Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XIX

( Part XVIII , XX )

The Man and the Woman looked down at their friend, the Oracle, and took his vital signs. He remained, as ever, stable. The power remained loose in the world, and the two Ninjas of Health were too busy to do anything about it. At that thought, the Woman stopped and considered.

"Do you think we're being kept busy for a reason?" She wondered out loud.

"Who? Us?" Her weary companion replied from their bunk. "I could sleep for a week."

"This begins to look like an endless odyssey of procrastination on that thing's part, if it's not doing something else somewhere. What is this? A giant stalling exercise?"

"It may well be, or it's just as confused as we are."

"I am not confused," commented the Voice of the Entity.

The Health Ninjas became very still, and edged toward the door. Where was It?

"Oh pish-tosh. You won't get out unless I let you," the voice continued, "and that won't happen for a long time. Go to sleep for now."

The two agents of health slept, again, for quite a long time. Longer than they had ever slept before, in fact.

*    *    *

The little chapel stood untouched for exactly two days, until a strange little man approached it, carrying a backpack and an umbrella. He went up to the door and knocked. When there was no answer, he knocked a second time, and seemed to become very still for a few seconds, in a little world of his own. Then, he went around to the back and reached into a small recess in a hidden part of the wall. Fearlessly, he took the recovered key and entered the chapel by the side door.

To be continued? Where will the great idea come from?

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Groucho Season?

The last week was eventful: a dark night-time walk between villages, upgrading of the computers up to Fedora 25, an online dating scam, the car hiding away at the garage, the first successful breading of something (chicken and mushrooms), a new undergraduate student, and of course the obligatory cancellations that come with the season. That night time walk stands out, though, as previously noted a few days ago, in 'Scary And Beautiful'. The low water mark was installing Fedora 25, which is shipping with a really rotten version of VLC and some shocking sluggishness. It seems 23 may be the last great version for a while... Compiling a decent version of VLC from scratch seems to bring so much dependency baggage that it's almost not worth it. However, let us not dwell on these petty things, gentle readers.

To bread something, for those not initiated into the mystery, you need some crumbs, some beaten egg, and some flour. You then dip the item to be breaded into the bowls in this order: flour, egg, crumb. Then, having prepared a tray, with the breaded items placed upon it, you stick it in the oven and hope for the best. For best results, you add seasoning and herbs to the flour, or is it to the crumb? I'm not sure at this point, it having been an excessively long weekend of tedium. Installing computers can be tiresome work indeed.

In other activities, 'The Music Man' retained its reputation as one of the great screen musicals on its latest showing here, 'Groucho Marx, Private Eye' is living up to the standard of the first book in the series. They probably deserve their own posts here at the Quirky Muffin, actually, being just different enough to be interesting in comparison to more conventional mysteries. Ron Goulart certainly seems to have caught the knack of writing Groucho for most of the time. Speaking of Groucho Marx, his 1972 revival performance is available at www.archive.org, and is pretty good. It's called 'An Evening With Groucho'. Any excuse to hear him sing 'Lydia, The Tattooed Lady' again is enough.

Perhaps Christmas 2016 will be Groucho season here on the blog, if I really know enough about the man. However, there are those four classic Paramount movies to write about, the Goulart detective novels, 'An Evening With Groucho' and the accumulated other content, already touched on with 'Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel'. Maybe that's not such a bad idea?


Friday, 25 November 2016

Television: 'Press Gang' (1989-1993) (Revisited)

On my first post about 'Press Gang', I wrote extensively about the first two seasons, and then dismissed the following three as non-canonical and best ignored. Looking back, having now rewatched the whole series, that sentiment could be walked back a little but is still fundamentally true. The first two seasons make a degree of sense, but the following are built on the fundamental silliness that the gang would be allowed to keep their paper instead of responsibly handing it on to the next bunch of kids. Of course they would have to hand it on! That's the whole point! Hence, to get through the non-canonical seasons, you have to get through the daftness of them making the Junior Gazette a going concern, and also characterization that goes up, down and everywhere.

