Monday, 30 November 2015

The End Of November

It's raining, in the dark night. It's the lovely, cleansing, endless rain of the end of November, relentless and windswept. All the gunk and residue of the remains of Summer are being cleaned away, to leave the stark landscape that will see us through Winter. The rain, is magnificent, and continues.

It has been raining for weeks now. The Sun is a long distant memory, and rarely seen even on clear days as the daylight hours reduce in number to less than eight each day. It's like a whole other world, a fantastical other dimension that takes over in the Winter months. Outside my window, it is pitch black and spookily cold, with whistling winds and a squelch under foot. Sometimes, strange noises come from the obscurity, or is that just the imagination, taunting and teasing?

Oh, the gloom of the unknown. It might very well be exactly the same landscape outside now, as it was before, but how are we to tell? That garden, spacious and luxurious as it is, could be home to all kinds of unknowable things in the dark, the dark that has scared me all my life. (Continuing the theme of this author being a scaredy-cat, it is time to reveal that the dark is one of those primal fears not to be overruled.) Even in the dusk, and walking along a well-travelled trail, the pace quickens at the thought of all the cliched horrors that might be lurking, and a walk along a pavement in the dark becomes an ordeal beyond all measure. Even now, the memory of all those sleeps under the protective night light is reassuring, even though the night light itself is also but a memory.

Why be scared of the dark? It's really nothing taken by itself, an absence of light, but we have thought of it throughout time as the time when things go bump in the night, when the spooks come out to play, and things go missing, never to be seen again... Mwahahahahahah. The night time is scary, whether in town or in country. Maybe it's 'The Adventure of the Speckled Band', and its influence on the developing mind, and all the other myths and tales lodged in the collective unconscious...

Have a nice night out there, and don't forget to avoid the bump in the night...


Saturday, 28 November 2015

Television: 'The Adventures of Brisco County jr: High Treason, Part 2' (1994) (Episode 1x26)

It's over. 'The Adventures of Brisco County jr' is over, and they pulled out all the stops to finish it. No gag was left unpulled, no silliness unexpressed, no chance to use Comet's tricks passed by, and there was an airship. The ultimate expression of Professor Wickwire's inventive genius was an airship! Every single recurring character except for Dixie Cousins, who got her own sendoff in 'And Baby Makes Three', reunited in a supreme blob of brilliant nuttiness. In truth, part one was a lot stronger, but a final episode is a very difficult thing to make, especially in the wake of a series' cancellation. This is essentially an encore to everything that ever worked in the show, and a polite forgetting of the things which didn't.

This was a great one-season show, an experiment which worked creatively but never found the audience it needed and deserved, and was one of the pearls of a decade in television caught between the excesses of the 1980s and the revisionism and homages of the  of the 2000s. It was a homage to the old movie serials, a buddy comedy, a fusion of every genre they could fit in to an hour each week, and an optimistic view of the future seen from the now distant past. Yes, it was great to think of 'the things to come' back then, and it should be now too. It's strange to think of that spirit of invention, now long gone. Do people still invent things? Do they?

'Brisco County jr' had the magic balance of a great cast, superb writers, and a gaggle of talented directors. Now it's over. There won't be any more playful banter between Bruce Campbell, Julius Carry and Christian Clemenson. There will be no more flirtatious bantering with the delightful Kelly Rutherford as Dixie, no more wackiness with the legendary John Astin as Wickwire, no more bizarre encounters with dopey Pete Hutter and Whip Morgan. It was great while it lasted.

Did 'Brisco County jr' fulfil its promise? It's hard to say. The most blatant science fictional arc of John Bly and the annoyingly named 'Orb' fizzled badly and eventually was closed out of the show, but the chemistry of the cast and the love of homages to the future and adventure propelled it more and more, especially post-cancellation. For once, a cancelled series did unfurl its wings when there was nothing left to prove, and set out to have some fun while the sun was shining. Yes, you could say that it did fulfil its potential by not having to save anything for future seasons. Every angle did get played, and then it all stopped before it could be played out. Was it ever more than a fun romp? Yes. It was a great fun romp! Thank you, people behind 'Brisco County jr', you did well.


