Wednesday, 30 December 2015

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

( Week IV , Week VI )


Everyone seems to be called 'Querg' here. I want to ask my new supervisor Querg about that, but don't feel quite ready to enquire. I'm already busy enough taking care of all the Bureau of History's hats, and am beginning to fall behind. Every single Querg has a hat with a bobble, and the different colours of material, lining and bobble indicate what exactly it is that that Querg does. My supervisor's hat has a red material, which indicates an association with the Books, a white bobble of secondary affiliation with History, and the red lining of a Querg on active field duty. He explained this to me when he he established the Laundry in the Bureau's basement. It's a massive Laundry compared to the old one, with all kinds of unusual apparatus. The new experience is thrilling! Today I learnt all about extra-dimensional bobble care!


My supervisor has been true to his word, and Celia has joined me here in the Bureau Laundry. We had a lovely reunion, where we talked about the novelty of it all, and then Querg took her away for her orientation. It will be so nice to have a companion during the rinsing run. I wonder how Bobbie is getting on back at home? Might she have destroyed the place by now, or would my successor have managed to keep the place in one piece? My own orientation was a brief process, where it was explained to me that I no longer needed to recharge thanks to a slight redesign and the nature of the Continuum itself. Apparently, machines are fixed to be self-sustaining here. How strange!


Our contracts have arrived, and are quite unexpected. Apparently we are going to get weekends off, and have free licence to explore the Querg Continuum as we wish. The concept of free time for a laundry robot is almost nonsensical. I don't quite understand what it we are supposed to do. Celia is equally perplexed. This might be linked to the prevailing idea that we're sentient robots. Don't they understand that we only know laundry? I wonder what BoomBoom would say about all this. He was always such a refreshing maintenance therapist. Celia just this morning pointed out that we don't have maintenance any more. How scary! Almost as scary as the Grand High Querg's hat, which came in this morning. It's three times as long as the others, and reputedly trips him up several times a day! We're almost afraid to touch it!


Supervisor Querg introduced us to our maintenance Querg this morning, and he seemed very nice. He even offered to show us around the area on Saturday, as part of our introduction to the Continuum. Apparently this whole land exists in a state of -- <logic circuits suspended> -- temporal grace, outside of the universe as we know it. I can not even pretend to understand, but Celia looked very excited and interested, and her diodes lit up like Venusian tree decorations. I believe she was more flexibly programmed. The maintenance Querg has a green hat, which he said is linked to staffing and recruitment, a blue lining for home duty, and a white bobble again for a secondary link to History. Most Quergs seem to have white bobbles, as far as I can tell.


The last day of our first week has arrived, and it seems to have gone very well. Both of our Quergs have said we performed well, and now all we have to do is return the Grand High Querg's hat in pristine condition, and then work out how this 'free time' phenomenon is supposed to work. Celia is getting very excited, but my concern is how we're going to get around in this strange land. Do these Quergs even have parks? We work in a basement, yes, but part of the area is without building above, and the sky through the glass is fascinating. We have begun to talk about what we might find out there. Could there be neck-ties????

To be continued...

Monday, 28 December 2015

Twenty Fifteen

The year is almost over, but it's not going out peacefully as floods inundate parts of Great Britain. In one of the scariest wet seasons on record - oh, of course it's not climate change, of course, it's just that someone ate an orange in the wrong place somewhere - whole towns have been submerged, in the wake of yet another of the hottest years on record. Obviously, nothing is going on here at all. People will probably admit climate change once there are only five people left, two of whom have to keep running away from the giant mutant crabs that evolved out of all the pollution.

However, let's not get too topical here, as partisan ideologies continue to repeatedly decimate the country. There are other things to talk about. Twenty fifteen wasn't an altogether bad year. In board games, for example, it was one of the best years on record. Just today, I was listening to the Dice Tower's top ten board game roundups and there are some fantastic sounding games lurking out there, one of the most interesting being based around and titled 'Shakespeare'. Would you like to put on a hit play? Well, this is the game to do it in. Alternatively, if you prefer the idea of playing/managing future baseball, with added features like cyborgs, then try 'Baseball Highlights 2045', or you could build the architecture of old New York tetris-style in 'New York 1901'. You might even indulge in 'Above And Beyond', which I can't even adequately outline from the description yet. Something about farmers, building towns in caverns under their lands? Apparently, it was a great year for games.