Having said all that, there are good about things the series as a whole. The first two seasons are amazing, and work very well after a settling down period, with a dynamite cast for a children's television production. They touch on interesting and provoking topics, and don't flinch, and build a meaningful relationship between the nominal lead characters of Lynda and Spike, the star-crossed lovers of the series, and everyone else. Even the weirdest character, the mercenary Colin, gets his moments to shine and prove his own humanity. A lot of this carries over into the following seasons too, but it becomes massively inconsistent in characterization. The Grand High Moffat evidently lost the plot and caricatures took over for a while, especially in the characters of Lynda and Colin, who both became utter monsters! Lynda eventually recovered, perhaps she was merely bitterly heartbroken instead of simply monstrous, but Colin reverted to being a creep permanently. Despite it all, it maintained a decent quality, and some good laughs. There just weren't so many standout episodes...

So, in retrospect, we have a good series that goes a little haywire after a couple of years. The cast chemistry lives on, even as it dwindles in size, but something goes awry. Much like in 'Doctor Who', the series tries to grow but finds in the unenviable position of not knowing where it is. 'Press Gang' became something too sophisticated for a kids' show, but not developed enough for prime time. It falls somewhere in the middle, awkwardly. It must have been very confusing for any new audience outside the one that grew up with it! The core romance goes up and down and develops, and adult gags get through the gaps. Where should the final verdict end up? Ultimately, it's the same as before: Watch the first two seasons and enjoy it, and then sample the rest with care. At least Lynda finally recovers, and the core relationship is patched together again. Maybe Spike and Lynda ended up happy after all?


Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Scary And Beautiful

Walking along a darkened road long after sunset, and between villages, it can get scary. It's a spooky situation, with cars occasionally zooming by, warned off by the handheld bike lights in each hand, red facing backward. Away from the things of man, at the mercy of any passing lunatic or hedgebound madman, you can get paranoid and nervous. One thing to do is to start singing songs to ward off your nerves, and another is to start talking to yourself at random. Can you tell that someone is scared of the dark?

Another thing to do while striding along with your red and white lamps, is to become entranced. You see, there's one amazing thing about being out in the dark, and that is that there are no streetlamps, and no houses. On a clear night, while trying to remember the words to 'Three Steps To Heaven', and forgetting about how vulnerable you are to crazed night-time drivers, you are suddenly presented with the universe.

Above you, on a clear night, you see the stars. The stars you can not normally see for all the light pollution around in populated places. It might not be perfect, if it's not too long after full sunset, and there is still light fuzz in the distance, but you get the real night sky anyway. A magnificent starscape opens above you. For a few moments, between cars, you are connected to everything there is and was and every other person who ever looked up and wondered. Orion is right up there, clearly in view, and you can imagine navigating by the stars, or sailing across a still and darkened ocean. What stories are those pictures telling, and to whom?

Yes, it can be fun to walk home in the dark, if you can look at the stars and sing, and forget to be scared. In fact, that's probably the best way to make those lonely minutes go a little quicker. Beautiful and scary fun, indeed.


Note: 'Under The Moon Of Love' also works pretty well!

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Book: 'The Moonstone' by Wilkie Collins (1868)

It's certainly the best of the Big Four of Wilkie Collins, but it's also the least striking or controversial. 'The Moonstone' is a rollicking yarn from start to finish, with the one exception of the forced secret that keeps the story going, and the whole positively reeks of style. It also contains the fewest narrative cheats of the Four, and the most lovable of narrators in the opening section, the charming butler Betteredge, devotee of 'Robinson Crusoe' and stubborn defender of common sense throughout.

Is it important that it's not as controversial or sensational as the other three: 'Armadale', 'The Woman In White' and 'No Name'? Is that perception even correct? As it stands, the only vaguely controversial aspect of this story is the drug aspect, and drugs weren't as controversional in the nineteenth century as they are now. For example, in the 1890s, people could buy now-criminal drugs over the counter in pharmacies! In the end, it's probably important that 'The Moonstone' isn't scandalous, but for the opposite reason to what we might expect. It's important because it's the least susceptible to changes in societal norms! 'The Moonstone' always remains a caper instead of a social commentary or sensationalist endeavour.