Note: I wrote about the first episode at .

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Fear

There's nothing quite like a pile of possibly life changing events to really put the fear into you. A great unknown opens in front of you, and options vanish into it like a black hole sucking in whole worlds. In the first case, flight tickets are now booked so that I can visit a dear friend, who I've never met, in Miami. Flight tickets. There's nothing I like less than flying. I've written whole posts, or think I have, about how I'll do anything to avoid getting on a plane, including doubling the time and expense to jump on a boat or train! Sadly, when it comes to reaching North America, there is only flying or the massively expensive trans-Atlantic crossing by sea. For your information, whether by cruise liner or freighter, it costs a mere one thousand pounds to cross the Atlantic by sea, each way. Yes, I'll write that again: Each way.

On top of the horrors of future flying, there is also the nightmare of co-writing a grant proposal, which is horrific enough even when the prize of success isn't a two year sojourn in another country. Yes, in a better frame of mind, these would be great avenues of opportunity, to be relished and enjoyed, but... I'm a coward. Yes, the author of the Quirky Muffin is a great big scaredy-cat. The fear of success, that most mystifying fear that touches so many, lurks here in the heart of man. Even the fear of finishing the joined-up version of 'Wordspace' is quite the potent one, as then phase two of that awesome endeavour will have to begin. Finishing things is always scary, isn't it, as you're trading a known for an unknown? Or is that negativity once again?

If this grant proposal were successful, the Quirky Muffin would be written from Poland for two years, more or less. Living in another country is a difficult proposition. People do it all the time, and I admire them for it. The adaptability of mind and manner required is immense, and of all the things I've ever done, moving around in the country and Europe has been the hardest. It's difficult. Maybe it's borderline Asperger-iness, the lack of conveniences, or the simply that the settling in period is so long, and the motivation almost always insufficient. Before that even becomes an issue, there's a bigger hurdle to cross: The career plan.

The career plan is the hardest part of higher level applications. It's never enough to write that you would like to be able to buy food for a few months and try out a new topic to see if it's interesting. No, you have to become eloquent and elaborate. You also have to pretend to talk about yourself, when really the reader wants to know if the things you want are compatible with their needs, and whether you're going to be a long-term investment to them or a short-term colleague. All these things need to be factored in with the notional idea of where you want to be at the end of the project. Where do I want to be? It's been a rough road in research so far, a very rough road. Writing and tutoring is far more pleasant, but pay no bills. It's the Sword of Damocles, hanging once again, ready to cause havoc on whichever side it tumbles. Or, perhaps, it's the Gordian know, which will not be solved.

You see, this is what happens when you think out loud while typing a blog. I miss my therapist. Sure, they wore a duck bill all the time, and thought the harmonica was the greatest instrument ever invented, but at least after the spouting of nonsense was over, you got to hear them use the duck call.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Story: 'The Wheels In The Sky, I'

The wheels in the sky turned. The five remaining Readers watched intently, calculating the ratios of this latest configuration. The Blue Reader looked up, saw the contrast between the largest and the smallest wheels in the first quadrant, and predicted that the summer would be long, warm, and very dry. He also predicted lots of pumpkins near Alfanwid, but that was only because he lived near that town, and loved pumpkins.

The wheels in the sky spun. The Red Reader looked, and saw that all the wheels were spinning in the opposite directions to before, and thought about the first summer she had spent studying the night sky, looking for patterns in the wheels that changed every year, in the tiny cogs and interferences between all the different parts of the great panorama. She predicted that everything would stay the same, except that muffins would become the new breakfast fad in the next year, and orange the fashionable colour.

The cogs in the sky rotated. The Yellow Reader examined them, and looked for the similarities and differences in the Readers around them. The world of the sky was reflected in the people of the world, and just as much could be learnt from them, as from it. He studied the cogs, then the Readers, and then the cogs again. Finally, he noted on his paper his prediction that there would be great tranquility over the lands in the coming cycle, and that the remaining people of the world would enjoy and prosper in good times.

