Edin and received but nine such in return. Unrest is building amongst the populace. Our pipers out in the world, traversing the surface ways and lodging everywhere between here and Edin, pick up reports of strife and anger most unseemly. It as if a dark presence were encroaching and pushing between our two peoples. In the last twelve months alone we have seen the disappearance of fifteen pipers, all highly regarded and treated as honoured members of society. And they had all reported progress in determining the sources of this unrest."

"You, Master Steffan, in addition to being top of your class for three consecutive years, admittedly after a rocky beginning, have proven to be reliable, trustworthy and of the highest intellectual and emotional ability. In line with outstanding musical ability you have been awarded the title and duties of Master of Pipers. Should you accept this honour, you will be immediately dispatched to Edin to act as intermediary and collator of information from all sources available to you, responsible for finding and identifying the problems that plague us. You will be equal to all of us in rank if not in experience of seniority. Should you refuse the honour it will not be offered to you again until you have proven yourself a second time in the course of your normal duties, and you will be forbidden to mention any of what you have heard amongst us today. You must decide now."

Steffan looked at the floor for a moment, and thought deeply at what he had heard in this room, in this audience with Master Octavius, Laird of the Pipers. He made the traditional gesture of obedience, and then spoke. "Master Octavius, this is an overwhelming and massively important task, and one for which I have no experience and no obvious skills. I really can not claim to be ready. Is the world truly in peril?"

"Yes, we believe it is."

Steffan looked at the Master's desk, with it's various important looking pages of paper and charts.

"I can not accept such a rank, truly, but I will go."

Octavius looked confused.

To be continued...

Story: The Glove, IV [Replacement]

(Part III , V)

Steffan was a Master. He was utterly shocked. No one ever went directly from Apprentice to Master in the Pipers Guild. It had only happened twice before, once with great success and once with great infamy. The infamy lived on in a louder fashion than the success had. A master! It was unbelievable. His mind wandered randomly as he stood woodenly holding the scroll. Finally, his mother emerged from the crowd and took him by the hand, and then led him away.

Two hours later, the newly appointed Master Steffan had eaten some hearty soup and was looking at the still unbroken seal on the scroll. His mother and father had steadfastly refused to break the seal for him and now it sat on the table, being significant without any effort. The Great Seal of the Pipers Guild was a simple hexagon, a regular six-sided shape impressed upon the wax that sealed the scroll. Once opened it could never be remade, and a tiny piece of his past would be lost forever.

Steffan took a thousand holopics of the scroll from all angles and then took up the scroll and held it for a few moments. He had no idea how to open a seal. Could it damage the scroll in the process?

"Son. You will eventually read it. Just go to it." Steffan's father sketched a motion for how to open the seal and Steffan copied it imperfectly. Unrolling the scroll he was confused by his instructions.

'Master Steffan,

In the event of your reading these instructions we must assume you have passed your test, and with such acclaim that you have acceded to the rank of Master. Congratulations.

As you are aware, it is almost unprecedented for someone to do what you will have done. From the earliest you have been thought to possess the most unusually high potential and been monitored with great interest. We have need of a talented and persevering person, for the world is an unusual place, as it has ever been, and circumstances require an unusual person for an unusual mission.

For a time now we have been concerned at the growing imbalance between the societies of the two great cities of Troos. We have become ever more distant from our scientific brothers in Edin and have decided to send an emissary, a new ambassador to investigate frictions that have recently arisen. You are that ambassador, Master Steffan. The nature of this duty will be explained further should you follow the instructions outlined below. We ask you to journey to Edin, to commune with its peoples, and determine the problem we can not perceive.

Should you accept this mission, and we hope you will, present yourself at the Pipers Council on the third day after your successful test.

Fare well in the meantime.
Octavius, Laird of Burgh.'

Octavius! Steffan had been approached by the Laird of the Pipers, the hereditary guardian of the city, and now he had to decide his course of action. What would he do in three days? Whatever it was, he was sure that the next three days would be an agony of waiting.

Steffan began to wait, and think, and wait some more.

To be continued...

Friday, 11 September 2015


It's lovely to get some time to yourself. Yes, parents and friends are wonderful, but sometimes all you really want is a week of no social responsibilities, when you can buckle down and do all the things you have been planning to do for weeks. Yes, you get to read some of the books on your piles, break out the 'Adventures of Superman' DVDs that have been waiting, copy edit some of the serial stories that have been waiting to be joined up, and cook your own food to your own specifications. Yes, that last point is probably the most important one. It's great to eat what you want, and when you want it, even if you lose lots of time in the preparation and the cleanup. When you've given up sugar, absolute control of your own food for a few days is an unmissable opportunity!

Solitude, that great panacea for woes, is not something that people seem to experience much any more. Is that right? Am I reading the wrong smoke signals, do you think? We're all so connected all the time! It's nice to kick pack, think the deep thoughts, and not worry too much about where there's going to be a racket springing up from a nearby room in the next few moments. Yes, you get to wonder about whether the world does have anything in common with a great big onion, or whether the absence of triangles in modern design is a deliberate slight against Pythagoras, or even whether world peace could be achieved if we put all this petty nationalism behind us.

It wasn't all solitude, of course, as there has been a very lonely sheepdog hanging around. Oh, it's no joke when a sheepdog loses part of her flock for a week. The moping has been unbelievable, the refusal to eat more than the bare minimum is heartbreaking, the endless trips to the window to see if people have come back are miserable, and the giant sighs endless. The poor dog, cared for constantly, fed and pampered, medicated responsibly, is forlorn beyond all reason! Fortunately for her, the wait is almost at an end, and my solitude due to end. The balance is about to shift, and different virtues wait to take their prominence once again.

For now, a few moments more to think, and perchance to dream...


Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Radio: 'The Shadow' featuring Orson Welles (1937-1938)

(In the public-ish domain and available online at

 "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"

There's something utterly gleeful about Old Time Radio. The imagination and verve, the skill in writing for pure narrative without visuals, the sound effects, and the magnificent performances of the great voice artists of the day combine to make shows that stand the test of time. Yes, there were many potboilers in the mix, but there was also 'The Mercury Theatre On The Air', 'Richard Diamond: Private Detective', 'The Adventures Of Superman' and 'The Shadow', amongst others. 'The Shadow' is a massive amount of fun! It's a noir-ish and fantastical crime series, with elements of mysticism thrown in for good measure.

'The Shadow' is up there amongst all the fun portion of Old Time US Radio, especially in the patch that was Orson's time as performer. For all his reputation as a person who took over all aspects of productions, here he just played the part, and probably enjoyed it immensely. I know next to nothing about the works of Orson Welles, but radio was probably where he was most alive, and to where he could never return once television took over as the primary broadcasting medium. He had a gift for playing the sheer weirdness of Lamont Cranston and The Shadow, those two corners of one person that lie diametrically opposed to one another, that would be hard to equal.

Of course, you can't take this show too seriously, as it's pure pulp nonsense, but it is primordial pulp nonsense. These recordings and productions predate the popular first appearances of both Batman and Superman, and maybe represent the first superhero on radio. He's a very curious superhero by modern standards, a bored dilettante who picked up some mental tricks and powers while travelling, who can appear invisible and read minds when he has to, and who doesn't particularly mind if the villain ends up dead as a result of his actions. Not so much a hero as a morally ambiguous vigilante, with a girlfriend who had to be utterly crackers to go along with all his activities. It's progressive that Margo Lane was in on the whole secret, and willing to forgo matrimony for the sake of The Shadow, but at the same time she was endorsing some extremely antisocial tendencies...

It's strange to think that the organ music introduction would now be an utterly fantastical thing, and the opening and closing narrations so comical to many, but if you get into the context then it all becomes very powerful. Yes, The Shadow knows, and now so do we. It's a very fun listen. As with many things featured here on the Quirky Muffin, getting into the context is vitally important. This will become ever more evident once we get to 'Hunter', 'The Six Million Dollar Man', 'The Wild Wild West', and revisit 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea'.

"The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay... The Shadow knows!"


Monday, 7 September 2015

What are my top ten movies?

This is a tough question, not for the difficulty of choosing ten loved movies, but more for recognising how conventional they are. There is nothing surprising or unusual here, and of course they're all family friendly, except for the oddest of moments. Hence, in no particular order, my ten favourite films (today, at least) are:

-) 'Ghostbusters': The classical genre comedy, that lives on and remains funny to this day. Three central comedic performers at the top of their game, Ivan Reitman at his best, Sigourney Weaver, and a huge confluence of positive factors all combining. Great movie.

-) 'Jaws': What is left to say about 'Jaws'? Great performances, an archetypal villains, a top director forced to be creative by production difficulties, and the anchor jacket. Class.

-) 'Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan': The best 'Star Trek' movie, with the best characterization, the best production, the wittiest script, and the teariest finale of them all. Everything they missed in 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture', they caught here. Leaving out films three, four and six for redundancy's sake.

(Okay, it's getting harder now. Can I think of seven more films?)

-) 'The Philadelphia Story': This is the prototypical romantic comedy and star vehicle, and Hepburn's greatest early performance. She was ever the thinking person's actress, and the idea of her, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart in one place is astounding.

-) 'Groundhog Day': Another prototype, this time for the transformative comedy drama star vehicle. Bill Murray gives one of his best performances, Harold Ramis directs with great humanity, and the film was apparently completed despite a massive creative rift. Utterly excellent.

-) 'Ladyhawke': A surprising, cute, romantic fantasy with a shockingly intense finale and a great horse. Yes, the score doesn't work to begin with, but it settles in well. Lovely, genuinely lovely.

-) 'Sneakers': Probably the only good 'hacking' movie, a great and charming adventure or thriller, and one of Robert Redford's later career marvels. All star cast, great music, awesome moments, and Mary McDonnell gets a rare good film role.

(Right, three more, this can be done. Don't panic!)

-) 'The Apartment': The greatest Billy Wilder movie, and one which encapsulates everything he brought to film, and everything he lost post-censorship.

-) 'The Muppet Movie': A bear's natural habitat is his Studabaker. Enough said.

-) 'Mr Smith Goes To Washington': My favourite Capra, which has a great finale, great pacing, and a standout performance from Jimmy Stewart, the Man Who Could Do No Wrong.

Honourable mentions go to 'Bringing Up Baby', 'The Hot Rock', 'Sleepless in Seattle', 'Twister', 'The Truman Show', 'Superman Returns', 'Joe Versus The Volcano', 'Time After Time', 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory', 'Mary Poppins', 'The Music Man', 'Singing in the Rain', and a host of others!


Sunday, 6 September 2015

Story: 'Triangles: Phase 1' (The joined-up version)

Giant shades of grey overtook the world, shrouding everything in colourless murk. People began to forget how exactly things looked in the previously vivid daylight, but history remembered. History always remembers. In museums and libraries the sun was documented and humanity's past life remembered. In laboratories and observatories, however, people strived to identify just what had happened to their now grey-shrouded planet.

Chemists analysed the murk and discovered nothing, in fact they discovered they couldn't even detect the murk itself and were perplexed. Physicists ran every test they could conceive of and found nothing conclusive, as they were wont to do. Within an acceptable margin of tolerance, the murk was simply not there and yet everyone perceived it and no-one could see through it to the sky beyond. Medics and biologists ran tests on the population itself, and slowly the world moved toward an understanding of what was really going on: The greyness was only in people's minds.