The story revolves around a supposedly cursed Indian diamond, passed on by a villainous ancestor to Rachel Verinder, a young heiress. The stone, which has been pursed by Brahmin priests for fifty years, disappears mysteriously from Rachel's rooms, ruining the relationship between her and beloved fiance, and causing massive confusion on all sides. What did happen to the diamond? Why does Rachel turn on her confused man? How did the stone end up with a prominent fence, and will famed detective Sergeant Cuff be the mind to penetrate the mystery? The story then passes through several first hand narratives, over the course of almost two years, before the true story is revealed.

What is the revelation? Depending on your point of view, it's either a masterpiece of innovative storytelling or the worst piece of hokum to ever grace the pages of a classic novel. Only you can make the decision. It's important to remember that, despite my hyperbole, 'The Moonstone' is still a Wilkie Collins novel and therefore has the obligatory middle stretch where you can feel the book stalling for time before it begins to wind up again, which is a symptom of its origins in seralisation, perhaps? It makes up for this with one of the very first detective characters in fiction, and gains a place in history as a result.

Yes, it's pretty good. Thank you, Wilkie Collins, for this and the others, 'No Name' being the pick of the rest.


Sunday, 20 November 2016

To Race The Lobster You Must Have Style, Little One

It was a terrible weekend, and maybe a terrible week, but it still feels okay. Sometimes it works out anyway. What has been happening? Well, nothing of any consequence really. It just felt bad at the time, and mostly because of the Winter Blues more than anything else. Oh, this seasonal adjustment disorder is a real thing, people. It's real! Sometimes it feels as if you're walking around inside a large plastic bubble, seeing the world but forever apart from it, with a brain full of grey tissue paper...

Oh, let's forget all about that. Let's be happy instead. It's pretty easy to be happy when you've been swimming, watched some phenomenal vintage television and munched through a decent portion of your proofreading job. We call it progress, people, progress! What were the television shows? 'Quantum Leap: Another Mother', part four of Michael Palin's 'Around The World In Eighty Days' and 'The Flintstones: The Hypnotist'. All somewhere between very good and great, where 'Quantum Leap' definitely wins out by several noses. Incidentally, what could you possible race that would not allow the phrase, 'to win it by a nose'? A squid? This thought will fester now... What about if we raced horses backwards? Then we could win by a tail? Oh! Oh! We could race lobsters, and they would win by a claw! Hang on, though, do lobsters walk forwards or sideways? This internal debate could go on forever, couldn't it?

Getting away from lobster racing (or penguin racing; if they slid luge-style they really could win by a tail!), this week will also be dominated by an assignment. Yes, an assignment! If only it were more interesting. I'm trying to get excited, but it's difficult. Five hundred to seven hundred words on "Learning a foreign language gives you a unique insight into the cultures of the people who speak this language." might not sound difficult, but it's actually a very small number of words to write about anything. This post is already more than three hundred words, and it doesn't even have a point to make, unless it's about penguins. It's almost aggressively about nothing in particular. That's why it's an interesting thing for the writer, and at best a curiosity for the imaginary readers, who sometimes drop in to read about the funny obscure words. Oh, the funny obscure words!

Coming up soon, you can expect many things. Sometime soon, there should be the aftermath report on 'Press Gang', a book review of 'The Moonstone', more of 'The Ninja Of Health', eventually a piece on Mark Twain's 'Joan of Arc' and in twelve posts time we will have Quirky Muffin 800! The eighth hundred post may end up being an utterly normal post, or a grand review. It is very difficult to say at this point, as nothing is planned. The very best case scenario is the 'joined-up' version of one of the serialised stories, but time may be too short for that. You will have to wait and see...


Friday, 18 November 2016

Radio: 'The Phil Harris And Alice Faye Programme' (1948-1954)

Travelling back to the Golden Age of Radio is like dipping into an entirely different world, where clichés weren't quite yet clichés, and innocence mingled with cynicism in now unheard of ways. It was an entirely different art form, as distinct from modern radio as it is from television, but somehow reborn in the world of podcasts via 'Thrilling Adventure Hour' and some other projects.

