Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Gene Wilder, And Other Things

We don't cover obituaries here at the Quirky Muffin. Many relevant luminaries pass on without a comment, Leonard Nimoy for example, but there was some particularly wrenching about the idea of Gene Wilder being gone. He was a special man, a unique blend of artist, comedic showman and sensitive actor that will never be matched. He was the crazed everyman that everyone might want to be, and now he's gone. It's true that he hadn't actively worked for a long time, but he'll be missed still. That tour-de-force performance in 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' really did sear him into most children's memories...

Oh well, people do move on to whatever might await in the next dimension. It might be nothing or a whole new world. We'll never know. The unanswerable questions are always the most interesting ones. What happens when we die? Is there a God or not? What about ghosts and psychic phenomena? If any of these things are found to exist, then are they real or just science so advanced as to appear mystical? Is it all down to aliens?

No, it's too difficult. Philosophical questions will have to wait for another day. This one is about pointing out the ridiculous accomplishments of that great and wild-haired genius. Gene Wilder, the man behind Leo Bloom ('The Producers'), The Waco Kid ('Blazing Saddles'), Frederik Frankenstein ('Young Frankenstein'), Quackser Fortune and Willy Wonka has moved to the great asylum in the sky for creative geniuses. Very few actors get more than one career defining performance, but this one managed at least three, and debateably four! Maybe it would be five or six if I had seen 'Rhinoceros'. No-one else could bring the the edge of intelligence and madness that Wilder had. He was a one-off.

Goodbye, Gene Wilder. Well done. You made everyone's lives just a little happier. Even the 1980s movies were cheering in some ways. Adieu.


Sunday, 28 August 2016

Bank Holiday

The bank holiday weekend is continuing, and continuing, and will continue some more. Yes, bank holidays may be attractive for the travel lovers or wage slaves, but they drag endlessly on for lots of other people. Or they could drag on endlessly, if you didn't have a mess of things to read, watch and play. It's been an interesting few days for entertainment, actually, as the collected script book for the long-lost Marx Brothers radio show, 'Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel' arrived and has been excellent, as has the movie 'The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming'. In addition to all that, the linux-wrapped versions of the terribly old computer games 'Silent Service II' and 'Colonization' dropped in nicely to the routine. Those old games may not live up to modern graphical standards, but there's something remarkably clean about their gameplay that isn't all that common now. I love that era of games which didn't revolve around first-person shooting of things...

What on Earth do other people do with bank holiday Mondays anyway? What is the magic ingredient? Are they doomed to be just like any other holiday or day trip and cursed with high levels of expectation and no actual enjoyment? Or can they be used nicely? To do all the relaxing home things you can't normally do? To break out some classical music, a book or a film? Or take time for exploring the local environment? Is a bank holiday best used in having picnic on the patio?

This time the reality of the bank holiday will be much exploring of the Flywheel script book, pre-preparation of a whole week's lessons, note-taking on 'Young Frankenstein' and maybe even a picnic. It's amazing how much more relaxed we can all be when canine convalescence continues remarkably. The dog is in ridiculous health for a past stroke victim. Indeed, it could be so relaxed that cookie production could recommence. Oh, those addictive cookies, those nutrition bombs that never stop giving... It has only been two days since the last batch ran out and the palpitations have begun. Next will be the hallucinations, and finally the rush to mix together all the ingredients in a veritable orgy of baking. Maybe a bank holiday is best used for baking? It's a thought!


Friday, 26 August 2016

Film: 'The Producers' (1968)

It's madness. Utter madness. A time capsule of lunacy from times long gone. How could 'The Producers' ever have been made, and why didn't Mel Brooks ever make anything quite so good again? Was this first drawing upon his well of directorial insanity such a depleting factor, or was 'The Producers' the regular first movie 'baby' that gestated for years and years, being perfected all the time. It's probably a little of both.

What's it about? Naive accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) is sent to assist madman theatrical producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) with his accounts, where said producer is in the midst of fund raising campaign via giving old ladies romantic thrills in one of the strangest sequences ever put on film. The whole movie is riddled with sequences you would never find anywhere else, and benefits enormously from sheer novelty. Indeed, it's still utterly unique, despite having it's own musical remake. Getting past that first sequence, bloom inspires Bialystock into putting on a guaranteed flop so that they can make off with the money they have made by oversubscribing the movie to its backers. What play do they choose from everything ever written and submitted to Bialystock? 'Springtime For Hitler'. Enough said.