As a psychological phenomenon, the murk was not in actuality present. Psychotherapists all over the world had analysed their patients, under various conditions and states of consciousness, and had discovered that the grey disappeared when the world was seen outside of the regular mentality. This truth behind the murk was not, however, at all reassuring as there were shapes hanging in the air. They were triangular apparitions through which you could see images of other worlds, like a cosmic television. The triangles were everywhere, were widely assumed to be the sources of the murk, and continued to be mysterious.

What could you see through the triangles, if you were trained to see them? A ghastly twisted version of our own world hung there, crooked where ours would be straight, curved where ours would be fractal and pointed, all tinted to purple in colour by whatever forces were at work.

For a while no-one dared to interact with the apertures, before it became apparent that they had no effect. People had been routinely walking through them, and there seemed to be no ill effects. That is, except for one Thursday, when Delores Grey touched one and vanished.

*   *   *

Can you imagine being swung through the fifth dimension like a feather through an ice cube? Or swimming in a sea of yellow alphabets? Or the queasiness of seeing yourself stretch away into infinity like a rubber band at breaking point? All of these sensations, and none of them, smashed into Delores Grey's brain as she traversed the triangular rift and was sucked elsewhere from her university town of Aberystwyth. Finally, as reality became so tenuous that it hardly existed for her at all, everything condensed into one blue triangle of nothing, a microcosm of a world before she blacked out entirely.

Many hours passed. Many minutes then also passed. Then a few seconds trickled away, like cheese slowly melting on toast. Delores gradually awoke, and looked around at the landscape in which she found herself. It was a twisted, savage version of her town. The promenade was still there but deformed and twisted slightly askew. There was still a beach, and it was still as rocky as ever, but the water was a mass of overlapping whirlpools, spreading apparently chaotic patterns and waves. With so many drains for the water it made no sense that there was any left. No sense at all. A great red blazing triangle of a sun was low in the sky. A triangular sun.

Turning from the prom to look back at the town, she was barely impressed by the changes, still being dazed by so much strangeness. While the layout of buildings and streets was the same, the structures themselves were different, and there were no people out. The roads zigged and zagged and the buildings barely seemed to obey physics. Some were inverted pyramids while others curved where they should have pointed. The most apparent difference, though, was that there were many more triangular surfaces. Triangles were everywhere! In Delores's world there had been squares, or more properly 'quadrilaterals' everywhere; four-sided shapes dominated, but here there were triangular and even fairly common hexagonal designs.

It was overwhelmingly strange. Delores almost fainted again and swayed but pulled herself together. She couldn't understand what had happened at all. Nothing happened when you touched the triangles, everyone knew that. Why would she suddenly be transported to this strange place? Or had she been transported? Maybe the world had... changed... somehow. Suddenly troubling thoughts cascaded in on her and she gripped her rucksack straps tightly until her fingers went white. At least her fingers were normal, even if nothing else was. Her clothes looked normal too, as did the rest of her that she could see. She was still Delores.

No triangles were in sight. In fact, no floating apertures of any kind could be seen. Something was wrong. Her stomach made its presence felt and suddenly her path became clear. Food. There would have to be food soon, and water, or this experience would end before she made it home to that distinctly less pointed world she knew. To that world without ridiculous triangles everywhere, except the floating ones, and people and that bizarre murk that some people still hadn't been trained to not see.

She had to get home, because somehow she knew that things were going to happen in this strange place. Dangerous things.

*    *    *

Some people say that there is only one universe, and others that there are an infinite number, all subtly different. The truth is unknown, except for a handful of clues at the Junction, amidst the ancient mysteries and labyrinthine passages.

At the beginning of time, when the Entity let the universes out of the pen for another trip around the block, he noticed a strange thing. Whereas before every universe had been utterly different and distinct, on this occasion there were what he could only describe as congruities.

In particular, there was this portion of space, a galactic sector in size that was remarkably similar in every case, except for a freakish change in the physics of geometry. In one reality there would be a predominance of squares, while in another circles, and in another dodecahedra. There were even mind-boggling realities typed after shapes no-one could even imagine in three dimensions and those that resided in little pockets of one-dimensional space. Far out on the periphery the Entity even spotted a complex dimension, half imaginary and half real, dragons spitting fire at technologists while dolphins laughed.

The Entity liked dolphins. They were always popping up in some universe or another in every cycle. This seemed suspicious sometimes, especially since beings that laughed and played all the time had to be up to something... There were dolphins on the world which seemed to be the centre of the congruity cluster. It was orbiting a little yellow star, that little third world. As the Entity looked from the extra-dimensional void - wondering momentarily what might be looking in on it - little tunnels could be seen travelling from every little third world to its doppelgangers. Little fragments of sutured reality from one dimension to the next, built to last and perplexing. In all the uncounted cycles this had never occurred. There was even a tunnel to the Junction.

Then something even more worrying occurred: A tiny speck popped from one dimension to another. Something was beginning and worse, these tunnels weren't natural. The Entity hadn't made them, so something else had.

The Other wasn't as alone as he had thought.

*    *    *

In the alternate universe, Delores was getting down to the basics of survival in an angular world. The place appeared to be deserted but surely there was food of some kind somewhere? Food that wouldn't turn her into a triangle or be bizarrely poisonous in a geometric manner? Even for a third year maths student it was all quite, quite bizarre.

Walking down the street away from the promenade and into town she looked into the shop windows - assuming that they were shops - and wondered where the people were. She headed out to the site of the supermarket in her own world and found... a supermarket. It seemed as if there were plenty of congruences between her world and this one. The supermarket was closed and the car park empty. The main road next door was devoid of traffic and there was no sign of activity in the nearby houses in the tessellated suburbs.

Delores tried to force the doors to the supermarket but they failed to budge. Then she tried to smash the glass but they were impervious to her force, and even to the ensuing flurry of feminine fury. Delores slumped onto a bench and cried from frustration. How on Earth could anything like this happen? Great floating triangles that were one-way doorways to other worlds? What kind of insane story could that be?