The Harris/Faye show was a pseudo-spinoff from the legendary Jack Benny programme and the real-life marriage of Phil Harris and Alice Faye, two of the biggest stars of the day. Yes, you may not have heard of any of these names now as a citizen of the contemporary world, but Jack Benny was the comedic superstar of the 30s and 40s, Phil Harris was his bandleader for many years and would later be the voice of Baloo the Bear, and Alice Faye was a musical comedy megastar. This was a massive radio show, sponsored by pharmacy giant Rexall. Yes, this was the era of corporate sponsorship, but it was also a time when sponsorship was more straightforward and unconcealed. This made it much more endearing, much like the sponsorship of today's podcasts.

Maybe it takes a special brain to appreciate it, but the naiveté of old time radio is something I love. The prevailing pet theory here in the Quirky Muffin Treehouse is that new things come from naiveté and not cynicism. Cynicism only destroys; it does not build. Is this series a particularly worthwhile example, a paragon in any way? I suspect it's one of the best ones of its kind, but only exhaustive research would reveal if it's the first family-based situation comedy to have emerged, or the first to feature fictionalised versions of real people. On the other hand, if this writer had engaged his brain for even a moment, he would realise that the Jack Benny Programme had already done the fictionalised real person for fifteen years at this point...

One thing that this show has in abundance, which may have been less apparent elsewhere, is musical talent and jazziness. Not only do you have Phil Harris at his best, but you also have Alice Faye, and both were unafraid to launch into their old or new standards when the occasion and scriptwriters demanded! It doesn't stop at the music's edge, though as the whole thing is very jazzy and well timed, with great chemistry throughout and some unanticipated dialogue and jokes. Yes, it can lean toward sentimentality a little from time to time, and hokiness, but I like that so it's not a problem. It's part of the naive charm. The supporting cast are pretty good too, and I perpetually wonder if they actually did get child actors to spout that dialogue sometimes...

Oh, a good time was had by all. and is still had by those few who frequent the shows that no one else realises even exist. Welcome, Phil Harris and Alice Faye, your show may be hokey at times, but you carry it off well.


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Take Two

Ah, the old 'take two', the second attempt at filling the old white box. What could cascade from the fingers this time, and will it be more of the same old nonsense? How could it be? This is a Wednesday, right? Nothing repetitive ever happens on a Wednesday!

Hmmm. This is going to be a tough one. Does anyone here know anything about poetry? I've been trying hard, as part of student preparation, to get into poetry but this stubborn dislike of unrhyming and unmetered verse persists. The primary case in point is the collected poetry of Robert Frost. I know, absolutely, that he was a revered poet of distinguished renown, however most of his verse leaves me utterly cold. Where's the beauty? Poetry that doesn't rhyme reads like random words sludged on to a page, and unmetered verse is just prose and bad prose at that. Send all complaints to this barbarian in the usual way, please. It's not poetry, I say!

Shakespeare's Sonnets are pretty ropey too, but for different reasons. They verge on being total gibberish at times, don't they? However, let us now move on to some random words of the day, drawn from the Phrontistery, some of which might even be amusing...

idioticon: vocabulary of a particular district
illusionism: belief that the external world is philosophy
indifferentism: the belief that all religions are equally valid
iotacism: excessive use of the letter 'i'
irenic: conducive to or working towards peace

It is rather endearing to learn that there was a word for excessive use of the letter 'i', isn't it? I can imagine the scholars now, combing through their students` theses and counting the i's, hoping against hope that they would get to deploy their favourite criticism. "You used the letter 'i' too much! Too much! What a hideous iotacism this is!"

There is also a far worse interpretation of 'iotacism'; it could refer to a work in which the first person singular 'I' is used far too often, a habit far too ingrained into the population in general. That's even a problem that gets into this writer's writing on a regular basis too... A 'iotacism' could well be a sign of overly self-centred nonsense...


Monday, 14 November 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XVIII

( Part XVII , XIX )

'The Tablecloth'

The Oracle had restructured the prophetic tablecloth in a very obscure way, which was partly a result of dealing with the preexisting threads and colours in the cloth and partly due to the imperfect nature of oracular activities. Not even Ken, who had discovered the capacity within himself during a particularly boring experience with breakfast cereal, could do it that well. Their friend, the Oracle, was the best, and the tablecloth was his newest experimental medium.