Is it funny? Do you need to ask the that question of a movie that was Mel Brooks' first directorial effort, that has Gene Wilder's first starring role, and effectively resurrected Zero Mostel after years of blacklisting torment? Well, I assume it resurrected his career, not having any idea when he started working again. The answer to the question of 'Is it funny?' really depends on whether you can accept 'Springtime in Hitler' as a ludicrously funny epic stage musical that succeeds despite itself, or if the cumulative Nazi Germany jokes tip you over the edge into some kind of revulsion. It is gloriously funny, in the strangest way. Also, there is some 60s sexism on display, but you really have to take the context into account. It was the 1960s.

It's a great comedy, one of the very few outright comedies lingering in my collection, grouped in with 'Airplane', 'Young Frankenstein', 'Monkey Business', 'Horse Feathers' and a few others. Comedies work so very seldomly that finding even one excellent one is like striking gold in the middle of a desert. I'll have to rewatch 'The Lonely Guy' to see if it makes this exalted list too. Yes, 'The Producers' works. It might be uncomfortable at times, but it works. It's the best Mel Brooks movie, and perhaps the only other other to come close is 'Young Frankenstein'. I smile when other people guffaw, so a titter or two is an indicator of something special.


Note: There's a fairly hard and fast rule that the good Mel Brooks films are the ones in which he he doesn't appear and/or in which Gene Wilder does appear, and it's one rule that defiantly works. The only possible contradiction to the rule is 'Blazing Saddles', but since 'Young Frankenstein' works so much better, let's call it a debateable win for the Brooks Rule.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016


The last few weeks of the Summer holidays bring a rash of cancellations for a private tutor, as the parents suddenly realise how little time is left to get out and about, especially if the weather suddenly takes a turn for the better. (This means anything less than persistent rain in 2016). As a result, tutor gets nothing but time to play with. In a few weeks, it would be time pushed into a part-time degree, but now it is mainly spent on breaking stories or trying to invent new super-cheap and lightweight railway locomotives. This is not a joke. I almost had an idea, a wonderful idea...

Another thing that can be done on days of unexpected freedom is to explore the classics of computer games, which in this case means 'Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis', from the golden age of adventure games. Yes, that wondrous time when LucasArts was pumping out such awesome 'point and click' efforts as 'Day Of The Tentacle' and 'The Secret Of Monkey Island', so long ago and yet still as fresh as ever. Indeed, the LucasArts games have endured very, very well, mainly because a whole suite of applications has been developed (ScummVM and ResidualVM) to make them playable on modern operating systems of all types. Ah, Sophia Hapgood, I missed you.

What else happens on slow tutoring days? The Marx Brothers have been making appearances recently, and English lessons get ground out with great deliberation and diligence. English lessons must be planned and written that way, due to the great importance of language, and the great difficulty in teaching any of it. Language, like mathematics, is mostly only learned and not taught. Is that a defeatist attitude for a teacher? No, not at all! The goal is to teach what can be taught, and otherwise lead the student around to learning the rest by themself. It's just a question of setting up the trail correctly. On this occasion, it's a trail that involves... A lot of confusion. Oh no, a lack of plan! What to do? Panic! Panic!

<madness, panic and bedlam, then chairlam, and finally cushionlam>

A plan is formed, and so secretly that it may not even be divulged in the sacred pages of the Quirky Muffin, the blog that time forgot. This blog must be preserved for the perpetuation of taradiddle in perpetuity. Hold on... 'taradiddle'? TARADIDDLE? This Wednesday has gone on too long. What on Earth does 'taradiddle' mean?

taradiddle: pretentious or silly talk or writing

Oh, it makes perfect sense in context. Let's give up. Au revoir, Wednesday, you did your job well.


Monday, 22 August 2016

Story: 'Wordspace' Phase II, Part IV

(Part III , Part V)

Mystery and Cloud raced back to the Zone of Impenetrable Jargon, and watched the Invader beat futilely on the prison. Yes, that destructive visitor had earnt the name of 'Invader' now, in a way that their gentler visitor Sorpresa never would have.


Cloud shuddered in mid-flight, and Mystery himself almost lost his twiddle at the surprise.

"¡Hola! ¡He vuelto!" It was Sorpresa, and as always his timing was awful.

Mystery pointed at the giant foreign word pounding on the Dome, and tried to convey a sense of occasion upon their visitor.

"¿Que se pasa? ¡Es un desastre!" Sorpresa slumped down up on Cloud's amorphous surface, and looked as bleak as he had ever looked. "Un desastre..."

"Cloud, what can we do to distract that thing over there?"