It was a pretty good year for the Quirky Muffin too, as it became ever more popular with mindless Internet robots. and deranged cybernetic squirrels in Sweden. At least it never felt as if we were going to run out of material, and the pointless extemporaneous posts on 'nothing at all' came back into play, both of which are very reassuring things. Some time in the future, I'll either fall into the next dimension or this will become too much work, but for now it works in a minimalist kind of way. Looking back, the only alarming aspect is the absence of very many book reviews, which will be rectified, and probably with a vengeance if I get that project in Poland and spend two years being utterly confused outside of my own rooms. You can expect many book reviews in that circumstance! It's hard to know what went wrong with the book reading, apart from the fact that my poor, tired, enduring brain doesn't have so much energy for all the many things I would like to do any more and a couple of short story collections really blocked things up. The brain needs more vegetables, and a nice quiet time in a well-lit room. More book reviews would be nice.

Twenty fifteen was a very rough year, but now it's almost over. Let's hope that twenty sixteen sees a nicer and fairer society emerge from this mess, and with many fewer floods! Oh, and if we can have lots more interesting-sounding board games, that would be nice too.


Saturday, 26 December 2015

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

( Week III , Week V )


Hello? Are you working, journal program? There's a strange little blue being looking at me through a magnifying glass. Actually, he's examining my memory circuits. I think he must have tripped my power switch. He's talking to me, now, so I'll note our conversation:

Him: "Hello? You've woken up, then? Welcome to the Querg Continuum."

Me: "Welcome to where? I'm only programmed for laundry, and my battery must be running low, so could you return me to my laundry?"

Him: "Ah, you need not fear about your battery. It's all being taken care of. My name is Querg."

Me: "Yes, but..."

Him: "No, I insist. You're in a strange new world now. This is where we live, the Quergs that police time and space."

Me: "What's that got to do with socks, jumpers and woolly hats?"

Him: "Well, it's funny that you should mention hats, since we do have need of your rather specialised services."

Me: "Me? You need me?"

Him: "Yes, indeed. When that spatio-temporal incident occurred in your laundry, you came to my attention in the course of cleaning up the possible consequences. We really need someone to take care of our hats."

Me: "Your hats?"

The being - possibly he was a Querg? - looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. He was a curiously shaped fellow, blue and furry, but he was wearing a hat. Strangely it was a red and dangly example, with a white bobble on the end.

Him: "Yes, we are very fond of our hats, and their forms describe many or our roles and functions. I, for example, am a Keeper of the Books, and a Guardian of History. We like to keep our bobbles in good condition. Tell me, would you know what to do when confronted with volcanic ash on my hat?"

Me: "My programming is comprehensive, sir. However, I belong to my laundry."

Him: "You did, yes. However, we have made a deal with your owner, which we would like you to ratify, being a sentient cleaning robot."

Me: "Ratify? I'm a low-class cleaning robot. No-one has ever called me sentient, either! Not even Celia on our evenings out at the Wash-O-Rama!"

Him: "Celia? Do you have an attachment with this 'Celia'?"

Me: "It would hardly be polite to say, but we have been a team for a very long time. I wouldn't know what to do without her."

Him: "We hadn't considered this..."

Me: "I really couldn't stay without her. She has best precision scrubbing apparata."

Him: "Perhaps we can work something out. While I go and renegotiate, perhaps you would consider the potential advantages to becoming a co-founder of our Bureau's hat maintenance regime. We do have access to all of the universe and its history, you know."

Me: "All of..."

Him: "Yes, there are advantages."

Me: "Good grief! I could get an autograph from the legendary WashBot Alpha!"

At this point, the being looked a little disappointed, but sait it would be possible. WashBot Alpha! Wow! I can't think why he's sighing like that.

There shall be more.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Eve

This is Christmas. What's it all about? I have no idea. What's the meaning of it all? It varies from person to person. Is there a mass of reasons for why its potential is undeniably positive? Yes. There is. Every time I see a film, or a television episode, or read a story about Christmas, it is always focussed on people doing nice things, redeeming themselves, and improving lives. Even as a principled agnostic, any season which is based on love and forgiveness has to have a large amount of positive potential. Yes, it may be drowned in the materialism of gifts and merchandise at the moment, but these things change, and are changing right now. There's a definite twist in the air against materialism, or so it seems to my twisted antennae. Perhaps it's getting worse instead? Who knows for sure?