What was on the cloth? One interpretation might be the following:

`A lighthouse is standing on a cliff, above a red and green streaked cliff. At the bottom of the supposed cliff, pinwheel lollipops are sticking out of a giant crater, throwing off rays of zigzag colour. Above the lighthouse, if it is a lighthouse, a massive swirly thing hangs in the sky. The swirly thing suggests movement, but perhaps that's just the tablecloth, or the giant tree hanging in the sky next to it is putting you off...'

There are other interpretations, variously involving broccoli, hair dryers, a sweet shop, and a cataclysm around Big Ben. The final resolution will have to wait until later in the tale, but the final counter-resolution will take place much after that, when the recovered Oracle will reveal the truth about his prophetic vision and the connections between our unusual protagonists, the strange entity and the tinned pear shortages that followed.

(You see, this is what happens to the writing brain when you commit yourself to an incredibly stupid story about health-giving ninjas and oracles who tell the future via table ornaments! Next time: A dog who travels in time via his chew toy's supernatural... Hey, that's not bad!)

You can't stop it, there shall be more...

Saturday, 12 November 2016


How relaxing it is to have the political dramas of the year behind us. Now we can relax and get on with our lives. What a relief it is to be able to finish watching the classic series 'Press Gang', tear through the last few pages of 'The Moonstone', get to grips with Open University courses, and become irrationally enraged by any trifle that passes this way because of pent up stress. Not only are we finally free from politics, but the GCSE exams are over for those of my students going through that ordeal. They're free and clear! What lucky people they are!

Going from eight to four students does lead lead to a budget downgrade, but it also leads to a healthy respite from exam stress and extreme time pressure, and in this case the hopeful pleasure of a job well done. It also leads to a very beneficial respite from the horrors or being positive and reassuring at all times. I absolutely believe that all my students are going to do very well, but that heightened state of reassurance is a difficult trick to pull off. It's a necessary trick, too, because obvious and apparent confidence is a vital quality to convey... It's nice to be able to leave it at its normal level for a while.

What is to come, as we close in on Quirky Muffin eight hundred, and the week wends happily on? Well, there will much talk about books, films, radio and television, much storytelling, and in the remaining times far too much whittering about events unseen and words obscure and forgotten due to the enigmatic vicissitudes of time. In the remaining hours there will a mass of French and Spanish practice, but that concerns you not, dear illusory readers of this fair and silly mock journal.

Hmmm, there's a word that is used in context frequently without any knowledge of its definition:

vicissitude: mutability in life or nature (especially successive alternation from one condition to another)

How often have you used a similar phrase and invoked the vicissitudes without due research? I must have done it dozens of times! How many odd little vicissitudes has this very blog gone through? And large ones too? Many, and probably many more to come.

All hail the vicissitudes!


Thursday, 10 November 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XVII

( Part XVI , XVIII )

What could a tablecloth mystically rewoven by a seer tapped into the great Pattern of the Cosmos possibly reveal about the true nature of an invisible and powerful alien being recently landed in the small town of Toddlingham? What might be hidden in the great Appendices of the Archives of the Modern Order of the Ninjas of Life? Why are we stalling in this blatant attempt at catching people up? Why are storks credited with the euphemismic creation of human life? Only some of the answers to these questions will become apparent in the next few paragraphs.

The letter from Peggy, Keeper of the Appendices, read as follows, reproduced as much as possible from the records of the time:

"My dear, dear friends,

It has been too long since we saw you last. It was only a few days ago that Ken was talking about how the teaching committee missed you so badly, and that he would be trying to get you back for a session sometime soon. I, personally, miss the excellent cooking and the hot air balloon lessons, but what can be done? You were called, after all.

We have pored though the Appendices, which took a while, as you might imagine! There are some relevant passages and extracts (enclosed with this letter) that we thought of interest, but no direct precedents to the visitor that you described. The sketches and letter have been duly committed to the reservoir of knowledge for later perusal.

Ken himself took a hand when I told him of the reference to the healing power, and placed Qi in charge of the school as he assisted me. The incident you referred to was one of the earliest meditation experiments conducted in the coloured ball pits at the soft play centre where Ken was volunteering at the time. Apparently he had sustained a fracture during a freak supermarket incident (he wouldn't give any more detail apart from mouthing 'gouda' at me), and while maintaining some pain control had raised a meditative state after working hours. More than an hour later he awoke in concentric colour circles of plastic balls, with nothing but a small twinge to remind him of the fracture, and an odd craving for peanut butter. More information will follow in a separate message from the man himself.