The usually terse Cloud muttered "Hold on." and suddenly picked up speed. Sorpresa was taken by surprise and rolled a couple of full word-lengths before grabbing hold of some of Cloud's syllabic structure and closing his eyes. Mystery tried to keep his own eyes open, as they began to dive, and examined the interloper. It truly was massive, a gargantuan titan that would have crushed their old town underfoot. Steely great eyes were bent on the attempted destruction. Why attack the Dome so? Was it perhaps after any words that could be hiding inside?

The invaders, this Armageddon, loomed ever closer and Mystery was surprised when he felt a reassuring touch. It was Sorpresa. "Apocalipsis..." He didn't look happy.


Cloud interrupted. "Now would be a good time to brace yourselves." They did as she asked, and held on as steamed on directly at the Invader's roots.

"There is hope." Who had said that?

To be continued...

Saturday, 20 August 2016

No Blank Page Left Unfilled

The challenge is met once again, and the battle commences. The blank page is pitted against the hideously dim mind of the seasoned writer of silliness, where only one can win. Yes, there may be a pyrrhic draw, where the results are unsatisfactory to both sides, but that's not what we aim for.

There is a time for planning and a time for improvised nonsense. This is clearly going to be one of the latter, even as a 'Literary Reflections' continues in development. It will need more than two completed books to be satisfying, though! Yes, we must improvise, improvise! It's not too difficult as long as you don't stop for anything. You must type, type and type some more and keep up the rhythm.

I could write about the second season opener of 'Alias', currently playing to the left, but the talk about that show will be for another day. Oh, a pause. A dreadful pause. There can be no pauses. Let's write about something else, not the weather. Never the weather. No-one in the future is ever going to need to know that gales were running and drizzle was falling in Pontyates on the evening of the twentieth of August in 2016.

Oh yes, the reunion, the ten year mini-reunion of the Aberystwyth University mathematics class of 2006! It went surprisingly well, and with only six classmates and hangers-on it was a surprisingly compact picnic and dinner. There was even a possible convert to the card game 'Fluxx', that magnificent time waster. (Note: Version 4 of 'Fluxx' is the best. Creepers for the win!) We can only hope... Also, in recent news, Tess the venerable Old English sheepdog continues to recuperate speedily after her stroke. She can now get up the steps to the garden unaided once again. I suspect her of being an alien imposter, but only the Clomp knows for sure.

That's enough for now. Enough words spun out of nothing, woven in thoughts barely distinct from the random neuronal firings of normal existence. More will follow another day, and it will be a story...


Thursday, 18 August 2016

Television: 'Press Gang: Something Terrible' (1990) (Episodes 2x07 and 2x08)

This could easily have been called 'The Redemption of Colin Matthews' or 'A Very Special Episode', but the former wouldn't have been fitting and the latter could just as easily been used for the first season two-parter 'How To Make A Killing' or the finale of that same season, 'Shouldn't I Be Taller?'. For all that, though it is a very special story, and it does redeem the arch-hustler Colin, this is one of most important story of the whole series.

On the surface, the idea of a young girl (called Cyndi) befriending a confused Colin after learning about his past antics would seem run of the mill, but when it becomes apparent that she has a child abuse problem and that Colin is the one she has tried to connect to for refuge, the whole concept of the conscience-less and capitalistic hustler is turned on its head, and his humanity rises to the surface. The comedy sluices away, and is shunted to Lynda and Spike's attempts to keep their new romance secret. Meanwhile, Colin struggles with the dual problems of his own legacy making him completely uncredible when seeking assistance, and the weight of the soul-destroying knowledge that he has deduced and had tacitly confirmed. How on Earth would a born salesman and con artist convince anyone that the 'something terrible' was happening?

Fortunately, and in unlikely fashion, the tyrannical editor that is his boss Lynda spots that he is troubled when no-one else would and takes him under wing and the two people who are hardest to know dole out the biggest dose of heart via the titular team's junior newspaper. It's all very well done, and of course uncomfortable at times. However, it's never too uncomfortable. It's a good story, and one that is still not out of date. In the last few weeks alone, it has become clear that child abuse is a tragically common occurrence in the United Kingdom. Where are the kids show to make provoking stories for the young people of 2016? Who is going to help the reported one in fourteen young people suffering abuse in this country? Where are the Colins to make these points?

It was a brave show to make in 1990, as was 'How To Make A Killing' in 1989, and very well done. Every mention to Colin's pink rabbit suit interlude in 'A Night In' is welcome, even if made by the suffering Cyndi. Yes, Colin is a hustler, but when motivated he uses his salesman powers for undefeatable good instead of self-interested greed. Points are made, outside of the political sphere of hyperbole and blather. Come on, Britain, we can do better than this. It has been twenty six years since 'Something Terrible' and the redemption of Colin Matthews, after all.