Christmas Eve continues, and my fingers continue to tap, pausing at times when the words dry up. It's one of those nights, following a day with more than an hour of gruelling uphill cycling and a bucket of television watching. The Christmas fortnight is always the occasion for a mammoth binge of film and television watching in the Other Room. Yes, there is another room, where things happen, of which we dare not speak.

Good grief, i've just realised that the end of year 'summing up' is almost upon me. This could get ugly. If the Quirky Muffin vanishes for a hebdomad, it will be to avoid this ordeal. Did you see how I used the obscure word there? Did you get it? Yes, a 'hebdomad' means a period of seven consecutive days, or a week in more concise terms. How many more such terms have gone, I wonder. Only in the last hebdomad did I see 'The Peanuts Movie' and marvel at the references that might mean nothing to people unused to knowledgeable writing and the world of the comic strip. It truly was a scholarly work quite apart from its entertainment value and deep seated humour. Is that a weakness in a family film?

Does there need to be an end of year 'summing up'? Is that even what the Quirky Muffin was set up to do? No, not really. The Quirky Muffin was set up so I could write, with the challenge of meeting some quality standard due to it being published. It's a toy. There doesn't need to be a summing up at all! Especially with the joined up version of 'Wordspace' still lurking at the three-quarter completion mark. Oh, it's getting close, and will only be delayed by the end of year dvd marathon! What's in the marathon? It is, so far, ludicrous in its abundance, and has included the following movies and series episodes: 'The Ghost Breakers', 'Quantum Leap: Genesis', 'The Invaders: Doomsday Minus One', 'Star Trek: The Savage Curtain', 'Star Trek: All Our Yesterdays', 'El Dorado', and 'The West Wing: The State Dinner'. The 'M*A*S*H' element hasn't even begun yet, nor have the traditional viewings of 'Mr Smith Goes To Washington' and 'Mr Deeds Goes To Town'. All together, and with 'The Muppet Show' in reserve, it's going to be pretty special, especially as we're only one episode of 'Star Trek' away from graduating into their movies.

Was that interesting? Of course not. Well, maybe it provided some inspiration. Columbia-era Frank Capra for the Christmas win!


PS A begrudging 'Merry Christmas' to you all. Snark. Grumble. Mutter.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Film: 'The Peanuts Movie' (2015)

Now, that was worth it. Finally, a movie that I truly wanted to see, and which turned out to be wonderful. Tears were shed, and kites were flown, as Charlie Brown and Snoopy made it back to the big screen. No, it wasn't 'Star Wars', but the film that should have been attracting far more theatre goers on quality alone. The film about that boy who worries too much, his dog with the imagination that doesn't quit, and his friends.

'Peanuts' is the most enduring, lengthy and iconic comic strip to date, and one that's both funny and true. It ran for (almost) fifty years, drawn and written solely by Schulz, and is a monument to ingenuity and perseverance. 'The Peanuts Movie' is a faithful and fast paced montage of several of the arcs that formed the thematic backbone of the strip, and a homage to the equally legendary 'Peanuts' animated specials that ran on television for decades, as well as 'The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show' and the previous four animated theatrical films. We'll get to those movies here, in good time.

'The Peanuts Movie' works, undeniably. The core focus on the leading duo of Charlie Brown and his eccentric dog Snoopy remains undamaged, as we follow Charlie's seemingly endless string of failures, and Snoopy's flights of fantasy, until they both dovetail in one of the most blissful happy endings you wouldn't have expected from a 'Peanuts' movie. Yes, Charlie Brown gets his (small) happy ending, and, by golly, he deserves it after all these decades of setbacks! It may not be most Schulz-ian thing in the film, but it does work. Yes, he will have more problems in the future, but a small success is ever sweeter for its rarity and charm.

The switch to computer generated imagery is handled seamlessly, and done with great taste and discretion. Yes, it's got depth, but it still preserves enough of its two-dimensional hand-drawn heritage to be true to all of its source material. It's wonderful to see Snoopy's First World War Flying Ace engaging in dog fights with his nemesis, the Red Baron. It's great to see Charlie Brown's attempts to be successful and win the heart of the Little Red Haired Girl. It's wonderful to hear that jazzy music that powered the specials and the television series again. It's all wonderful. The only gripes are the modifications made to fit most of the cast into one school class and close geographical area, and the critical complaint of it being unambitious, which latter problem is not a problem as the strip was never ambitious in that way either.