Summoning some coherent thought, and drinking some of her precious stock of water from her midi-backpack, she went round the back and tried the deliveries entrance. The gate was wide open, and doors into the structure ajar. Evidently the abandoning of this triangular Aberystwyth had been unexpected, if it had been abandoned in the conventional sense. Delores wondered if there might be less than pleasant scenes within most of the surrounding dwellings.

Within the supermarket the fresh produce section was incomprehensible but full of at least fresh-looking unidentified items. The tinned and boxed items were slightly more understandable, if pointier, and the chocolates almost unbearably tempting. "First things first," Delores said out loud, "it's water or death". She opened a bottle of water and took a long swig. It was water, simply water, and quite refreshing. It reinvigorated her mind and she realised the mystery of the shop. The fresh produce was fresh. Whatever had happened had happened very recently and suddenly, as had her arrival. Now, was that a coincidence or was that something chilling?

She decided to be chilled and shivered at what might have happened.

Opening a tin of something that looked vaguely familiar, she ate something that seemed to taste a lot like chicken, so in a fit of bravado she splurged on something else that turned out to be similar to cheese. Yes, it was probably cheese, or cheese-like, even if the thought of the local cattle in this mixed up world was daunting.

The cheese was good, almost as good as the cheese in her fridge back home. Home, unimaginably distant but closer than a bus ride, a few streets away. The sudden memory of the whirlpools in the sea distracted her from self-pity and a desire to see her 'home' in this world. Delores scooped up some snacks, wondered how best to manage the perishable food supplies and set off to explore and work her way up to the University and the massive National Library. If there were answers anywhere they would be there.

While walking up the hill to what was hopefully the university campus, Delores was constantly being distracted by sparkles from unusual surfaces and bizarre incongruences with her own world. Reflecting on things she wondered if maybe her world didn't have a geometric dominance, differing from this triangular dream, and that they just made do with what was most useful and practical. At a microscopic level everything was fractal anyway.

A thought later, she wondered if things were still fractal at a microscopic level here. It was so different! Why and how could this world happen if there weren't some hidden cause to it all? Were there worlds based on circles, or squares, or even improbable dodecagons? If so, why? The laws of physics would have to be subtly and fundamentally different and that could be lethal to someone from an entirely different plane. Was she safe or was reality struggling to cope with her chaotic and alien nature?

Delores passed the side road to the National Library and paused for thought. In such a copyright library on her own Earth she could find the answers to every question she had if she could but read the language. Even on the campus did she have any idea what she was hoping to find? The world swirled around her as confusing and contradictory ideas crashed in and out a few times before receding back into the distance, and the young woman finally turned right and headed for the library. It was wide open and unlocked as she expected, much like all the other public buildings she had seen. Inside the massive archive she became aware of the challenge in front of her before she remembered something vital: The National Library of Wales was also a film archive back in her own world.

The film archive was hard to find in this National Library. As a Maths student, Delores wasn't even familiar with the place in her own dimension, and the unfamiliar text and altered geometries made it even harder. Finally she stumbled - or perhaps 'broke into with vigour' would be more appropriate - a room with a large triangular screen hanging from one of the walls and something that was apparently a projector recessed into the opposite. The projector was an incredibly simple device, with a significantly coloured pyramidal cartridge loaded into the top and two buttons, one green and one red. She pushed the green button and the room lights dipped as the projector shifted into action.

There was still electricity. Someone had to be around in the world to keep it going, didn't they?

On the screen a still image of a man appeared, someone in a shambling mustard overcoat and silly blue hat. He was smiling at the camera. At the bottom of the screen there were a row of icons, colour coded. Delores Grey touched the green icon and watched as a movie began to play out in front of her.

The man was in a large circular chamber and surrounded by an array of shapes, all resembling doorframes in size and function. There was a light glaring angularly down from the ceiling onto each and a mass of cabling crawling across the floor. The camera continued panning around until the point of view reverted to its beginnings and the mad looking man grinned a toothy smile and stood on a large triangle in the centre of the circle. The cabling on the floor of the room glowed and the frames filled with iridescent light before settling on to views of... elsewhere. Different places and people could be seen through each aperture, all oddly distinct to her mind. Some of the sights couldn't even be understood, so alien were the rules of reality in place there.

"He did it? This mad person crossed planes? Hopped planets?"

Something was wrong on the screen. Everything was shaking and the mustard coated man was rushing back and forth, trying to shut down power and reestablish safety. Cracks appeared in the camera lens as the chaos intensified and the recording cut off.

"Or maybe he broke the world into pieces..."

*    *    *

What do you do if you've stood outside of time and space for all of eternity, watching the universes live their lives over and over with no respite, occasionally nudging them into the paddock at the end of days and releasing them into fresh life once again as the cosmic harmonies dictated, and you suddenly find yourself to not be alone?

The evidence was unmistakable. Bridges and tunnels had been carved between the most congruent areas of the various dimensions and passage was being made. This could not happen without outside assistance; It was simply impossible. The Entity hadn't tended that assistance and so some other being had, and that too was impossible. The existence of a second being outside all of space and time?

There had to have been a beginning for him once, the Entity knew, as he too existed in his own sort of timeline, forever witnessing and never changing. Every instant of interest - and there were many - was inscribed on the infallible and incorruptible leaves of his recollection. Everything. Even now he could see a tiny traveller stranded in a world not her own and new tunnels being forged by an agency unknown.

The Entity concentrated his attention on the new tunnels and for a while became a Probe, intent on finding all that was knowable. There were traces about the tunnels of something familiar but unknown, and definitely scary. For the first time the Entity knew fear, and then quickly felt for the first time also determination. It unleashed its power and actively sought out the true nature of this other force. It found something new, something equal but opposite, a symmetry where before there had been none.

Instantly the Entity knew nothing would be the same again. Before, in the long vigil of his watching over the dimensions of time and space, it had been alone and defined by its solitude and watching. Now it was defined in part by an opponent, a meddler, maybe even a dangerous insanity running wild. Danger lurked, and it lurked with a plan all unknown and deeply dubious.