The surface of the world operated above them. The Green Reader, who knew that they lived on the inside of a great mechanical device, looked at the cogs and wondered what lay outside. Was there really an outside? Was there really a configuration of the wheels in the sky that would allow them to see the truth? The great Builders had left nothing but mystery behind them, and the wheels told him only that they had entered the third fifth of the ninth year of the Artisan cycle and that soon he would have to realign the wheels on his sky mower, to remove some moss from the largest wheel of the ninth sector. Officially, he predicted that the world would end, as he always did. He liked to be predictable.

The sky continued its dance. The White Reader, who predicted little usually, looked up and laughed. Writing on her sheet of paper, she predicted that the moon would not be dangerously made of cream cheese, that the great spaghetti god would not get caught in the turning of the wheels and cause chaos, and that the Readers would not lead an exploration to the centre of their world and find a great unexplained absence. Two out of those three were the only correct predictions of the whole batch. At the time, she had no idea...

To continue, or not to continue?

Sunday, 22 November 2015

To Be Tired

It has been months since the summer solstice, and some weeks since the autumnal equinox, and now tiredness is the normal state of things. In a few weeks more, it will all turn around, but for now everything is hard, even the Quirky Muffin. There's so little daytime, and so much sleeping to be done, but will we give in? Will we surrender? Well, maybe not this time! The endurance event that is year's end will not be the breaker this year! Already, it's hard to believe just how many times I've written about the bleakness of this quarter.

All in all, it's not the worst year's end on record, despite the despicable behaviour of the blokes in charge of the country, as I've actually been mildly successful. Yes, an initiative has actually gone well, as my four students of the year's end persist! How unbelievable it is! I knew I wasn't a terrible tutor, but this implies some actual ability. Ability? No, be serious, good grief, there can be no escaping Charlie Brown syndrome at this point. Oh, Charlie Brown, you really are quite the role model!

At this point, it would be remiss of me to neglect that Abraham Lincoln has just beamed aboard the USS Enterprise. We will now go on with the regularly improvised writing of the blog, and ignore that madness. Oh, 'The Savage Curtain' isn't a bad episode of 'Star Trek', not really! Nor was 'Rape And Revenge', part one, from 'Hunter'. Actually, it was a lot less heavy-handed than I thought it would be. All this television watching is extremely habit forming, but at least it's entertaining! It's strange to think that whole series have gone by during this spell between academic jobs.

Soon, it will be a much less tiring time of year. Thank goodness. It won't be so hard to swim, or cycle, or be enthusiastic. Before then, a grant proposal will be written, and much tutoring will be carried with the best of intentions and the best of progress. These may be tough times, but aspiration will get us through, as long as it doesn't transition into the disaster of hubris. Charlie Brown did sometimes get taken down such overweening pride, after all.

Hmm, maybe it's time to check out that first 'Peanuts' movie from the 1960s? Maybe?


Friday, 20 November 2015

Radio: 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective' (1949-1953)

'Ladyhawke' is playing once again, and I'm fascinated. It's a great film, that only grows. I've already written about that, though. Curses! The joined-up version of the first phase of 'Wordspace' isn't quite ready, either, so it's time to dig up a queued topic from the lists...

There was a great old time radio series called 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective', which ran on the NBC radio network. It ran from 1949 to 1953, although the full original cast and writer only hung about for a year. What a year it was, though! There's something culminative about 'Richard Diamond', a post-modern spin on hard-boiled detectives on radio and in print. A large part of that is down to the legendary Blake Edwards, who essentially run the whole show, before going on to make the more legendary 'Peter Gunn' on television and then films galore.

Yes, it's post-modern and funny in the best way, while still being innocent and a bit cheesy in some of the best traditions of radio at the time. The show was led by Dick Powell as the titular detective, who was accompanied by the sumptuously voiced Virginia Gregg as rich girlfriend Helen Asher, the voice for all occasions Wilms Herbert, and the now mythical Ed Begley as Diamond's police lieutenant friend Walt. Yes, the original Ed Begley, the man himself. He wasn't just one of the nasty jurors in 'Twelve Angry Men', you know.