Go see 'The Peanuts Movie' if you can, for it is wonderful, heartfelt, and funny in all the best ways. I really don't see how anyone could not like it if they've got a heart.


PS Don't blink, but you've been Solsticed. The days draw out from today, folks!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

To Fold

Things have been folded, and the origami heaven that is Christmas has arrived. 'Lo,' said the strange old man with the fish fingers, 'Christmas is here, and we may begin to fold.' He was right, that strange old codger, and I really don't think he needed to be thrown out of that diner the way he was.

It's amazing to see what you can do with squares of paper. At the most basic levels, you can make boats, boxes, birds, vases, tulips, action models, and modular geometry that would take your breath away. It's an exercise in creation on the small scale, a little bit of crafting accessible to all, no matter your level of creative ability. You can take that flat piece of paper, and turn it into a three-dimensional model, simply.

There's a myth, which I've always wanted to believe, that if you folded a thousand origami cranes you could make a miracle. I tried it, once, a long time ago, but stalled somewhere in the two hundreds. A miracle was needed, but none came. It's nice to think that you might be able to make your own miracle, instead of just hoping for some omnipotent being to align itself with your cause. It's the form of horribly difficult miracle that would be attainable to the common person if they truly cared enough. It's an industrious and independence fostering kind of miracle, even if the very concept of wishing for a miracle does reinforce a dependent architecture of thought. How's that for a contradictory statement?

Origami can stimulate a certain philosophical frame of mind, as seen in the previous passage. It can also get you through running a stall at the local produce market, and a wonderfully relaxing weekend of dogsitting. Yes, origami heaven is back in time for Christmas, and that can't be a bad thing. This is the Quirky Muffin, nestling in a paper-driven puddle of tranquility.

Go fold a crane.


Friday, 18 December 2015

This Is The Rumba Of My Mind

The clickety-clack of the keys continues, as the author tries to pound out something sensible after a day of being confused and mathematical. The rigours of trying to find a two-dimensional solution to a pair of partial differential equations recede as the composition process takes over, and the pain of a broken year-long sugar respite sizzles. Oh, the pain.

Yes, it can be done. The words can continue. The words must continue, as dogsitting leaves lots of time for composition and random writing, especially with a spell of locum selling at the local Pontyates produce market included. Oh, the local produce market, a fascinating event where locals in a poor region turn up with their produce and try to sell it at extortionate prices, usually failing. The produce market before Christmas will be an unusual time. While trying to sell my absent mother's painted glass, I plan to do some origami demonstrations. Turn up, if you dare!

Oh, I've just been reminded that 'Duel' exists, that awesome Spielberg television movie that inspired and prototyped 'Jaws'. 'Duel' will almost certainly be part of the weekend. Ah, 'Duel', the humourless mini-epic that truly demonstrated that a large budget wasn't necessary to make a thrilling cinematic ordeal. Oh, if only there were a few jokes, though. Just one or two. And fewer snakes. Less snakes would be an advantage.

Miami is looming. A mammoth trip, with almost a day of flying in total. It will be gruelling, but also a grand opportunity to catch up with the books that have loitered on my piles for too long. Yes, the plan is in, and those books will be dealt with! Mwahahahahaha! They're not bad books, just ones that don't beg to be read. 'A Connecticut Yankee' will be dealt with, as will volume two of 'Journey to the West', Freud's book on jokes, and Jung's 'Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious' will get a lump taken out of it too. The plan is in.

Tomorrow: Origami and sales!


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Movie: 'Jamaica Inn' (1939)

Another hole in my knowledge of the Hitchcock canon is filled, and so another film post is born. What a fascinating film this is, a curious blend of the Charles Laughton influence (he was in some ways the British Orson Welles) with the Hitchcock mold as set by 'The Thirty Nine Steps'. Or, if you prefer a different kind of fascinating, then just look at Laughton's incredibly strange false eyebrows, which were presumably accurate representations of the fashions of the time. What a creepy look that man had! It seems as if this version of 'Jamaica Inn' decided that evil would best be indicated by demented eyebrows and mad staring eyes...

