Saturday, 31 October 2015


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

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

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

Halloween, Halloween, what strange things have you seen?

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


Thursday, 29 October 2015

Story: The Ninja of Health, V

( Part IV , VI )

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued...

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Melange of Miscellaneous Topics

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, 25 October 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, 24 October 2015

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, 22 October 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, 20 October 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, 18 October 2015

Story: The Glove, VII

( Part VI , VIII )

Burgh was by no means a backwater city or a bastion of Luddite tendencies. The populace enjoyed their own kinds of modern comforts, but were not compelled to try out the newest fads by companies looking to make their latest pennies. It was a relaxed place, with lots of musical hangouts, and a cultural influence that extended far out into the surrounding countryside. Steffan loved it there. That was why he was having a hard time leaving.

Finally, after some days of meandering, procrastinating, and being generally confused about what he should do, Steffan slung his pipes into their case, a pile of clothes into another, and boarded the express airship for Edin, the City of Tomorrow. For two days - yes, not even future other-worldly airships are that fast - he slept, watched the world roll by beneath, and wrote in his journal of recent experiences while a curious blonde lady watched him from across the aisle. He never noticed, being absorbed in his own thoughts.

*    *    *

"Monday, Week 23, High over Ganymede in the Airship 'Strata',

I miss my pipes. It would be the height of rudeness to retrieve them from the baggage and regale my fellow passengers, whoever they are, in this confined space. Oh, to be able to play the Jig Of St Ruggles, and relax these nerves!

Yes, nerves. The interview with Octavius bothers me. Why am I going to Edin? To look into to what he told me? Why not go on his behalf? I don't know. There's a feeling of distrust that keeps me awake at nights. There is something wrong. Yes, the pipers can go very many places, and naturally keep their ears open, but I never guessed they might be used as a network of spies. Spies... Am I right? Is there something wrong?"

*    *    *

"Tuesday, Week 23, the 'Strata'

Ganymede flies by beneath us, the prettiest moon in the galaxy. Troos is rising into the sky, and dwarfing our own world into insignificance. What strange effect must Troos have upon us? Instead of living on a planet with an orbiting moon, we live on the orbiting moon of a gigantic world. Might there be an effect?

In a few hours we will disembark at Edin, which I am trying to not think about. I've been thinking about intrigues, Troos, the proper maintenance of bagpipes, my father and the tree stump he said he was going to get out, and even the mysteries of the life itself. I have been trying to think about everything but the the city looming on the horizon. The City of Tomorrow.

Long, long ago, centuries after settling and colonizing the world, we built our twin cities far, far apart. I don't know why, any more. Yes, there were exchanges and all efforts were made to keep our two cities together, but something happened. Something is happening now.

Maybe the answers lie ahead, or maybe they lie behind us or beneath. The beginning lies just a few a hours into the future.

Good grief, I hope I'll be able to sleep."

*    *    *

Steffan finally slept in his couchette, and the blonde lady covered him with his blanket. Then, with a curious smile, she turned to look out finally at the horizon ahead.

There shall be more...

Friday, 16 October 2015

The Gyrovague

A 'gyrovague' was a wandering or itinerant monk, of no fixed address. As throughout history, their eccentric and non-conformist habits were stamped out by the forces of institutionalised society, and the practice of hobo monasticism banned. I bring up the topic mainly because the name 'gyrovague' is so wonderful. Gyrovague. How charming and esoteric it is. It's also rather cute to have the the word 'vague' as a component part, reminding us of just how much of religion was mysticism and difficult to define. Oh, the vocabulary of lost words, just waiting to be tripped over in the dark fantastic waltz of discovery... Religion would actually be a lot nicer if a lot of the specificity was drained...

What would it be like, thinks the person stuck in a voluntary desk job, to wander the known world, spreading your mysticism and seeking support from the charity of other? What would it be like to be frowned on by your own faith, and have your name tainted by your less scrupulous fellow wayfarers as you struggled on to spread your wisdom amongst the masses? It would have been a dangerous undertaking, especially with the plague and all those diseases of long ago terrorizing the world. In this era, the peer pressure is so complete that no-one dares think of doing anything even remotely unusual for fear of being branded insane! Monasteries do exist, though, if you know where to look for them...