Unusually for the time, it wasn't always about a case of the week in this show. In the first year, particularly, they liked to experiment with the format. One notable example is a direct consequence of the format wherein Diamond would end each episode serenading Helen at the piano, at her request, and involved an irate neighbour employing another detective to nobble his voice so he could get some peace and quiet. It was a fine and funny detective show, which was followed up by a television version which may never see the light of day on home media. I wonder if it was as good with less imaginative input from the audience? David Jansen seems like a weird fit, so maybe they darkened it up?

It's a great old radio show, and one easily checked out at the following link, bearing in mind that the last original team episode is number 51, and the first one or two episodes are scratchy in quality:

Enjoy, phantom readers of the Quirky Muffin, and welcome to the wacky world of Old Time Radio!


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The (Grant) Proposal

The blank prospect of the grant proposal is mocking me. I can feel it, deep in an automated web server, being creepy. How dare these things sit there, projecting creepiness on to the innocent researchers of the world?! Well, I'm reasonable sure there is at least one innocent researcher in the world, if haven't yet deserted to do something more worthwhile, like shelling peanuts or throwing three sheets into the wind. I wonder what the origin of that last saying is, anyway?

<pauses for thought, and research>

According to Wiktionary, which surely can never be wrong, 'three sheets to the wind' refers to the rocky and unsteady behaviour of a ship or boat that can result from having several 'sheets' loose and not controlling the sails properly. In the nautical context, a 'sheet' was a rope that controlled the trim of a sail. Obviously, the saying was going to be related to sailing somehow, but 'sheets' was a very misleading word. The saying is also a euphemism for being drunk, though, so I wouldn't have used it if my knowledge were more extensive.

The blank prospect, the empty page. All potential awaits, if you but have the courage to slap it onto the paper with grave abandon. In this instance, however, all the interesting words will have to removed until the end result is sufficiently bland, and then magic keywords sprinkled throughout so that it triggers the appropriate currency symbols in the readers' minds. Yes, they must think about the money the work might bring in, or reputation, or biscuit subsidies. The triggers must be artfully placed in sight, and blatantly, if this writer can bear to do that. Blast you, you proposal, why can't you be as easy as unlocking the DVD player? Why? Having said that, the DVD unlocking was rather involved...

Oh, the proposal will be written, and written wonderfully. Modesty will be thrown away, and the shovel of fate driven through the snow of success until it collides with the boulder of reality. In the meantime, pristine copies of 'Jamaica Inn' and 'Armadale' await their turns in the reading rotation. Let the effort begin once again.


Monday, 16 November 2015

Book: 'Manalive' by GK Chesterton (1912)

So far, all three of Chesterton's novels that I have read had a point, which is nice. Of course, they might all have had the same point, but that's a question for another day. 'Manalive' is about a seeming innocent man named 'Innocent Smith', who brings joy and wisdom into a boarding house full of repressed and bored residents, before being accused of being insane and dangerous by a doctor and his friend a psychiatrist. Could Innocent really be a murderous, adulterous, lunatic vagabond, or is there something else lurking below the surface? Will his temporary housemates be able to clear his name before he's taken away and imprisoned forever?

Obviously, there would be something else below the surface, a tale about how important it is to remain alive in our lives and not deadened to the irrationalities of day to day mundanities. It's almost tailor-made for the modern day! It's a theme common to many belief systems, and as Chesterton was a theologian this one is tinged with Christian ideology. You could just as easily coat it over the beliefs of your own choice, though, or avoid the mild references for the interesting mystery that unfolds. The novel is split into two parts, the first of which effectively describes the problem, and the second describes the solution, explaining the erratic behaviour of Smith in the process.

It's fascinating, though not as good as 'The Man Who Was Thursday' or 'The Napoleon Of Notting Hill'. Chesterton was clearly a supremely gifted author, and one who wanted to add meaning to what he wrote. Meaning is something of a forgotten virtue in writing, a scorned idea, and a supposedly obsolete concept. If that's true, then why does added meaning make things so much better? Why do Chesterton, Aaron Sorkin, and the others in that small band, write such very good things? And why do so very few people then watch or read them? The answer may be related to the old and controversial idea of populism. Added meaning simply isn't populist, and so companies are reluctant to let it by, and audiences are reluctant at taking the chance of being lectured.