How best to proceed? The problem was that in an eternity of solitude, the Entity had gained no experience in dealing with beings outside of himself. He was incapacitated by doubt. Would he even be able to recognise this new dweller in the void when he saw it? How did those specks of fragile life manage this all the time?

The Entity reached down into ever smaller dimensions, seized hold of a reality, and attached...

*    *    *

Delores was seated in what was the equivalent to her kitchen in this angled mirror to her own world. She had come down the hill in a haze, looking at everything in a dulled manner and finally stumbling into her house, which was in keeping with the rest of the town in its unlocked state. She'd gone to the bedroom first but the sight waiting there pushed her back out into the kitchen, shaking like a leaf.

There was tea of a kind and Delores was drinking it. The world was a little fuzzy as she adjusted slowly back down to the reality of what was going on. The door to the bedroom was closed and would stay that way, the three triangular sections locked into place by a complicated latch mechanism. If this were all happening, and there was no reason to think it wasn't, then Delores Grey had to work out the big picture and then get out quick and somehow make it home.

That scientist in the film had discovered or invented the portals but none were to be seen anywhere here. Massive whirlpools were sucking away the ocean but the levels never went down, there was a... thing in what would have been her bed in another plane of existence, and the tea was all finished. She made some more and ate a biscuit. The thing in the other room wouldn't mind; She was reasonably certain it was dead, unless every living thing had gone into some kind of bizarre siesta.

Those whirlpools had been nagging at her since she had seen them in the bay. Were the portals here all underwater? Or subterranean? How could you have such things without losing all the water? Was there a recirculating system of some kind? Was it all being replaced with water from the square dimension of the kumquat plane, or the Klein Bottle Universe? The scope for alternate dimensions with bizarre topologies, or topographies, or whatever, was boundless as she knew from her mathematics.

Was the only way out to ride down a whirlpool and hope not to be crushed or die at the other side? Surely there would be a better option? Researches at the National Library had proven to be of mixed usefulness. There were more videos that she'd watched. The loopy scientist had worked on, examining the repercussions of his act, showing bizarre new weather phenomena and plotting sites on a large map. The map had been attached to the video, as she'd found out when playing with the touch symbols.

Fatigue washed over Delores, and she began to slump forward onto the table and fade. It had been a long time since sleeping last. Such a long time. Hours ticked away, the bizarre time pieces whirring on in what appeared to be a ternary timekeeping system before she awakened and checked her watch. Sixteen hours had passed and she still felt pretty fuzzy. It was probably the different physics making her brain work harder to cope. The other Delores in the bed wouldn't have had any problems, she thought, admitting that whatever it is was the closest thing she had to family in this twisted world. How similar had they been at heart, if at all?

Maybe things would look better from a freshened point of view, and with some breakfast, and if both those things failed then reconnaissance was in order. To do that required a view, and there were plenty of views around.

It was time to climb a hill.

*    *    *

From atop Constitution Hill, on an atypically sunny day, Delores could see a huge swathe of the seafront portion of town, an expanse of hills and distant mountains to the north, and a glorious seascape to the west framed by Cardigan Bay. At least that's what she could see in her plane of existence. As the student topped the Hill, angular gravel crunching under her trainers, she surveyed this dimension's landscape properly for the first time.

The whirlpools didn't stretch as far to the horizon as she had thought, as they were actually localised to the vicinity of the Aberystwyth seaboard, visible drawing in water from the waters further out in the Irish Sea. The hills were a reassuring green, if a bit sparkly in places, and a mild drizzle was falling from on high. Geographically the similarities to her own Aberystwyth were overwhelming. There was even a tri-rail heading out toward Shrewsbusy. There might even be a visible Mount Snowdon on a clear day.

Seen at such a scale, the landscape provoked a spike of homesickness so sharp that Delores almost buckled, but she held firm.

"Excuse me, but do you have any idea what's going on?"

She buckled that time, from the unexpected interjection, and then fainted for good measure. Upon awakening a kindly bearded face looked down at her, squinting confusedly but with gladness at her revival. The man seemed a bit pointy but otherwise quite human, unlike the thing in 'her' bed in town.

"Umm, are you okay? What just happened?" Asked the man.

"I guess the food isn't agreeing with me as much as I thought. And you're impossible."

The bearded man smiled grimly and began to speak, before popping out of existence utterly.

"Oh great. I've gone totally insane." Suddenly it all made sense. Triangles, faintness, crazy videos and bizarre things in beds. "And if I'm not insane then I'm trapped in a world that's going to kill me eventually if the food isn't working out."

Delores stumbled over to the visitor centre, and for the first time in this bizarre encounter she found some hope. Hope takes unexpected forms sometimes, whether it looks like a giant cosmic whirlpool or the last bottle of water in the fridge or even an expected domino of an event waiting to be pushed. In this case, hope looked like a circle floating in the air above one of the cafe tables. And through the circle could be seen events and people in a whole different world.

Delores knew she could be at the portal in one step and then through to a whole new world, maybe even her home. It would take longer to say 'Ping Hippopotamus!' than to take that step. Could she afford not to? Probably not. The food seemed to be edible but wasn't sustaining her well. In this land of slightly different physics the food was not QUITE compatible. She was getting weaker and weaker. Or was that why the locals were dead? Was the food poisoned? Was that thing in 'her' bed even the local Delores? Was there a local Delores?

Her mind shifted its pieces and she realised the thing in her bed wasn't a local at all. The man in the National Library's video recording had looked human. The thing in the bed had not. It was something else entirely, and didn't belong here any more than she had. A fellow traveller which hadn't made it? From some dimension or just some other planet? Or maybe here there weren't just humans but other sentient species. Who knew what could happen when triangles were somehow more important in the grand scientific scheme of things?