Yes, as the office chair of fate spins in long and mythical revolutions, and its occupant tries to spin together tales of itinerant monks, or 'mystics errant' as you might call them, it becomes clear that the world was a very different place back then, two millennia ago. There weren't just gyrovagues, but also Sarabaites, monks who kept their own homes and lived on the fruits of their own labours. These monks were also looked down upon from the (extremely dubious) heights of the Church, but were they really as much of a bad lot as we would think? Today, if monks (or nuns) decided to live their lives of faith outside of the confines of the official Church, would they not be denounced equally by that same edifice that shields its own miscreants so loyally? To be fair, quite a few of those nonconformists probably were a few hairs over into the 'roguish' side of life. It's very hard to know anything now about life pre-Eighth Century!

Now, to go off on a tangent, did you know that there's a 'National Hobo Convention' every year in Iowa? How awesome is that?! Also, I started up 'The Muppet Show' to succeed 'Mork and Mindy', and from even the first few moments you know you're watching an instant classic. Oh, will seasons four and five never come out on DVD???? Let's hope, for the n-th time, that it could occur.


Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Television: 'Star Trek: Season 3' (1968-1969)

We'll get back to the stories soon enough, where Steffan is curiously poised after that interview with Master Octavius in 'The Glove', and the smooshed up version of 'Wordspace' heads into the middle third after a sickness-induced hiatus. This is instead going to about the much loathed third and final season of 'Star Trek', that aired over 1968/69, and how ready fans seem to be to jump straight to hatred. Who do so many professed 'fans' of things seem so ready to hate? Well, 'fan' isn't a shortened term for 'fanatic' without reason.

The third season of 'Star Trek' was made under ridiculously horrible circumstances, with little money or time, and minimal access to the creative writers and directors that made the first two seasons such a monumental success. Despite all that, the third season isn't that bad, except for a couple of debatable and monumental turkeys. In fact, it's a miracle that the season is actually good at all. However, and this is puzzling, if you ask almost any 'Star Trek' fan they will respond with the trained response that it's utterly dreadful, abominable, and equivalent to a crime against humanity. This is odd, when you consider that even in its diluted state, 'Star Trek' was still one of the smartest shows on television (See 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' and 'The Man From UNCLE' for examples of series that plumbed real depths, falling from sublime grace in the second instance), and still rather well shot in places. Working through the season now, it's fascinating to see how much more experimental and interesting the photography is. It may even be better in that respect.

The problem is that the fans react disproportionately, as they do in so many other arenas, or take the entrenched and accepted view that it's all rubbish. How strange it must be to just accept the opinions of others and not make your own from the evidence at hand. It's very much like accepting the newspapers and newscasters as purveyors of factual truth rather than biased interpreters with their own agendas. As any researcher will tell you, you must go the source! The worst part is the fandom, though, those apparent haters of all things they profess to love. It's a strange thing indeed. Right now, I'm watching the first episode I ever did see ('For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky'), and it's a great highlight of the season, but you'll have trouble finding someone who will admit it. Could it be that I'm incredibly more tolerant of flawed television than everyone else? It's a theory, at least.

There's no question that the third season is less good than its predecessors, and less nuanced in it's writing, but it's still interesting and smart with occasional bursts of brilliance. It's not hate-worthy, and if you don't believe me then check out 'For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky', 'The Tholian Web', 'The Enterprise Incident', 'All Our Yesterdays' or even 'Is There In Truth No Beauty?'. Some of the others are pretty watchable too! 


Subsequent note:
In production order, some of the last six could be considered just plain awful, which is a shame. However, it's still not a season that should be written off! Oh, and 'Plato's Stepchildren' is just plain horrid.

Monday, 12 October 2015

The Ritual

It is a sacred ritual, known only to the few others who have the Knowledge and the courage. That little container in the cupboard is to be treated with great care.

The maker reaches for the container of cocoa, and then the jar of honey, holding them reverently as the world collapses down to this fixed little sequence of events, before placing them on the counter. Then, methodically, a teaspoon, handpicked measuring jug and microwaveable mug join the two ingredients. Suddenly, with a crescendo of light, the bottle of milk!