'Manalive' has a similar effect to movies like 'Groundhog Day' and 'Stranger Than Fiction', a vivifying effect which dissipates but slowly. I've not really written much about it, but it was a good novel about a man who, for example, would go all the way around the world just so he could fall back in love with his home upon returning, and the impact of his existence on the people around him. It's also about how to become aware of the things around you, that have long been taken for granted. You might like it. Who knows?


Saturday, 14 November 2015

Bang, bing, bong

Next time, the post will maybe be about the first season of 'The Newsroom', which I watched over the last two days, or 'Manalive' by GK Chesterton, or 'Peanuts'. Today is vague and undefined, but it will at least be slightly easier now that the insomnia and Minecraft binge have worn off. There's nothing like a couple of nights of not sleeping to really sharpen the nerves of a supposed blog writer!

The storm continues to rage outside, and a life without strong winds seems but a distant memory. Over the next few days, there will be so much writing, rewriting and editing that I might just go mad without a walk in the wild outdoors! Blast you, storms from nowhere!

It would be nice to be topical today, to talk about something which is important and invokes a passion or ethical issue. It would be nice to be relevant. 'The Newsroom' may have inspired that desire to return to that style of post. There are things to write, given some fortitude, about the world, the obsolete natures of nationalism and evangelism, the importance of fusing meaning into art and the crucial necessity of confronting the forces that seek to undermine us, constructively. To paraphrase someone else's botched quote, 'the only thing that the good must do is nothing, for evil to be victorious'.

What is to be done? That's a question for another day. For now, as the winds rage, sleep remains elusive, writing work piles up all around, and the future leans back and forth on the fence of uncertainty, it's time to read more and try to not panic. After all, it wouldn't be good for the students! All four of them!


Side notes: 'Plato's Stepchildren' isn't as bad an episode of 'Star Trek' as they say, but it is distasteful and dull. It's definitely skippable in the grand scheme of things.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

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

( Week II , Week IV )


The mind of a robotic laundry operative does not easily cope with whole missing days in its memory. Over the weekend maintenance period, the temporal gap caused by the contents of Professor Bramble's bizarre yellow coat gnawed into my memory registers like detergent into a badly kept bowler hat. What might have happened? Fortunately, the usual business of Monday kept me distracted. This week has begun with Celia and myself detailing and reforming the traditional robes of the Lord Mayor, who happens at the moment to be a hippopotamus. Ever since the previous incumbent, a giraffe called Mabel, passed away, the laundry bill has quadrupled. Plainly, the lord mayoral keepers are not at their best, but fortunately that august office rotates its business around all the laundry establishments in order to not show favoritism. Celia tells horrid stories of the laundry of Mabel's predecessor, which I have steadfastly refused to believe up until now. What madness, in letting public offices fall to water dwelling mammals!


A small blue chap with a red hat, suspiciously similar to he who cleaned up after the Bramble incident, came in today with a bag of identical red hats and a little ball on a piece of string, hanging from a stick. As he handed over the bag, he tried to discreetly wave the ball over in my direction but I dodged. It seemed to light up, in a most surprising manner near the middle washing machine, the one we call Fred or the Boulder, depending on our moods. Looking disappointed, the little being left, and we continued on with our duties. Today was a three robot day, yesterday having the Windslow Cup, a charity golf tournement in aid of the Prison. You might wonder why we still have a Prison, when we only have one ceremonial Prisoner, who is treated like royalty. These things are not for mere laundry robots to contemplate. Bobbie had been very quiet today, but then went berzerk five minutes before closing time, tried to wash all the ties in a giant colander, and has been taken away by Rocktop Beta for extended analysis. I suspect the owners bought Bobbie on the cheap...


Today was a supplemental maintenance period. I listened to my occupational therapist BoomBoom explain that last week's amnesia must not be lingered on, and that life was about the future as much as the past. I retorted that it was alright for him to lecture, as he still had all his marbles. Then, BoomBoom started telling jokes from his two hundred year old joke book and I stopped listening.