To put 'Jamaica Inn' in context, this adaptation was released only three years after the publication of Daphne du Maurier's novel, and stands as the last entry in Hitchcock's British period. His next film would be 'Rebecca', kicking off the American era. Hitch's preceding film was 'The Lady Vanishes', which I like rather a lot, but this one is hard to quantify. In many ways, especially given Laughton's performance (which various people have described as 'ripe', 'hammy', or even 'broad') it's a satire, but in other aspects it's a straightforward adaptation of a bestseller, and also a Hitchcock adventure/thriller. Hitchcock always seemed a little limited when he did adaptations, trapped in between excellent source material and doing what he actually wanted to do. In this case, he also had Laughton to contend with, a domineering presence, and whatever modifications were made to the story in the adaptational process. This will be clearer when the novel makes it to the top of my reading piles.

'Jamaica Inn' is the story of the young lady Mary Yellen (Maureen O'Hara), newly orphaned, who arrives in Cornwall to live with her Aunt in the eponymous inn. Secretly, however, the aunt's husband is leader of a gang of merciless and murderous wreckers, who have already killed dozens of sailors, and take their orders from the bizarre and hereditarily mad Sir Humphrey Pengallan, who is also the local magistrate. Mary promptly, and with great prescience for a woman in a period novel, rescues a novitiate rebellious wrecker Traherne (Robert Newton) from the gang's murderous ways, and destroys the system they've built up over the years, thanks to said rescued wrecker being an undercover officer of the law.

Apparently, this film is regularly listed as one of the worst movies of all time, and declared Hitchcock's worst. It certainly does start badly, but picks up a little tension when Laughton's Pengallan is put in the middle of the action, being in on the raid that Traherne organises and cautiously biding his time until revealing his underhanded true nature. In fact, he takes so long to unmask himself as the villain to the gallant lady and policeman, that you begin to wonder if he'll get away with it! I can't see this is as one of the worst movies made, no. How curious a judgement that is. Bizarre...

'Jamaica Inn' is not Hitchcock's best, not at all, but there are good points to the film. Maureen O'Hara gives a solid performance, Laughton goes not so much over the top as overboard, and the acting is up and down by actor. There is some nice banter between some of the wreckers, who are well defined individually, but Newton comes off as a blander version of Michael Redgrave or Robert Donat, from Hitch's earlier films. It's a curiously enjoyable film, which even touches on spousal abuse, with the loyalty of Mary's aunt toward her wrecking and somewhat brutal husband. Hitch could get away with a lot more in his British years than he could in America.


Monday, 14 December 2015

There Are No Magical Giraffes In This Post

Welcome to the first Monday of the rest of your life. Did you have a nice weekend? Were you chased by magical giraffes? Really? Why not? Sometimes I wonder at the comparatively small number of magical giraffe sighting in this area, and what the implications might be. I write to you now from the little valley of relief that you find after completing the hideous process of applying for a job, which no-one needs explained to them. Yes, the whole of life has been summarised into a few lines, and now it's time to kick back and finish some of the more enjoyable parts of existence.

Hang on. How exactly does this 'enjoying life' bit work again? It has been a while. Should there be a trumpet involved somewhere? Or a pack of playing cards themed to the characters from 'Rainbow'? (Bonus points for readers, if there are any, who know 'Rainbow'.) Perhaps freewheeling on this blog is good enough? It is nice to have the words flow easily, for once, possibly due to a haircut and a good mood. I've not actually checked for themed playing cards before. I wonder if...

Ahem. Excuse me. That was a brief trip down the rabbit hole of the Internet, and now this post will continue on its original random trajectory, to nowhere in particular. Christmas is nearing, and even the principled agnostic needs a period to relax from time to time. Relax from what? The stresses of not working? I scoff at myself! Ha! Perhaps this whole post should turn into an adversarial monologue, in a rash attempt to see out the festive period from a rubber room? Ho ho ho. It might be more interesting than this random extemporising, but no. Also, there is no Father Christmas in the wardrobe. You're imagining that. Or I am.

It's fun to extemporise, and forget the poisonous political issues of the day. Just let all that nonsense go away for a little bit, and think about what to read, and how to spend the next few days. Plot out the lessons for the next few students, and wonder at the marvel that is 'The Muppet Show'. I'm still amazed that show got made, as excellent as it is. Or perhaps now is a good time to hunt down some new recipes to test disastrously on anyone foolish enough to draw near. The last attempt was lovely roast butternut squash, but the maddening fools didn't take to it en masse. Humbug! What else might be done with a butternut squash?