Some moments pass as the majesty of the occasion grows, and then the mug is filled with milk. The milk is transferred messily to the jug. Spillage is mopped up. A little milk is poured back in the mug, and the jug goes in the grand heating device. Oh, the joys of the microwave, making hot milky drinks easier for many decades now! High power for two and a bit minutes. While the microwave plate rotates, the maker of the cocoa takes the Teaspoon of Fate and places some cocoa in the mug of remaining milk. Then some honey. The two are mixed, and with zealous lack of restraint, the maker of the cocoa guzzles some of the sweet paste while waiting for the microwave to finish! The honey stuck to the spoon has to be removed, after all. It's only decent.

Finally, the dreaded moment arrives, and the 'ping' is heard. No more eating the cocoa paste, the closest thing to chocolate available for someone sworn off sugar. Hot milk drowns out the contents of the mug, and the cocoa mixed, before being drunk in a few sips. The ritual is near completion, awaiting only the washing of the mug, spoon and jug.

It is over. The ritual completed. The cocoa drinker looks confused, suddenly feels a bit tired, and departs for places unknown. Until the next time.


Saturday, 10 October 2015

Random Words on the Wing

It was a weird week of being a little bit sick, and often a tad short of words. Many things fell by the wayside, and now a small mountain of chores awaits. What horror lies in piles of small tasks? What does it all mean? It's nice to be comparatively well again, whatever else might be happening.

Being a mathematician errant has some advantages but also quite a few penalties. The worst of those penalties is the lack of support and ignorance of what might be in the literature. The isolation also breeds some mistakes. For example, I just debugged one of my calculations and discovered a massive problem (Alpha close to zero instead of close to unity!!!), and now the calculation doesn't work in a whole different way! Isn't mathematics wonderful? Before catching the problem, it was a disgusting and non-linear mess, and now it's just a nothing. I may have to change vocation to hat skimmer once again.

Oh, those jolly days of hat skimming in the local skimmery. It was a boom industry until very recently, amongst the bohemian intellectual set of the valleys. Rarely would you find a hat skim anywhere in the United Kingdom without the three red dots that indicated its origin in the great green vales. Even now, if I close my eyes, and imagine a colander in my hands, the old technique comes right back to me... I'm amazed they ever let us all out of political prison...

Reverting to reality, the editing down of 'Wordspace' was hit by sickness, but will come back off the back burner on the morrow. Thanks to a generous helping of season three of 'Star Trek', I also feel a need to write about how it's not so bad as people seem to think. Truly, it's not as subtle or nuanced as the previous two seasons, but it's not worthy of so much hate! However, let us not jump the gun. It's time to get back to sleeping the glooms away, and waiting for the solstice.

That's another session of wordsmithing done. Someone needs to explain why this is supposed to be difficult again. Oh, I suppose it might be difficult if you keep the idea of an audience in your head, but wouldn't that be silly?


Thursday, 8 October 2015

Film: 'Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut' (2006)

I should begin with two things: One, I never particularly liked the theatrical version of 'Superman II' (the Lester version), and two, this alternate version is an unprecedented occurrence. Let's begin with the background. 'Superman: The Movie' was produced by the Salkinds (a father and son team?) and directed by Richard Donner, with a script extensively rewritten by his friend Tom Mankiewicz. The movie was made simultaneously with 'Superman II' (SII) until financial and studio pressure forced them to put the approximate seventy-per-cent of 'Superman II' completed into a drawer and finish off 'Superman: The Movie' (STM). The relationship between the Salkinds and Donner and Mankiewicz had deteriorated to such a condition during STM, however that the producers didn't bring back the super-hit-making duo to finish SII and put their own crony Richard Lester (who directed 'The Three Musketeers' and 'The Four Musketeers' for them) in the director's chair, remove the Marlon Brando sequences, and reshoot some pivotal scenes in addition to finishing the film, and proceeded to ruin the charm and spirit of that original first film. Many years later, after the discovery of the lost footage, and after popular demand to see the 'Donner version', an editor called Michael Thau made an alliance with Donner to recreate as closely as possible that version of SII. It was released in 2006, and is apparently the canonical direct prequel to that year's 'Superman Returns'. Oh, yes, point number three: I did like 'Superman Returns', and I really don't understand the hatred for it. Why do people hate things so?

'Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut' (RDC) is a much better film than the theatrical SII. It's dramatically stronger, funnier, more stylish, and feels more of a piece with STM than SII. However, it does repeat the time travel sequence that climaxed STM, as that was originally supposed to end SII and not STM, and it does have material from the Lester version as well a crucial scene built from screen test footage, in order to make the story whole. Does that jar? To be honest, I would love it if there was a matching version of STM to go with RDC, one with its own original planned ending of the super villains being released from the Phantom Zone, and Superman simply saving Lois instead of bringing her back to life with badly planned time travel. I would absolutely adore it, since the ending to STM doesn't make any sense whatsoever and the cliffhanger would be a far better way to go. RDC works as its own movie, and the 'world turning' time travel is incredibly beautiful and far more interesting than the cheap looking version in STM. The scene built from the screen test is a very good and powerful scene, so you buy it, and the movie benefits so much from the reinstatement of the Brando footage that it blows SII out of the water with sheer gravitas. The Lester/Donner disparity does jar, though, with the other disadvantages being that it does require a bit of explanation to anyone you might want to show the movie, and that it does weaken STM's end. The latter point is really more the fault of the first film than the Donner cut, to be brutal, which I say while still loving 'Superman: The Movie'.

The Donner cut of 'Superman II' is lively, entertaining, has some brilliant moments, and some scenes you would literally not believe would ever be cut out of a film. It's amazing the theatrical version was a hit when you consider what was lost! To be very clear, I rather like it.


Tuesday, 6 October 2015

What Is The Secret Of Life?

What is the secret of life? Would finding the answer be a good thing, or an utter anti-climax? Would knowing that ultimate philosophical truth negate the need to explore the rest of the universe?

As I sit here, listening to 'The Last Starfighter' commentary, and being generally lackadaisical, it seems fitting to consider such grand questions. What would it mean to actually answer that most primal question? Captain Kirk said it best when he said we needed our pain, and we do, but we also need our doubts and open questions to give us something to work towards. Could answering the Question be damaging or simply lead to bigger Questions? What bigger question could there be?

It seems like madness to talk about working towards a philosophical goal when the world is mired in the dirtiest of political eras, where no-one takes reponsibility for anything, and the environment is being driven into the ground zero of global warming while the ocean acidifies and we all face a slow armageddon. Will we ever reach enlightenment? Hopefully, one day, yes. What does all of this have to do with custard and how the revisions to the 'joined up' version of 'Wordspace' are going? I have no idea.

Thankfully, the utterly unanswerable nature of the question makes the whole topic academic at best. What kind of answer would be satisfying, anyway? Would it be better to know that life in this universe is the result of someone on a higher plane accidentally knocking over their test tube, or that we were supposed to grow peanuts as part of some intergalacting trading plan? Were we plunged into consciousness so that one day the aliens of Zeta Zeta II would have 'Star Trek' to watch on Friday nights? The largest questions have the most profoundly dull answers, and it's the journey to reach them that is more important.

What would be an even bigger question than the secret of life? That's an interesting idea to mull over. Leave suggestions at the bottom of the page, and we'll turn them into apple crumbles as a gesture of the madness of the cosmos.

My, 'The Last Starfighter' is a great example of pre-blockbuster film making. I'll have to write about that one day. It's got to be more interesting than existentialism, and how best to rewrite the rapidly inflating 'Wordspace'. Yes, an already lengthy set of episodes is becoming lengthier in the merging. Welcome to the Quirky Muffin, where concise things get longer, and longer, and longer...


Sunday, 4 October 2015

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

( Week I , Week III )


My maintenance engineer and therapist, BoomBoom, has suggested that I continue this journal in the hopes of becoming a more enlightened and efficient laundry robot. Given the choice between this and competitive shirt folding, which I have loathed ever since the Laundry Olympics of the year 2622, I choose this. The maintenance period has been wonderful, but now I feel the pull of work. Celia just came in and started moaning about the new robot, Fred's replacement. I will have to wait until tomorrow to see if the ever-exaggerating Celia has been accurate.