Our newest owner, reclusive millionaire Bonzo Meredith, visited and inspected us today. He had a fake moustache and wore a gorilla suit. I sense that the mental health of our wealthy citizens has finally begun to improve. He even managed to read our names from the labels we bear as laundry operatives. I sometimes wonder just how humans managed to create the world we live in. Celia told me, when I relieved her at the beginning of the day, that Bobbie had been one of Meredith's household robots until an incident with a mechanical rice picker and a bottle of exotic liqueurs led to an unfortunate breakdown. Apparently, Bobbie's current state is an improvement. This is hard to believe. Tomorrow, is my second scheduled maintenance of the week, thank goodness. I want to ask BoomBoom what he knows about Meredith.


I'm writing now from an unknown place. My last working day of the week was inexplicable. The little blue being came back, this time with a suitcase full of odd socks, which he claimed were his employer's. Upon loading the socks into my special sock tank, the little fellow suddenly pulled out the ball on the stick and waved it around me. It glowed pink, he said, 'Oh my!', and I vanished into this inexplicable place. How I wish I had more non-laundry related vocabulary in order to explain it better! There's a large tower generator in one corner, and a big book on a column. I had best now shut down in order to conserve battery power, being disengaged from the laundry network.

There shall be more...

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Six Hundred And Two

Six hundred and two posts, and still counting. The magic thousand seems unattainable, requiring as it does more than two years of consistent writing on any topics that come to hand. Just today, I was trying to conjure up a piece on the difficulty in understanding how things can be difficult for other people, and then it crumbled into a pile of condescending words of little to no point. Sometimes it does all just crumble, composition-wise. Someone else would probably have found it easy. Ha.

Instead, it might be a good idea to write a little about the intricacies of putting together a reading list, as I have done for the purposes of teaching English. What should be in a reading list, especially for younger readers? After some thought, it was stuffed with more rollicking adventures than you would think existed in the world, inspired both by my own reading and that of friends. The hardest part was actually withstanding the urge to pump in female led books I hadn't read, just for the political correctness of it all. I'll have to read more and then throw them in after reflection. Oh, it wasn't difficult at all to leave out Harry Potter and Tolkien, though. In fact, much delighted chuckling was heard from the bottom of Clomp's pile in those excisions!

A reading list is both a reassuring and a limiting thing, if used incorrectly. Some people, when presented with such a list, would scrupulously read only the novels listed therein and then stop, having learnt nothing from the process. That list ticking has to be combated by making an introductory reading list that is packed with books that make you want to read more, and not some of the worthy things that will put you to sleep with boredom. At school, we had a terrible set of reading texts, that utterly killed any enjoyment. It's amazing that I didn't give it all up, especially when 'MacBeth' was foisted upon us all. It was nicer in primary school, where in the senior class you got to browse the bookshelves and read what you liked. That doesn't happen any more, alas. Those books aren't there anymore, probably.

Perhaps this is really a post about books. I used to spend hours in the library in town, browsing through the unusual and eccentric collection, but then it fell away. The selection changed, as it has throughout the county system. The number of books on the shelves shrank, then the book cases reduced in size, and finally it became an exercise in looking through the books you would find in any library, all the titles that are already most popular and sanctioned by the powers that be. It was nice to be able to pick up utterly absurd combinations and unusual titles, and read whatever you liked. Was it ever really like that, or is it just my imagination? Is that a furry carrot sitting on the beanstalk?

Books are the greatest form of entertainment, the minimal form which exists as much as is possible in your own imagination. If only there were more time to read...


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Television: 'The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show' (1983-1985)

Now, this is the 'Peanuts' cartoon I remembered. The specials from the previous decades were all fine and good, but this show is the one that for me epitomises the true spirit of the Schulz comic strip. Freed from the necessity of a continuing story for the whole duration, 'The Charley Brown and Snoopy Show' got to touch on every aspect of the strip, and excelled for it's short set of 18 episodes. It's all there, in its most complete form. Wonderful.