Cooking is fun. Cooking is lovely. The horrible part is giving the food to other people to eat. I wonder how chefs resist the pull toward madness? Or are they all mad? That might explain several of them, in fact. Now, not having used the cliched ellipsis nearly enough in this post, let's close, and hope that none of the magical giraffes ate the tops off the wagons again. Those wagon covers sure are difficult to replace...



Saturday, 12 December 2015

Story: The Ninja of Health, VI

( Part V , VII )

A third circle lay there in the pattern of the Floor of Spirals. The Man and the Woman sat there, ill at ease with the harmony they had just achieved with their home. The Woman looked at her companion. "Dare we move?" She asked?

"You're the one who taught me, dear heart." He mused for a few moments. "Everything you ever told me about the Floor implied that it merely reflected the outside world and our places within it."

"Yes, that is what Old Master Ken taught me, however..." The Woman hesitated.


"He told me that there were other things, best left untouched. Things of the OTher. Look at how chaotic and disintegrated the pattern becomes there, almost forming something else, entirely. Something different."

"We will have to consult the Appendices. Perhaps even the Oracle" The Man cupped his chin in his left hand, and studied. "We'll have to leave, whatever we conclude here." He tried to stand up, and hit his arms and knees on air. "By the Oath..." His companion also tried and hit her head on the atmosphere. They looked at each other, and then levered themselves to standing against the floor and the barrier they couldn't see.

"It's cylindrical." Observed the Woman.

"No top I can reach." Said her friend in his turn. "Climb?"


Levering themselves up the barriers, they squirmed upward against gravity, finally finding a gap for escape near the ceiling. Incongruously resting on the edge of tubes' exits, they looked down at the Floor.

"We've been invaded." The Man concluded.

"Yes." The Woman agreed.

"Oh, definitely." The Invader threw in.

The tubes shattered.

To be continued...

Thursday, 10 December 2015

It Ends With Monkeys

As the Miami trip edges closer to the present, and we all approach the Solstice, the Quirky Muffin edges into over-drive as entries get prepared and scheduled IN ADVANCE to cover this author's absence. Yes, you poor notional destitute blog reader, you will not be abandoned. These hollow mockeries will continue to echo through your phantasmic visual orifices! So far, two of the five needed entries are in the bag, and three more will be done before that fateful week in June. Hmmm. Best moderate that statement a little. The three will be done, if this disgusting Minecraft addiction can be defeated.

Addictive behaviour is one of the hardest things to break, especially when the activity isn't itself harmful except for using up too much time. The brain is essentially lazy, after all, and tries to keep its behavioural patterns, no matter ther implications. A lot of addictions are also centred around altered brain chemistry due to over-use, which is easily linked to computer abuse. No, not being hit over the head with a laptop, but over-stimulation of the brain via computer games and other things. If sugar can be dropped, then so can Minecraft and constant e-mail watching, surely? I just proved myself wrong, didn't I? Too much computer time isn't just a waste, but also brain-altering. Blast.

Preparing blogs in advance is arduous, but worthwhile. It's also a massive expenditure in the easier topics, like reviews and story improvisations. It's nice to not have an interruption in the personal challenge that is the Quirky Muffin, even if the mental equivalent of a bunch of monkeys at typewriters are put into operation to pull it off. You can all expect a roll of blog posts roughed out during the cumulatively more than twenty five hours of travelling and travails.

Monkeys at typewriters... Did you know that Shakespeare Monkey Generator of Internet Past did actually generate results? According to the unreliable sources of Internet news sites, an almost complete (ninety-nine-per-cent) set of Shakespeare's works was completed by virtual monkeys, over only a few trillion virtual monkey years. Unfortunately, they had to remove spaces and punctuation to achieve that match, which seems like cheating. Oh, it doesn't just seem like cheating, it actually is cheating! I wonder what the record was with spaces retained, at least. Do you realise that over a few trillion real monkey years the monkeys would improve at the task and would actually cut down that estimate? Crikey, an evolved monkey might actually improve the works of Shakespeare, actually making some of the jokes funny!

Sadly, the original online Shakespeare Monkey Simulator closed down years ago. Having realised that, it is immediately missed most intensely. Could someone please get the Virtual Shakespeare Monkeys back to work, please? They're much better behaved than real monkeys, after all, and we would see far fewer typewriters being wrecked.