Note: This post produced in place of the umpteenth article on 'Joe Versus The Volcano'. Lovely, lovely film.

Note: Cover post, pre-written to cover for a ten year university reunion of doom. Please send a helicopter with assistance.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

On The Book Piles III - August 2016

Before vanishing off to Aberystwyth for an untrammelled episode of joy, it's time to expound once again on the books currently making up the reading piles, those piles that change so slowly except for the chosen few that rush by quickly. On the other hand, you could always wait for tomorrow's cover post, which I've already almost completely forgotten about, or go outside and throw apple cores at passing trees. 'What are the trees passing for?', you ask? I'm not sure, but the answer is probably not 'lemon cordial'.

'Groucho, Harpo, Chico and sometimes Zeppo' by Joe Adamson

A fascinating work which concentrates mainly on the movies of the brothers Marx, and their genesis. Sometimes very funny, but it does jump the readers to some conclusions about the latter movies being awful pretty quickly. Extremely well researched, and probably the greatest reference for the movies.

'Joan Of Arc' by Mark Twain

This is surprisingly good, but keeps getting derailed by other books stomping in. Twain really seems to have found a wonderful middle ground here, casting aside his often over-laboured satire for a well researched, funny, and entertaining pseudo-biography of Joan of Arc. Ah, that Paladin is a jolly good chap, isn't he?

'The Illustrated And Complete Brigadier Gerard' by Arthur Conan Doyle

Barely begun, but already my second favourite Doyle stories behind the Sherlocks. Is there anyone more pompous than Gerard? Is there? Answers on a postcard, please. As always, no prize! Supposedly a parody of the French in general, that will have to be proven by reading more, and more, and more...

'Journey To The West' (Volume 2) by Wu Cheng'en

Nothing has changed here since the last 'Book Piles', but the first volume was so lovely that it won't take long to get to it.

'The Voyage Of The Beagle' by Charles Darwin

More non-fiction, and another one that keeps getting pushed aside for things just added. However, it's always interesting, and hopefully I'll get to the Galapagos Islands within the decade. Which decade? Only you can tell.

'Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious' by Sigmund Freud

What happened? I was enjoying it so much, and then poof! Put down, only to remain down. I blame the Marx Brothers. It's really good, though, so it will get read before Jung's 'Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious' re-enters the mix. Analysing humour can be very instructive.

'Kidnap In The Caribbean' by Lauren St John

Languishing at the bottom of the pile, this will be brushed up again quickly. I sensed something tedious about to happen, and started to think about almost anything else instead.

'The Woman In White' by Wilkie Collins

A welcome re-read of the classic after the arduous first reading of 'Armadale' and the much nicer first experience with 'No Name'. Will it be as good this time? Only time will tell? 'The Moonstone' will follow.


Monday, 15 August 2016


A reunion. Finally, the die roll has come up snake eyes, and it's time to go to a reunion. If anyone would like to pretend to be me, and go in my place, you'll need an expert disguise and the cooperation of my insider agent. Oh well, it's not such a bad thing to go and it will probably be fun. Other people rolling into Aberystwyth for Thursday should be aware that games will be brought, and that I reserve the right to run screaming into the hills if conversation becomes banal or dolphins are sighted off the beach once again. Oooh, there might be dolphins or porpoises... Maybe this will be a pretty good trip after all. I take it all back. We may have to write a group theatrical production about it all after the event, with musical sequences.

A reunion is a funny concept, isn't it? I wonder where it began? Presumably it was with people less dysfunctional than a Mathematics degree year group. In all likelihood, the kids will be the most normal people there. I should remember to take some frisbees and a life-scale replica of Fort Knox for playing purposes, complete with the laser cannon from 'Goldfinger'. (Yes, that was the rare James Bond reference in the Quirky Muffin. Treasure it, as there may never be another!) In many ways, I'm not the right person to go to a reunion, but in this case I could keep a friend company, and play games, so it may work out alright.

Life continues normally, in other arenas. The students seem to progress, and are becoming aware of the new school years looming in just a few weeks time. Mwahahahahaha! New school years, and GCSE exams for some of them. Let the terrors commence, aided by the 'you are doomed' signs put up during all tutoring sessions. It's all good (and obviously untrue) vengeance for taking the Summer holidays off, after all. Holidays? Bah humbug! Moving along, the challenge has been grasped and registration with the Open University initiated. A part-time degree in Language Studies will commence, as well as a period of relative impoverishment. Finally, stories will be written and published somehow! It is pledged! A writer will emerge from the cradle of this blog, and sell literally ones of copies of his works!