As the new 'Peanuts' movie approaches, and it's a film with an extremely high standard to meet, it's refreshing to get back to this key incarnation of 'Peanuts' animations. The original 'Peanuts' movies could be good, too, but as I've not seen them they will not be referred to again until they get their own posts. This show has all the things you associate with the 'Peanuts' television incarnation. It has the musical instrument (kazoo?) for the teacher voices at school, the rampant jazz music, Peppermint Pattie and Marcie, the football gag on an endless loop, Lucy badgering Schroeder, all of the blanket shenanigans, lots of the baseball team, and far, far more.

In a world of lacklustre cartoons, 'The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show' stands out like no other. 'Garfield and Friends' is in distant second place, if anyone's interested. There are no villains, and serious topics are touched on and sometimes become plot points. In a cartoon today, the baseball team wouldn't have their first victory nullified because Linus's kid brother had gambled on the outcome (it was only a nickel, I think), nor would unrequited love take over a Valentine's Day episode or Marcie get to bash a lovestruck kid for calling her 'lambcake'. If it weren't such a funny and touching show, built deeply into the foundation of the touching and funny comic strip, it would be very sad. As it is, reality permeates through 'Peanuts', as it always has. The reports say that the new movie has a happy ending, which is almost a contradiction to the idea of the strip, but we'll see where the truth lies.

Oh, 'Peanuts', you have become far more important as time goes by. Not only have the 'Complete Peanuts' books allowed the whole canon to be read and enjoyed, but the specials are now mostly released on DVD, the 'Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show' is there to be bought, as are the first set of movies. Much like in research, you should always go to the source, but give the kite eating tree a wide berth, because you know how dangerous that thing is.


Friday, 6 November 2015


Friendship is what makes the world bearable, even in the case of hermits like myself. No-one is entirely an island, after all, and the human need for self-expression is one of the most powerful drives that we have. In fact, this topic was suggested by my friend Eglis, currently in the Caribbean and watching an impressive burst of rainfall. Without such friends, and my students, I would go mad from complete seclusion!

Friendship, amity, and partnership. Noble old words of peace that have recurred through all the legends and narratives in history. Holmes and Watson, Kirk and Spock, the Knights of the Round Table, Odysseus and his crew, the Ghostbusters, and many more have sustained civilization throughout those bleak days of war and strife. Now, in these more enlightened days, we generate new myths and stories and add women into the lists, as they should have been long before now. What will happen next? We don't know.

Friendship has been a difficult thing to find, and only rarely has it lasted. Perhaps it's difficult to live up to the great friendships that have permeated literature and television, or perhaps I'm just a reclusive weirdo. Enough autobiography, though, as the world is a huge place, and there are people enough for everyone to find someone of similar interests. In the meanwhile, there are stories to write, jobs to apply for, and things to read. Always things to read.

It's difficult to write about friendship. It's much easier to write about abstract concepts, novels, or films. Instead, here we have something obvious which needs no explanation. There's a better version of this post somewhere in my mind, which will eventually erupt from the mind one day. In the meantime, expect stories!


Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Reincarnation, preincarnation, yellow carnartion?

It's a Wednesday in early November, and the darkness has been upon us for many hours already. It has been a week with three students in three days so far, and yet another scheduled on the morrow. Original thoughts are scarce, and bursts of inquisitiveness are fleeting. On the other hand, while hunting down a new student's address earlier, I did wonder just what happens in streets where new houses are built in the free spaces. Do all the numbers change, or do A's and B's suddenly erupt with a vengeance, in true Baker Street style? Perhaps either can happen, depending on the situation?

Creativity can take some damage in the darkened months of the year, where here we we will have a lot less than eight hours of day time in the depths of December. Truly, if we have problems with depressions here, then I can understand how people fall apart completely in the Arctic, Alaska and Siberia. We may be adaptable creatures, but some sunlight is definitely required for survival! Or is it? Are we really secretly mole-people from Planet Z, plotting to take over our own world? Maybe that's it? Oh, those mole-people! Oh, if only I hadn't already made that gag!