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Story: The Glove, VIII

( Part VII , IX )

The airport at Edin was sleek, modern, and efficient. Information displays cycled rapidly and invisibly, and the powered walkways moved the passengers with ease. Steffan walked alongside, matching pace, and headed ever onward down the passage to his waiting luggage. The airship behind the flowing passengers had already decoupled, and was spiralling down to the outer moorings.

A robotic floor cleaner followed the passengers down the walkway, keeping everything pristine. Back home, it would have been a person, doing his bit for the community. Back home there was also Master Octavius, while here there might be dissidents and rebels. The terminal neared and then suddenly Steffan was there, collecting his things, and stepping out into the big city itself.

The city of Edin was loud, and brazenly technological. The piper stood there and gaped, and then gaped some more, being so used to the styles of home. A techno-taxi stopped in front of him, and the driver honked the horn. Steffan stared at the bizarre vehicle, and then reluctantly asked the driver if he knew where to find the Rock of Augustus, a boarding house. Before he knew what was happening, he was in the cab and they were speeding off. Edin blurred by on both sides, brightly coloured, incomprehensible.

Steffan hadn't chosen the Rock of Augustus at random. At the academy, the initiates had heard many a tall tale about the house and how it had been the customary haunt for Burghers when abroad for generations, before the exchange program had slowed to a trickle. It would be the perfect place to begin. The taxi dropped him off, rather abruptly, and zoomed away on another call after Steffan tapped his bead to the reader.

The Rock of Augustus looked run down, worn out, and decidedly dingy. He stepped over the threshold anyway. Inside, a mountain of a human being was sitting behind the reception desk, and smiled warmly when he saw the pipes bag in the visitor's grasp!

"Finally!" Boomed the mountain. "We've been waiting for you for hours! What kept you?"

"What on Troos are you talking about, man?" Wondered Steffan aloud.

"Is your name not Steffan? Come on, lad, your room's all ready. You may not be a Piper, but you are a piper still. I've got a little arrangement for you..."

To be continued...

Sunday, 6 December 2015


The ritual begins. The deck of cards is carefully shuffled. The mind clears, and focusses. The deck is dealt into four piles, which are then reshuffled. Finally, the cards are sufficiently mixed, and the setup begins. Over seven columns, the familiar pattern for what we call 'solitaire', but is more commonly called 'klondike' throughout the world, is laid out. Seven columns, of height one then two, three, and so on until seven. The bottom card of each stack is turned face up and we go on.

Turning the stock pile over, three cards at a time, and only building stacks in alternating colour, there is something magical about this version of solitaire. It is the perfect way to learn how to lose as well as win, and also the perfect way to compose the mind after a day of rugged mental torture. In this time of continual multi-tasking, there's nothing so relaxing as just playing solitaire. It's less taxing than reading a novel, but more of a mental workout than counting the number or rugs (zero) in your bedroom over and over.

Over and over, you set up the tableau, spot the patterns and connections, and pass through the deck until the game is won or stalemate has been reached. When you reach stalemate and 'lose', what do you do? You don't mope, or grumble, or get angry. What you do is collect all the cards together and set it all up for another go. It's life in a microcosm, a demonstration of how important it is to not get beaten down by failure but instead keep on going, and enjoy the victories when they happen. They do happen, and are not imaginary.

We shuffle the cards, set up the tableau, and start the process of dealing, rearranging, sorting and progressing all over again. It's a lot more meaningful with real cards than it is on the computer. The physical movements are reassuring, and relaxing. It's a little meditation, a condensation of calm, and a chance to let go of the reins and be at one with something that isn't work or stress. That's right, you can actually play solitaire with real cards! It's one of the more pleasant things to do. There's a reason why there are so many solitaire scenes in old movies...

Flip the card. Move the red queen to the black king. Flip another card. Go through the deck a few times. Admit defeat. Collect it all up, and go again. Don't give up. Go again.


Friday, 4 December 2015

Some Strings Of Words

Having been cloistered away in reclusive exile for so long now, it's quite refreshing to emerge into the real world from time to time. Of course, the real refreshment is being able to then vanish once again, into the cave of unemployment, where no-one dares to bother you. Now, to speak absolutely accurately, I'm not unemployed at all, but a freelance private tutor of Mathematics, English and Spanish, but there are only so many evening hours in the week, and so few people seeking help in these poverty-stricken times. It's much like earning a thimble full of water each day instead of the bucket and a half that you might really need.