The picture of the tablecloth was very interesting, and we've turned the picture over to our local expert, who is completely baffled. Perhaps it is more intimately connected to your local environment? We will not give up. We are just as concerned about the Oracle as you two, and have sent someone to help you. You'll know them when you see them. Further support is being rallied from our small number.

Please stay alert. There may be clues anywhere.

Your devoted friend and teacher,


PS Please send recipe for the oaty biscuits. We lost ours in a fiery abyss during a Committee Barbecue, and Adeolu's dog stole the disc with the originals."

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

By This Time Tomorrow

By this time tomorrow, the furore will hopefully have settled down, and the great political votes of 2016 will have all been resolved. It has been an awful year for politics, where the US presidential election and the EU Referendum are just the tips of a very creepy iceberg of sleaziness. The free trade treaties between the EU and North America lurk below the surface, oozing with nasty conditions, as do the Burkini fiascoes of France and the endless flayings of Jeremy Corbyn. It has been so icky and horrible that it seemed as if it was never going to end. Even if Trump manages to edge out Clinton tomorrow, at least it will all be over for a few months, and settled. That will be something. Nothing will possibly go wrong now, until after  Christmas? Right?

People seem to be utterly hysterical about Trump. Don't they realise that even if the lunatic is elected, he will be hampered by Congress into being completely ineffectual, just as the dissimilar Corbyn has been here? He will be left tied in so many legislative knots that he won't be free until 2020 at the earliest. If he tried to start a nuclear war, the Joint Chiefs would in all likelihood mutiny! There's not really any danger, except from gross stupidity.

How nice it would be to finally be free from these electoral clouds. The world will obviously continue going to its doom due to the shear idiocy of its prevailing species, but at least elections will be over! Hurrah! France and Germany next year? Mere trifles, especially with the ongoing EU exit travails. Oh, yes, the elephant in the room: The EU exit. What a mess that is, but thankfully it's a mess that can be left for another day. It's hard enough to have gone through the voting and decision-making ordeal, the trauma of being labelled a racist by association by virtue of voting to leave, the endless patronising waffle of indignant newspaper columnists, and the senseless financial problems that will follow due to idiot traders with nothing better to do than play games with people's lives, without wrestling with any more of it prematurely. There really is no excuse for there being any financial problems now, as nothing has happened!

That will probably be enough. Roll on tomorrow, and the freedom from portentous future events. Freedom! Hopefully, this freedom won't be accompanied by crazed dictators commanding that we all 'kneel before Zod'. Hopefully...


Note: Normal apolitical service will now be resumed. Enough is enough.

Sunday, 6 November 2016


This is going to be one of those 'blank page' activities, which may not go anywhere at all. At least it won't be about exam season, which is finally almost over, as my minions -- oops, that should say 'students' -- go forth into a second week of exams. It's more nervous to be the tutor than the student sometimes! That's a daft thing to say, isn't it? Of course the students are more nervous.

What to write? 'The Moonstone' isn't quite finished, so that will have to wait. British Summer Time bit the proverbial dust last weekend, but I'm not really in the mood to kick it in the teeth yet again as the relative normality of real time beds back in, against the backdrop of seasonal depression. 'Carcassonne: Over Hill And Dale' was a good game, but it's not particularly worth writing about. Breaking through writer's gloom is rough this time.

Fireworks night has been and gone, and was not at all nice in its noisiness and associated smokiness. I still don't understand the human love for burning things, but it's not a particularly endearing topic for this post, which may well end up being about nothing at all. Yes, nothing, the great concept that defies explanation. You cannot explain a nothing in its own terms, only as the absence of all other things! In fact, it has been such a strange few days that I watched a live play of 'Twilight Imperium III' by the Dice Tower. Fascinating game, but long and not for me!