The first version of this post started out trying to be interminable reiterations of the importance of language, to which I now write: 'Blurgel! To tosheroos with it all! There will be no peace as long as Kirk lives!' If I have to keep on making insane job applications for things I should be able to do easily, then what is the point of being serious about it all? Is that too cynical? Blast. Maybe it is. I'll put on the counselling dockets for the next three incarnations, as well as the renewed preoccupation with 'Star Trek', which I didn't pay attention to properly for decades. Oh, and put down 'obsessive preoccupation with lemons for preincarnation counselling, which is just as important, and order the lesser seen red carnations for both, which exemplify indulgence in tangents and bad jokes.

As crashes sound from the kitchen, wolves howl at the moon, and the theme to 'Superted' gets caught in my mind, it's time to finish up and get down to the serious business of getting through the book pile. It's a fascinating mix, undermined by a shortage of relaxation time...


Monday, 2 November 2015

Film: 'Kiss Me, Stupid' (1964)

This film was one of the worst bombs of the famed director Billy Wilder's career, and exemplifies the problems Wilder had when the censorship system he had fought against for decades vanished. When you define yourself by defiance, and then lose all your boundaries, bad things can happen in the ensuing excess! On many levels, you could successfully argue that Wilder failed without those boundaries to rail against. Also, 'Kiss Me, Stupid' was a black and white film in the colour age of 1964, which can't have helped. Critics hated the movie, and reviled it. 'Is it actually that bad?', we can wonder, while remembering the usually redemptive nature of the Quirky Muffin.

'Kiss Me, Stupid' is a fascinating oddball movie, and a very good one too. Where it fails is in its polarising oddness, as embodied by the lead actor Ray Walston, playing piano teacher and aspiring songwriter Orville Spooner and Kim Novak's jauntily strange Polly the Pistol. The film was originally meant to be for Jack Lemmon, who then transmuted into Peter Sellers, who in turn fell away due to a heart attack. As a result, Walston is performing well out of his comfort zone at very short notice! He pushes Spooner further out into the world of weirdness than he may have wanted to, but it does work, more so as the film progresses. Except for the knitting sequence, which is just plain bizarre.

It's a rather strange story for 1964, adapted from a play and a previous Italian film. The plot breaks down as follows. Spooner and his mechanic friend Barney (Cliff Osmond) are aspiring song makers. Spooner is insanely jealous of his own attractive wife Zelda (Felicia Farr). Singer and actor Dean Martin (Dean Martin) passes through town and is sabotaged by Barney so he will stay over at the Spooners and be sold on some of their songs. Then, in order to lull the famed lothario, they get rid of Zelda and bring in a good time girl called Polly the Pistol from the local bar to pose as Zelda and woo the singer. After that, more things happen that will not be spoilt, but it does culminate in some pairings you wouldn't expect.

Many things could have led to the hatred that awaited this film. It may have been the sheer dislocation from reality that the trio of Walston, Billy Wilder and the ever semi-distant and semi-primal Novak formed. It may have been the subject matter, which the ever-conservative American critics and official society would have denounced at every opportunity, the movie dealing as it did with a double infidelity that actually restored the couple to normality against accepted doctrine. It could have been Dean Martin playing a parody of himself, or at least a caricature. Whatever the combination of factors may have been, the movie failed, and yet it didn't die. People still talk about 'Kiss Me, Stupid', and it is actually rather good. On first watching, I went from wondering what kind of strange disaster it was, to a grudging acceptance, and then a grand appreciation. It's not the equal of Wilder's classic 'The Apartment' by any measure, but it does have charms and a uniqueness all its own, and is saved by the ever unpredictable Kim Novak. Novak's Polly goes from a lost and worldly soul to a wiser woman with some hope by the end. It's a transition in a milder vein but similar to her role in 'Bell, Book and Candle'.

As with lots of films I've talked about here, 'Kiss Me, Stupid' was unfairly thrown into the dustbin of cinematic history. It's a quietly funny caper, a bit on the bawdy side at times, but it does have a heart of gold at its core, and an entirely non-standard ending and story for a Hollywood film. Maybe that was the killing factor? A lack of conformity to everything else being made? It's hard to know without experiencing the era as it was, but it's as good an answer as we will ever have. It deserves to be seen as much as all the other Billy Wilder films, and continues to be rehabilitated as time goes on.