Whatever happened, she wasn't going to expire in a bed not her own, in a deserted town far from the world she knew and loved. So far that the distance was measured in millimetres rather than miles and spanned galaxies.

Delores took the step, reached out to the circle, and nothing happened. She passed through as if it were just an illusion, just as she had so many times before in her own world before that one touch that changed everything. That was her one trip and she'd be stuck here forever? Maybe it would be best to take her chances in one of the whirlpools or find a bicycle and try to make it to Lampeter? Her thoughts were interrupted when a hand reached out of the portal, grabbed her by the shoulder, and yanked her in.

*    *    *

This time, when Delores Grey crossed the boundary layer, she twisted instantly into somewhere else entirely. Within the transitional, that strange existence between realities, all you could do was observe and try not to panic. Your atoms twist and turn as you cross through into a labyrinthine pocket of space-time and speed up to many times the speed of light before popping because there is no light. You can see anyway, the great swirls of non-space trying to break into your little gap of existence which is somehow shielded from all the most obscure forces. We know what a town looks like, and a continent or a planet. We even know what a galaxy looks like and that the universe is unfathomably big. We can see it from the inside after all. The words for how a universe looks from outside haven't been invented yet.

Our traveller reached the mid-point and felt the intangible slowing down and realignment. All round her she could see the rippling sheets of space-time vibrating in the void. It was enthralling. And there were little filaments connecting them all, that she could see now on this second journey. It was all so incomprehensibly beautiful... and then it was over as she was squeezed through an aperture smaller than anything she could possibly know and landed rather ungracefully in a fountain in a large room which was far more desolate than what she had seen through the portal.

"What?" Her voice still worked. The fountain was actually quite comfortable, like a shower.

"Behind you, miss."

Squirming around in a watery mess, our traveller saw someone unexpected. "You?!" It was the kindly bearded man.

"I'm afraid I diverted you. I rather need your help. Plain chocolate biscuit?"

Crossing the barrier between realities was confusing or distracting enough without being diverted and offered a chocolate biscuit by an odd bearded man after you've landed in a fountain. At least it was a water fountain. Suddenly the sheer weirdness and the coolness of the water began to have an inexplicable effect upon Delores. She began to laugh, and to cry and to do both very loudly. She splashed water, waved her arms about jumped up and down, and finally sat down with a mighty, silly, calm wallow. It was a surprisingly deep fountain so she stood up again and looked at the man in a rather abashed manner.

The man looked at her in a thoroughly shocked manner, and then spoke.

"My name, for the purposes of this discussion, is Ernest. I am an interdimensional guardian of the cosmos. I have watched time wind in and wind out innumerable times and can fathom every physical process in the world. Typhoons and whirlwinds are mere simple playthings to me, black holes a bauble on the fabric of space-time, each universe a shred of reality flying through the inter-dimensional void. And yet, despite all that, I have no idea why you did that."


"It's true that I'm a little disappointed. Here I am - blithely throwing out exposition like a trained wolfhound - and you respond with a mostly inarticulate 'What?'. I've been alone for countless multiversal cycles, gone mostly mad on several occasions, played solitaire with whole planes of reality on occasion and never once bothered any of the tiny infinitesimal and short-lived life forms for fear of disturbing their development. I have no idea how I came to be, how anything came to be, and blankly fulfil my function as best I can. Finally, in a moment of direst crisis, I seek out someone who seems to have some inkling of what's going on, who has traversed the membranes of reality in fact and I get this. A wet young woman in a fountain, splashing and saying 'What?'."

The man paused. "Am I making sense? Correct language and species? Yes?"

"Yes. You're making sense in every way except I don't understand any of it. Not a clue. I may still be having hysterics about having been dragged through a 'magic circle' into a massive hole in reality, and ending up in a fountain in a strange place with a beardy man who likes monologues. And that is after being stranded in a batty place where everything is based on triangles and slowly starving to death while surrounded by pointy food."


"Never mind. Did you say guardian of the multiverse? I picked out something about a direst crisis while I was staring in a wide-eyed fashion too."

Beardy Ernest collected himself and set up for another run at it. "Your universe is on a cycle of expansion and contraction. Each Big Bang is eventually followed by a Big Crunch, a reset, and then another Big Bang and so on. On each iteration things begin differently and history unfolds in utterly new ways. Now try to imagine that at the moment of the Big Bang, there are innumerable other Big Bangs happening in every other plane of reality. There is a moment, as the dimensions return back to their origin, that every plane of reality touches every other... And in a touch of utter beauty death and birth combine into one. I am the person, the entity, that watches over the different levels of the multiverse. I do it alone, and have forever done it thus. And now there is something else out there."

"Something else? But you're the only one. You just said so. I don't understand."

"Something else. Something that is threading connections through all the planes, building tunnels and bridges, fixing the structure of the realities. Even in my madness, I would not do this, this mangling of the natural order. If the structure is rigid then the dimensions will never be able to collapse in toward one another and the cycle will be broken. And if the links are soft, springy, then one tug could cause the flock of universes to veer away from their intended destination. If that happens, then we are all truly lost, for there can be no renewal. The renewal is a function of the place as well as the event. And the renewal is essential; Without it every level of reality would crumble into dust from which nothing could ever recover or rebuild."

Delores wondered. "So we're dealing with not the end of the world, not the end of time and space as I know it, but the ending of time and space not as I know it as well?"


Her belly rumbled menacingly. "Can it wait until after food?"

*    *    *

The food was delicious, and Delores could hardly get enough as Ernest retrieved it from a little empty alcove in the wall. It was reminiscent of an old science fiction series she had  used to watch, and brought on a pang of nostalgia. In an effort to distract herself, she examined Ernest anew.

"You can't see it. It's well hidden." Ernest tried a smile but flopped into a puzzled half-grin instead.