How's that for an ambitious agenda? How much of it will work out? Will the reunion ever end or will we all be trapped by some retired lecturer bent on vengeance for our academic crimes? What will be the first thing to be published? Will I make it to the prized C1 level in Spanish? All these questions, or none of them, will be answered in the fullness of time. Beware crocodiles bearing gifts.


Saturday, 13 August 2016

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

( Week VIII , Week X )


The problem with being a laundry robot that has been adopted and liberated by the pan-dimensional beings of the Querg Dimension, and asked to take care of their hats, as strange things occur all around you, is that sometimes you get just a little confused. This is one of those times, as Celia (my colleague) and I get to go on a tour to see the Ring of Querg, and someplace called Nardoli's. We set off some time ago, in the jeep that the Quergs kindly provided, and our companion Egbert, a temporarily displaced elephant, has been telling us stories full of egg puns. Now, in a lull, while Celia drives and Egbert dozes, there is finally time to record this diary. After these weeks of Blots, moving to new dimensions, strange elephants and local customs it seems rather boring to write about commonplace events.

I wonder what the Ring of Querg actually is, anyway?


Celia has been staring at the Ring for ages. I still find it hard to believe myself. Up above us, in the pinkish blue sky of the Continuum, there hangs a gigantic ring where the Moon would be on Earth, but in some kind of synchronous orbit. Egbert has been confused ever since he saw it there. "It's extraordinary! Marvelous! Inexplicable!" The Querg in the Visitor Centre has been trying to explain, but the eccentric elephant is not inclined to take explanations.

The only blot on the occasion is an actual Blot. It's rather worrying, for a laundry robot to be followed by a 'blot'. The Querg has already reported it in, and we'll start a lengthy and roundabout trip back home to the laundry tomorrow. Celia thinks that it's connected to Egbert. Who can really know?


A grand journey awaits. Celia, the more agile of us, was planning it yesterday evening with the Querg from the visitor centre. I'm still bemused that the extradimensional guardians of the timelines of the multiverse have visitor centres, but they explain that it's necessary for the numerous people who pop in from neighbouring dimensions and the other Quergs who don't get to see the Ring very often. Apparently, we will see the Plain of the Solitary Boulder, the Gardens of the Guardians, and the Ancestral Hat Factory. A hat factory! How wonderful! As a laundry robot, I've only ever washed things and never seen them made!

Celia is getting rather a smitten look in her sensors when she looks at me. I've not seen her like this since the great sock clearances of ten years ago.


Got married. Apparently Egbert is a registered priest of the Temple of the Great Egg. It sounds made up to me. I was overwhelmed by the splendour of the hat factory.


We have returned to the laundry, which is now surrounded by Blots in the most worrying of numbers! Supervisor Querg is deeply concerned, but did give us congratulations on the unexpected events. He says that the mystery of Egbert has been solved, and that we will all be briefed over the weekend. For now, we get back to work. A large number of hats have piled up unexpectedly. Some are even singed! Could any of this be connected to the Blots?

To be continued...

Thursday, 11 August 2016

A Melange

In the wake of our dog having her little stroke, and subsequently beginning to recover, writing this blog did fade in importance for a little while. However, as the beast begins to bark and climb sofas once again, things recede into their normal levels of importance. That's right, everything is equally unimportant again! Woohoo! Meaningless trivia is on the rise, and we all should be happy. No, don't pay attention to the grand stupidities of contemporary politics until the actual elections, and do try to be happy.

Oh, politics is such a mess right now, mainly due to the word 'politics'. Why can't people just try to do the right thing? Why is it acceptable for people to talk about 'the politics of power' as a means to an end? Shouldn't that invalidate those people from any position of authority whatsoever? What on Earth is going on with Trump? How can we address the horrors of Syria, and a ruling ideology here that is so far to the right that moderates look like the far left? It's all very bizarre, and best not talked about, as this space could easily be talked about Batman's bat-spring shoes or the wonders of 'Quincy, ME'. They, at least, have some resolution or sense to them.

The Marx Brothers mini-marathon continues, as I clock through their Paramount movies with much enjoyment. Ah, nobody could make movies like those guys and their deeply subjugated writers and directors. It's hard to imagine any of Groucho's dialogue being written, but some bunch of people managed to put it all together. More on this later, once it has all sunk in. How many people realise that the joke at the beginning of 'Monkey Business' isn't that they're playing cards inside barrels, but that they wouldn't have been able to see anyone else's cards? That is the joke, yes? Well, that and singing 'Adeline'.