At least Aberystwyth was nice, a genial day trip destination, as wet and breezy as usual. That town truly comes alive in the wintry months, as nature rails against the railings of civilization. The waves roar in relentlessly, throwing great washes of spray over the promenade, and filling the night with watery grandeur. The orange lights go fizzy, and occasionally all is clear and the stars shine so bright on the pebbly fringe.

The last week saw some indulgences in old 'Star Trek' novels and some musings on the healthiness of revelling in things from the past. It seems that there could be dangers in some people trying to remain the same forever, but you could also argue that maintaining a connection to the person you used to be is quite healthy, and could even be vital in the event of some personal disaster or trauma. Don't you sometimes need the idea of an earlier version of yourself? So that you can work out what differences might be causing problems now? Or even work out what differences have fixed the problems you used to have. It's an age old question. Some of those 'Star Trek' novels are very good and imaginative, little gems of 'do what you will' fiction in the early days of the phenomenon, before all became locked into the stricter continuity we have now. I've written about that somewhere before. Maybe it was the post about the Blish adaptations?

It could be easily argued that reading something familiar is a necessary thing, a relaxation after the tension of reading a string of new books, including the drain of all the short stories! Is it credible? Would someone find it credible that reading a book for the first time could be stressful and draining? Does it matter? No, not really. We are all different, after all, and united in those differences. It's the way of the world, while it's still spinning.

Now, the cave needs a bit of a dust, and the 'no-one at home' signs needs repainting. We hermits must keep up our standards, after all.


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Movie: 'One, Two, Three' (1961)

This is a curious movie, a definite second stringer in the Billy Wilder catalogue, and a rare farcical role for James Cagney. In fact, it would be Cagney's last film role for twenty years. I haven't seen any other Cagney films; He's a performer who has slipped through unnoticed, probably due to being famous for tough guy roles. Apparently, he was an accomplished song and dance man, putting him firmly in the 'secret polymath' territory currently being occupied by Hugh Jackman. In 'One, Two, Three', Cagney plays a Coca-Cola executive in West Berlin, who ends up in an increasingly farcical and quick-fire situation while hosting his boss's daughter for a few days, which turn into months, and a very unfortunate marriage and pregnancy with a lover from the other side of the Curtain.

It's all about Cagney, and not very reminiscent of the great Wilder films of the period, being so light and frothy as to constitute nothing at all. The script is incredibly witty, fast, and loaded with visual jokes, some of which go on too long, and others of which pop too quickly. The supporting cast are all excellent, but not Wilder's typical people, nor is the setting. Following 1960's 'The Apartment', this movie begins the trilogy of critically unappreciated films that would continue with 'Irma La Douce' and culminate in 'Kiss Me, Stupid'. I like that last one, but it was reviled at the time.

On the positive side, the dialogue is great, as is the photography, and the music. The cast is on the whole good, with Horst Buckholz in his other most famous film, and a host of people you think you may have seen before but probably haven't. On the negative side, every character but Cagney's is underwritten and little more than a joke. The important role played by politics, and Coca-Cola is confusing now, partly because of the broad satire that Wilder is playing out here, in the divided city of Berlin. I never knew that the city was divided less formally before the construction of the Berlin Wall, nor that it was built so late. It seems rather strange to make so much fun of the communists now, when they've been gone from Germany for so long, and you can't help but wonder if Wilder was stretching to find things to mock, having decided to take it (relatively) easy on corporations this time.

Maybe 'One, Two, Three' falls foul of my liking for films which try to do more than one thing at a time. Films which aren't purely comedies, tragedies, romances, or anything else. It simply doesn't do enough to escape 'just being a comedy', and Buckholz's turn as the Communist new husband of the boss's daughter is a bit too single-toned to add nuance to anything. It's just a comedy, and that's a massive problem when the movie that you're following is the smash hit 'The Apartment'. This reasoning may also tie in to my not particularly liking 'Some Like It Hot', which is apparently a crime against film-watching.

'One, Two, Three' is an excellently fast paced farce set in a place and time you don't often see in film. Cagney is great, and everyone else is good. It just seems like it needs more of a point, and perhaps some more of the Billy Wilder repertory players.