"I'm just as you are, a mortal on this plane of reality, such as it is." Ernest gestured around at the statuary and grandiose surrounding. They were in a yellow stone square, that smelt faintly of honeysuckle and wine, and was utterly deserted. There were buildings facing all around, seemingly deserted.

"'Such is it is'? You are going to tell me where we are, aren't you?"

Ernest shifted in his seat a little. He had dragged a couple of folding chairs from what seemed to be a small bazaar a little further around the fountain to the left. He was monumentally unused to the ways of such mobile furniture, and it wobbled a little, dangerously. It was definitely like a scene from that old show.

"This is not the easiest thing to explain." More thought seemed to tear through the impassive mind buried deep in Ernest's brain. "Perhaps an analogy is in order. Observe. No, hang on a moment." He ducked back into the bazaar and emerged quickly with a small sack of juggling balls and a determined expression. "Observe." He began to juggle eight or nine balls effortlessly and started to talk. "I'm juggling in three spatial dimensions, and the balls are following a circular path as well as I can manage. You can perceive the centre to their motion. Now I'll do this!"

Delores was shocked to see that the balls were now spitting in and out of view in a small shower of water droplets. Little rainbows shattered on a moment by moment basis. "What...?"

"I'm now juggling in four dimensions - don't look at my hands - about a new centre of motion that means nothing to your perceptions. And this... five dimensions... means you hardly see the balls at all... No matter how many dimensions we go to there's always a way to juggle around a common centre of motion in what is equivalent to a circle. You just can't see it." The juggling balls vanished and didn't return as he ceased his efforts. "I put them back in the bazaar in a much easier manner."

"We are in the Junction, the ancient nexus by which life forms - of whom we shall not speak right now - from all over every dimension came together to exchange goods and ideas. It has been neglected for several long cycles now, but shall inevitably be discovered again one day. Perhaps by you. You have great intelligence and perceptivity, much more so than I thought initially. You observe all."

Delores finally had her turn to speak but chose not to.

"While the Other bonds all the dimensions together in his mysterious ways he may not know about the existence of this place, if it is a place at all. In many ways it is more of a state of mind. A home away from home. It's strange to be so small, so far away from my own home. Even as I juggled my balls, all the known planes of reality gravitate around a common point, the Junction. For what purpose, I do not know. In every iteration of this system, the Junction remains."

"In reality you're a vast entity, no more a person than a God, something else entirely. What are you doing here? Why talk to me? What is it you want?" Delores stood up, suddenly a little angry. "Why are these things happening to me? Why am I here and not back at home in my little flat, wondering what to do with my holidays? Alone again, with only a book and a cup of cherry cocoa?"

"I don't know. I was hoping by meeting you I could deduce why you were chosen to cross the thresholds and become a leader in whatever the Other was planning. This... Junction... has existed since time immemorial and I created a temporary bridge just to get you here without their noticing. I had hoped you could tell me what to do. This idea of conflict is unknown to me as crossing into whole new worlds is to you."

What would happen if you were alone over all time eternal, with no equals and only one task to be performed? Would you know what to do if a rival appeared, seeking to pervert the course of things that must be? Could someone who had never been faced down by the school bully and stood up to tell the tale even conceive of the ways lesser beings lived their lives on a day to day basis. It all became clear.

"Ernest - What a name for such a being! - you're saying you don't know how to save everything?" Delores looked the once omnipotent being in the eye. "You've been alone for your whole existence?"

The earnest Ernest hesitated a moment. "Let's say 'yes'? There are parts I don't remember to be honest, moments of abandon inevitable in a sojourn so long amongst hyper-stars and cosmic ribbons."

"I think I'd better give you some schooling in how to do things the down and dirty lesser being way. And then I'm going home. After helping save everything, including ice cream and apple pie. And after you've told me how people could get to this Junction without building tunnels and bridges that you said were dangerous."

Ernest nodded, winced, and waited. There had to be more.

"And you have to explain to me why this has to be the work of an enemy, an adversary. Why can't it be the way things are supposed to be? Why can't it be the result of something bigger than even you?"

*    *    *

Time passed, and Delores tried to explain how things worked back on her world. She really did try. It wasn't her fault that Ernest the multiverse minder was naive beyond any human conception of the word. A whole eternal lifetime alone had left him unable to cope in any practical manner with things a human being adapted to in childhood. It was exasperating! His concentration seemed to drift in and out at random as if being distracted by falling motes of dust or passing photon packets. Finally, not being able to explain tactics or the nature of opposition she realised it was no use.

"You can't give up, Delores, the destiny of all the worlds is at stake. Please go on."

"I don't think I can. You don't seem to understand anything of the concepts but all of the words. It's as if you can recognise a bucket but not the usefulness of the water within." A long silence. "What is it you want, Ernest?" she asked again, quietly.

The man, for it easiest to refer to him as that, looked deeply inward and replied from some deep well of being, "I wish to understand. To comprehend why anything would try to do what is being done. And to know how to fight."

"It doesn't make sense really. How can there be something as vast as you, but so much more capable of deceit to make you look like an innocent barely born?"

Ernest sat with troubled expression for many long minutes, before finally releasing words with most reluctance and confusion. "I was not always like this, I think. Long ago, there was an incident before which I can not recall. The memories I possess are for the most part reconstructed artefacts, all except for my role in the grander scheme of things; That alone I recalled those three or four cycles ago." The bearded man sat with eyes closed and then opened. "If you cannot help me here then you must help me here. Please, take my hand."

"What? Why?" Suspicion flared in the mind of Miss Grey.

"I'm going to take you to my realm and there you will instruct me as you will temporarily see all that I see and feel all I feel. Physically you will of course remain here, but I shall secure a mental link. Perhaps with that connection and a new sympathy between us, we could examine what to do."

Of course it was total nonsense, or so Delores thought. How could a human being possibly comprehend what it could be like to be a vast and intangible entity that lived outside of time. It would be comparable to understanding a God or Destiny or Writer of all that stands in each of our fictional worlds. "Could that work? Really work?"