Yes, let's get back to trivia and nonsense. I've already initiated experimental freewriting with my English students to see if it improves their fluency. After a certain point, it should work wonders. The power of freewriting is potent indeed, as many of the better posts here do attest. This is a freewriting blog at its core. Planning? Ha! Anyone who reads the stories knows there is no planning!


Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Cookies, Sugar-Free, Version 2

A long time ago, after mammoths but Groucho Marx, I concocted a sugar-free cookie recipe and shared it with you all. Now, as part of the bakery remit of the Quirky Muffin - the blog that time forgot - I present version two! Please be aware that nuts, seeds, and whatever else are included in the mix, and that I take no responsibility for any incidents inspired by mention of the woolly mammoth.


Experimental Cookies
(Adapted from 'Chunky Choc Cookies', page 215 of Hamlyn's 'The Student Cookbook', ISBN 9780600609650)

Overloaded with goodness! Makes a large number.

250g (8 ounces) oats
250g (8 ounces) plain flour
6 tablespoons of sunflower seeds
6 tablespoons of sesame seeds
6 tablespoons of chopped almonds
4-6 tablespoons of raisins (to preference)
150g (6 ounces) of butter (or whatever (I use Clover))
100g (3.5 ounces) of set honey
9 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 - Heat the oven to 180C, 350F, Gas Mark 4. Prepare a baking tray with some greaseproof/baking paper.
2 - Mix together the oats, flour, sesame and sunflower seeds, almonds and raisins in a big bowl.
3 - Melt the butter and honey in a saucepan, and add the result to the dry ingredients. Then, mix in the eggs and oil until it's all combined.
4 - Put spoonfuls of mixture on the baking tray, spacing them slightly apart. Squish them with the back of the spoon so that they're flat.
5 - Bake in the oven for about fifteen minutes, until they start to brown around the edges. Then leave to cool on a plate and practice meditation in order to not just guzzle them all while they're still warm.
6 - Wait.


Monday, 8 August 2016

Television: 'Press Gang: At Last A Dragon' (1990) (Episode 2x06)

The wheel turns, and the long-simmering bickering and tension between Spike and Lynda is resolved to great and universal success. If you had to rank love stories then these two would surely rank near the top, especially if you declare seasons three, four and five non-canonical. There's something rather magical about seeing the arch denier Lynda Day finally give in to her feelings, after Spike Thompson finally does slay that metaphorical dragon he promised back in the first episode. Yes, it is still possible to win fair maiden by act of heroism.

The development of 'Press Gang' is firmly tied to the development of Spike as a character, and that of the rest of the ensemble at a secondary level. It's really not until he puts his own importance to one side, and helps Lynda break through her social anxiety (and potentially leave him in the future), that he actually reaches his own potential in her eyes. Conversely, it's not until the big business soiree that he sees her vulnerable social side and realises that she's so much more than a martinet. Yes, there had been the guilt-ridden fallout seen in 'Shouldn't I Be Taller', but a reaction to a terrible event isn't the same as fears over talking to potential career mentors.

'At Last A Dragon' is an odd episode of 'Press Gang', featuring as it does only three of the main cast and never once visiting the office. Indeed, the Colin portion of the story could also have been excised, it being particularly daft and nasty. Shady business are one thing, but actual scams while disguised as an Arab magnate? Really, Colin? Despite that, it's a classic show, and the one where practically everyone has to fall for either Lynda or Spike. The style flows thick and fast, and in the closing moment you don't even care that Spike pulls off a Fonzz moment and turns on a busted streetlamp by clicking his fingers. Also, the terrible twosome of Sophie and Laura pull off more horrors as temporary waitresses, and an urn plays a central role, but that's for another day. The Fonzz wins out.

Oh, 'Press Gang', you do so much with what should be an absolutely dopey concept. How on Earth you all pulled it off, I have no idea. From the perplexingly paradoxical interesting blandness of Kenny and his romantic interludes, through Colin's daft schemes, and even the wonderful moments that Mr Sullivan springs at any moment, it all works.

Spike: “She is mad, isn't she?” [] Sullivan: “Oh, yes.” [] Spike: “Fine. Just as long as I know.”


Two Excerpts

In the wake of our beloved family pet, Tess the Old English sheepdog, giving us a serious scare over the weekend with a mild stroke, let's instead focus on something much more idiotic. Have you ever wondered how I teach English? Normally, it's a combination of reading, punctuation and handwriting, but sometimes we have a writing challenge. I present two of my own efforts from today's writing challenge. I would present the student's too, but they get to keep them unless there's a mass of marking to do. She had an evil secret-blabbing, greenhouse-smashing flamingo. Ha ha!