Did you know that 'yapness' is an old word for 'hunger'? It's a nice little word, isn't it? (Thank you, Phrontistery, once again.) "Hello, dear, is there anything to eat? I've got quite a yapness building up!" Sadly, the etymology of the word isn't available. Where might it have come from? We'll never know, but if I were feeling a bit silly, it could end up as a cameo in 'Wordspace, Phase II', once 'The Ninja Of Health' has been wound up. There can be no peace until those ninjas have found their conclusion! Somehow, it shall be done, and then 'The Glove'.


Friday, 4 November 2016

Book: 'Flywheel, Shyster And Flywheel' edited by Michael Barson, from the radio series by Perrin and Sheekman [1989] (1932-1933)

How many half hour scenarios can you squeeze Groucho and Chico Marx into on radio in a season, with no apparent effort, while also producing material that would be incorporated into several later movies, and recycling some from earlier efforts? As it turns out, the answer is twenty-six if your lead writers are Nat Perrin and Arthur Sheekman and the season is 1932-1933. Twenty-six golden half hours, only one of which survives in any aural form. Was the show any good? It's difficult to say. There is one entirely surviving episode, but we'll never know if it's representative. Nat Perrin did pretty well with 'The Addams Family' several decades later, so he had reverse precedent.

Fortunately, twenty-five of the twenty-six scripts for the show were rediscovered in 1988, so we at least know how the show was on the written page. Unsurprisingly, it was very Marx Brothers-ish, except without Harpo, who couldn't possibly appear in a radio show in any meaningful way. Personally, I think they could at least have had his horn, but it might not have been cost effective. It's a great show on the written page, sometimes repetitive on a script-by-script basis, but it would have been great in a weekly radio series. The ghost house sequence alone would have been priceless.

Despite being printed on the page, Groucho and Chico's voices spring into your mind, whether you want them to or not. You can't help but hear Chico's awful puns and gags in that mock Italian patois and groan in sympathy, nor can you read nonsensical Groucho dialogue and imagine any voice but his, grousing away in lyrical excellence. It's just a shame that you can't hear them in actuality, or find out who played any of the other roles. It would be nice if Margaret Dumont had played any of the Dumont-ian characters in the show, or if Zeppo had popped up playing any of the random bit parts. Maybe Harpo was in it? We would never have known, never having seen him speak on screen! Who played Miss Dimple, the ever dependable secretary of Groucho's law firm? How did any of it work?

Teasing out twenty-six episodes was probably not the easiest thing to do. Groucho's lawyer Flywheel (originally called Beagle before a real lawyer called Beagle complained) and Chico's inept and corrupt sidekick character Ravelli encountered mock haunted houses, robberies, adulteries, dogs, temporary tenures as judges, several rambles over America, and even a revival of most of the movie 'The Cocoanuts', and then stopped due to an unimpressed network. Sadly, the Marx Brothers were of their time, and when their time came they were badly behind it due to weariness, and the death of screenwriting due to censorship.

'Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel' may well have been excellent. The scripts are pretty good. All together now: 'Good night ladies, good night ladies...'


Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Almost Sonnet

It's nice to stretch yourself a little bit, especially when you're in the middle of sonnet season with your English student. Hence, a rudimentary sonnet has emerged, known provisionally as 'The Time Travel Sonnet'. It's still a bit rough, and the meter is broken, but as a first attempt it's not too bad. These things tend to evolve, after all. For those who haven't guessed, it's lightly inspired by 'Quantum Leap', but you could just as easily cite 'The Time Tunnel'.

Oh, the things we do for our students! You wouldn't believe just how much preparation can go into each hour of tutoring... I certainly don't believe it...

'Sonnet I' by Oliver Bain (2016)
(also known as 'The Time Travel Sonnet')

I fly through time, a rover back and forth,
Righting wrongs and seeking a pathway home.
With each flash of light, facing south or north,
My feet might touch past sand or future loam.
The first time was a trip to Rome by boat,
The next a jaunt to the Moon by balloon.
The third was a meal with an old dragoon,
But next I was chasing an angry goat!
How long have I been bouncing to and fro?
How long until this tale is fully told?
It was meant to be a test, a brave go,
With our time machine, which will our past fold.
When will I land this time, when that flash fades?
Home at last, the past, or green future glades?

We now return you to your regularly scheduled nonsense, here at the Quirky Muffin. Coming up fairly soon: The next part of 'The Ninja Of Health'!