"Take my hand, and let us see. You need not fear."

Delores, daunted but not broken, took the hand of the Shepherd of the Planes of Reality.

And so ends Phase One of 'Triangles'. You may now stand ready for Phase Two...

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Notes on Fix-Ups

It's exciting to be finally editing down the first phase of 'Triangles' into the fix-up version, that one-piece condensed version of greater coherence and sense. Yes, a massive number of typos and inconsistencies went unnoticed at the time, and it barely made any sense at all in retrospect, but it's going to a be a fun exercise. Editing is onerous once you get to inputting all the changes, but the 'scribbling on the page' phase is great, especially in weeks with lots of travelling. You sure can do a lot of scribbling in more than four hours of bus time. There's no better reason to travel the slow way than to spend all that time with pen, paper, and a brain that needs sharpening to reach the required level of nonsense.

Also in the editing bay is the first phase of 'Wordspace', which is proving a far more involved process. That story sprawled, and will hopefully lose a lot of padding as we go. The nicest part of the review is taking out all the neuter pronouns, having decided to just give all the character words genders after all. Yes, it will be less weird, but the end result will be much much easier to read, and won't leave me wincing every time the dreaded 'it' heaves into view. Even now the eyebrow twitches in torment at the thought. What madness it was to make every character an 'it'.

It seems as if the whole of summer was condensed into one week, these last eight days. There was a medieval fair at Kidwelly Castle, a picnic at Dryslwyn Castle, a trip to the Gwili Steam Railway and a day trip to Aberystwyth, as well as a new student seeking GCSE help and the ongoing primary student! This was truly a busy week. The medieval fair apparently recurs every year, and is getting larger, while the railway is good old-fashioned fun. There's something very relaxing about a steam train chugging away at twenty miles per hour for a short fifteen minutes to it's second station and back. There's a picnic area, a miniature train for the gullible children, and historical interest. What more could there be?

Meanwhile, in nostalgic television land, it's time for the detective show 'Hunter' from the 1980s. After viewing a few episodes, it seems this may be the series I've been trying to remember. It wasn't 'The A-Team', and it may yet be 'The Fall Guy', but 'Hunter' is proving pretty classy as it develops. More news soon as the cliches unravel and chemistry grows.


Thursday, 3 September 2015

Scrap: 'Spin, Mable, Spin'

"Spin, Mabel, spin!"

Mabel looked up at her uncle, and began to spin obediently. She didn't know why she was spinning, but she was only five, and it was fun. The world became a pleasant blur, and she continued.

"Keep going, and don't fall over." instructed Uncle David. "Any moment now, we'll start to spin in the opposite direction and everything will be okay."

"Yes, uncle. I do so want to go home!" replied Mabel.

"Are you ready? You'll be dizzy for a moment, but it's important to go when I say."


"Okay, I'm going to count down. Three..." A rainbow began to drag from their fingers as they continued their rotations. "Two..." Mabel was beginning to feel very dizzy indeed. "One..." David wasn't doing all that well himself. "Go!"

The man and his little niece stopped and then began to spin in the opposite direction, just as some musketeers blundered into the gardens and looked at them incredulously. The rainbow effect shimmered out in a great wake, as their fingers reached the temporal speed limit and the two spinners vanished.

"C'est imposible!" exclaimed the lead musketeer, a lieutenant.

The journey through the warp was all too brief, and the two voyagers emerged six hundred years later, in the Grand Rotation Complex, at Xavier's Launderette in Las Vegas. David looked down at his niece. "Are you all dry now?"

"Yes, and my clothes are so soft!"

"It's true what they say: You can't beat a good spin cycle!"

Sponsored by Slim Mick's 'Giant Rhododendron Powder', guaranteed to melt your washing machine, but leave it smelling ever so fresh.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Treading Water

Sometimes your computations fail, and there's nothing you can do about it. This seems to have been true of most of my PhD work and its following iterations. Sometimes, a NaN just pops up, due to a negative pressure somewhere, and it all falls apart. There's nothing to be done but scream and throw bananas at the screen, like an angry monkey who has had its milkshakes taken away. Hmm, it occurs to me that milkshakes might not be given to monkeys, and might actually be very harmful. Please, readers out there in the virtual world of the Internet, don't give milkshakes to monkeys unless it's okayed by a fully qualified monkey doctor. (They're the monkeys wearing the stethoscopes and reflector discs on their heads.)

This writing lark seems to have taken a break towards the less than sane in recent days, which is a nice change to make. It's better than interrogation scenes in 'The Glove', which I still can't break. There's a lingering sense of selling out to it, or perhaps an idea that the initial idea just wasn't far enough out into kookiness to be interesting. Yes, it's a story about a Scottish-settled moon called Ganymede, orbiting the gas giant Troos, which has suffered some kind of cultural segregation based on science versus tradition, but is that particularly funny? Or interesting? I don't know. As a concept, the Ninjas of Health seem far more distinctive, as does the diary of a laundry robot. Why worry about it? Well, even though this is a hobby, it is also a personal challenge, and to fall down on a personal challenge is quite the disappointment. Dropping a story entirely seems like sacrilege!

This story problem happened once before, on the first one, which was called 'Night Trials'. Ultimately, reclaiming the narrative became a similar process to turning around and walking out of the cul-de-sac that had been driven into at random. Alternatively, a whole portion of 'The Disappearance' (a.k.a. 'The Plain Chocolate Digestive Detective') had to be thrown away, and the story rebooted... That's not the worst idea in the world, actually. It might even be the most practical thing to do, but where to draw the sacking line? There's a germ of a good idea there, and it might even be good now despite myself, but it's not hugely interesting to write! Where to draw the line? This sounds like a question to answer on the four hours of bus ride to Aberystwyth and back in a couple of days.