"The Flamingo Did It"

The flamingo looked me in the eye, coldly. It knew one of us would break soon. One of us would have to look away. She looked tough, like a bird from the wrong side of town. It was either her or me. A car horn tooted and I flinched. A plane flew overhead and the flamingo bobbed her head calmly. Then it happened! A flamingo movie star was wheeled on on a gilded cart, and the game was over. The flamingo did it. She looked away. I won the prize and flew away, the pigeon supreme.


"When I Ate A Grape"

I had never eaten a grape. My aunt had always told me they were bad for you, and left by aliens as traps for innocent minds. My grandmother backed her up at the time, recounting stories of her cousin Angus and a strange encounter he had had with a grape while fighting fires in Huddersfield. For thirty-two years I had never touched those lovely tiny fruits, nor the wines they made, until that day in Mimi's House Of Pancakes. My friends Larry and Clara had already ordered, as I was late, and when I arrived the pancakes were ready, waiting, and steaming. They had grape jam fillings. Clara smiled innocently and offered me her olive pancakes instead. I hated olives! There was no choice. I closed my eyes, thought about Angus and that inexplicable woolly mammoth, and ate the pancake. Two days later, I woke up in Bratislava, confused. My aunt had been right!


On the bright side, Tess is now unsteadily stumbling around and beginning to bark more. She'll always have a lop-sided look now, but it could have been far worse. If only she would eat!


Saturday, 6 August 2016

Book: 'No Name' by Wilkie Collins (1862)

It is finally finished. The last of Wilkie Collins' 'Big Four'. In the next few months, 'The Woman In White' and 'The Moonstone' shall be re-read and reviewed, but right now it is time to think about 'No Name', a novel far superior to its successor 'Armadale'. Yes, 'No Name' is much better, but not quite so good as the two iconic novels.

This post will almost certainly careen all over the place, as two months of erratic literary consumption become condensed down to a few paragraphs on a web page. It's a difficult book about which to come to a firm conclusion, due to a plethora of possible choices of theme. The story is about a young woman called Magdalen Vanstone (and her sister Norah) who is dispossessed of the family fortune after her secretly unmarried parents do marry and unwittingly invalidate their wills. Magdalen, a fiery and unbridled passion, sets out to reclaim the money from hostile 'true' relatives of her parents by fair means or foul, while Norah submits herself to fate and finds a position in life.

Magdalen, a truly progressive female protagonist for the time, takes a turn on the stage, sets out to ensnare the true and somewhat despicable heir into marriage, seeks to overturn a secret trust in her husband's will, goes undercover as a servant, and finally breaks down under the stress and almost succumbs to the grim reaper. Meanwhile, Norah ends up unwittingly marrying the eventual inheritor of the whole shebang by dint of her own virtue, so where does the moral lie? Is it in the fact that Magdalen commits several acts of Dick Dastardly idiocy by ruining situations which would have supported her quite well through her following life, in search of the grand prize, or is it in her submitting to the love in the final instance and settling down with the now ironically named Captain Kirke and accepting the role of submissive wife over the lure of money? Is the final breakdown meant to demonstrate nature protesting against Magdalen's proactive proclivities, or is it a purely moral message from the author on sin and virtue? Is it a progressive novel or a conservative one, seeking to put women in their place? Collins does comment freely and simplictically on the 'nature of women' throughout the whole narrative, but simultaneously headlines five major and distinctive feminine characters: The reliable and steadfast governess Miss Garth, the fiery and self-destructive Magdalen, the noble and submissive Norah, the ruthless housekeeper Mrs Lecount, and the moronic huckster's wife Mrs Wragge. Mr Wragge, by the by, is one of my favourite characters in any of the Big Four.

'No Name' is much easier to read than 'Armadale', being far more consistent and less shattered in form. There is a section where forebodings overshadow the story dismally, but it is far less pronounced and lengthy than in 'Armadale'. You weren't in danger of a depressive episode with this novel! It even dispenses with structure in some way, via the introduction of welcome epistolic summaries of events between the seven 'scenes' which make up the whole novel, abridging various periods in the story of minimal interest. That's something which is always appealing here, and a method commonly used in the serial stories at the Quirky Muffin. (We're not Wilkie Collins, but we do have hidden jewels only accessible to sleepwalkers.) Oh, sleepwalking makes its debut here, and will be revisited in 'The Moonstone'.