Celia wasn't accurate about our new workmate Bobbie at all. In fact, Bobbie is a complete wacko! Just this morning, when faced with Professor Bramble's mustard coloured trench coat, she doused it with gin and tried to set it on fire! Yes, she functioned well most of the rest of the time, but at closing time she started doing comedy routines by twenty second century robot comedienne LoobyLoo and tried to shred the contents of Fred's tie closet. Oddly, the manager Rocktop Beta, is reluctant to get rid of Bobbie. I suspect a conspiracy...


Celia has returned from maintenance, and for once her twittering is a great relief. Not only has it been a day free of the erratic Bobbie, off on her first maintenance period, but Mrs Wilberforce has regained her status as the laundry's nemesis. Having exhausted the global supply of handkerchiefs last week, she has now tapped in to the wacky world of novelty jumpers. The note says that they're required for the upcoming Buddy Awards, the prizes for the most ludicrously costumed politicians, being part of the prizes. Does the woman never sleep?


Professor Bramble has sent in his coat again, with instructions to treat it more kindly. Thankfully Bobbie is still off on break, so Celia and I will give it special treatment over lunchtime. Whatever could that eccentric loon have been thinking with the gin? Bramble is reputed to be one of the leading scientific geniuses of the day, which is evidenced by his ridiculous choice in clothing! Celia is at this moment checking it for forgotten fragile items.


Calamity. Madness. Lunacy. Professor Bramble, mad genius, left some items in his coat which caused mayhem! Let it be merely said that an ion-powered egg whisk was compounded by some powdered water and a strangely coloured cloud of gas. Then, inside one of the pockets, we discovered a strange written treatise on the nature of the galaxy as compared to a gigantic cosmic washing machine. A small blue being with a red hat then appeared as if by magic, declared the whole laundry a space-time crisis event horizon, and everything went white. Before we knew what was happening, it was today, and Thursday had gone by without a trace! Rocktop Beta said he would review the video records, but never came back from his office. Thank goodness that my maintenance period is over the weekend!

To be continued...

Friday, 2 October 2015

A New Project

I'm listening to a radio play, the legendary 'Mercury Theatre on the Air' adaptation of Gillette's 'Sherlock Holmes'. It's very much an adaptation week, in fact, as Blish's 'Star Trek' prose adaptations sit not too far away. For some time, I thought that perhaps the Blishes were only good in my memory, but no they are good in reality. So is the 'Sherlock Holmes'. Apparently, this week's inclination in blog writing is the phrase 'in fact', which has been pushed to the brink of actualization four more times than it actually appears on the screen so far. Presumably, I picked it up at some point in the day, while struggling with a new proofreading project.

Proofreading or copyediting projects are very difficult jobs to begin, as they require a transition to a different mental mode. Yes, it really is that difficult to dig in, with the first few days only seeing a few minutes of work each, before things begin in earnest (blast, 'in earnest' is clearly a stand-in for today's 'go to' phrase!). The size of the project makes no difference, as it is merely a question of getting the brain into the right frame for rewriting. Rewriting is difficult, worse than editing your own stories, as you have to make far more involved informed and thoughtful choices about what to change and what to leave untoucned. With your own writing, you're free to just throw your replacements and edits around in glee, with other people's work it needs to be justified, and all in the context of understanding just what is being written to begin with. Similar to translation, but different, very different.

As 'The Immortal Sherlock Holmes' rolls on, and 'The Cocoanuts' moves through the postal system to this secret lair deep in Carmarthenshire, you might expect to enter a mini-Groucho season in coming days. It's really too early to say, with seasonal blues creeping in as they always do, and job hunting being the soporific that beats all others. However, Groucho might win out, along with Chico, Harpo and Zeppo. Harpo's weirdness could fill a series all on its own, after all... Yes, the Marx Brothers remain untouched in the Quirky Muffin so far, which is remarkable when it is revealed that they, along with Buster Keaton and a little of Abbott and Costello made almost all of the 'purebred' comedies that I can accept and appreciate. Yes, there are many other funny films, but they all live in the overlaps with other kinds of films. We're talking about 'straight down the line' comedian-led comedies here! Go, Groucho, go!

Oh, and for those curious, Moriarty didn't win out. Thank goodness.