The height of 'No Name' is the wonder that is the harvester of money, Captain Horatio Wragge, and the depth is that the central conceit is now utterly obsolete in the modern day, making the whole construction less relateable than, say, 'The Woman In White' or 'The Moonstone'. At least, we can hope that it's an obsolete issue, and that illegitimacy is no longer a barrier to intestate inheritance? It is, isn't it? Yes? Anyway, 'No Name' is a solid classic novel, readable throughout, with some great characterisation, some notable eccentric characters, and a confusing theme. Maybe it wasn't intended to have a theme, though? If you like 'The Woman In White' and 'The Moonstone', then definitely read 'No Name', but in all likelihood you should skip 'Armadale' and 'The Dead Secret'.


Thursday, 4 August 2016

"Never Give Up, Never Surrender"

Captain Taggart was right in 'Galaxy Quest': "Never Give Up, Never Surrender". Just keep on going, and things will get better. A few rough setbacks will not prevail if you keep on getting up and trying again. Is that enough motivational jargon to keep you going out there in the real world, theoretical connoisseurs of the nonsense of the Quirky Muffin? It's all true, no matter your existential state. Most failures are due to giving up. That is why, no matter how long it may take, I will never give up until the Missing Glove is found! (Note: capitalising things makes them more important.)

The Missing Glove shall be found. There will be no sleep, no food, no dirigibles, no juggling, no mashing of potato, and no whistling dixie until it is found. What is a single glove without its mate? Of what use is it? It is merely two Goodies without the third, Fraser without Vecchio, Lois without Clark, or even Lynda Day without Spike Thompson. Oh, the folly of trying to go on with only one glove! Although, technically, a single glove does have a purpose after all: It can be used to challenge people to duels. It's true that a woolly Winter glove doesn't have quite the same sting, but it does the job.

One glove, one glove, and no giving up. A lack of giving up really worked well this week, in helping an undergraduate student with her revision. The first session was a small disaster, but with a lot of preparation and a lack of giving up, the second worked very well. She will pass, with no doubt, and that's the main thing. Sadly, however, she doesn't have the Missing Glove, merely the essence of not giving up, and a lack of experience of single glovedness in the modern age.

Where could the glove be? Is it behind the elephant? No. Behind the printer? Of course not. Perhaps it's under the shrine to the 4077th MASH? Hmmm. It might have been if it existed? Would that be good? Perhaps I should e-mail the AfterMASH podcast to see if they have the glove? That might be ridiculous? The search continues...


PS Now, what on Earth does 'whistling dixie' mean?

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Story: The Glove, XIV

( Part XIII , XV )

Steffan was munching on a scone - yes, pronounced like 'bone'! - in the aftermath of the gun incident at the Canterbury church, as a strange woman approached him and sat opposite him in the tea rooms. If he hadn't had had a mouth goofily full of scone, he would presumably have responded to her question about his wellbeing in an intelligent and insightful way. He might indeed have made a curious remark about who the 'we' she was returning to might be. As it was, he surprisedly made a snorting noise, and turned a little red in the face. As you might surmise, he was not the most gentile of eaters, and the mouthful was not a petite one.

"It seems you have bitten off more than you can chew, literally and figuratively." His table mate remarked. "If there is anything wrong with you, it's definitely not your appetite, although Alison's scones are highly irresistible.

Steffan was by now well prepared and free of scone-like material. "I'm perfectly fine, thank you, whoever you might be." He added, for detail, "I mean 'you' in both the singular and the plural, of course."

"Articulate, aren't we?"

"Years of piper training can do that to a person." Steffan was reticent. If the woman was involved with the gunplay at the church then she might be very dangerous indeed.

"I'm Alison's niece. She made those scones. The ones you were trying to inhale. You really should use less butter. 'We' are a far more complicated thing to explain." She looked a little embarrassed. "'We' are a group who want to restore a peaceful balance to the world, a balance where the two halves of our society aren't forced apart in such a silly way."

"Forced apart? Nothing is forced apart! Were those gunshots part of some peaceful balance?"

"No, they were fired by a madman, a person who used to be not quite so mad." Tears glistened in the eyes of his new friend. "He is being taken care of now, somehow." Then, before Steffan could ask another question, the lady continued. "Do you really think it's possible that a world could be split into two such different cultures, and stay that way without collapsing? Without slowly remerging in some way?"

Steffan frowned, thoughtfully. "I had never thought about it. It does seem rather unlikely, doesn't it?"

"Yes, very unlikely." The lady smiled sadly. "My name's Megan, and unless I'm very much mistaken, you're Steffan, yes? The rogue piper?"

"Rogue piper?!"

"Yes, the rogue piper. We thought you might like to hear a story. Would you come with me?"

Not a moment passed. Steffan looked her in the eye, and answered the way any hero in a story would.

To be continued...