Sunday, 31 December 2017

Throw Out The 2017 Banners, It's Time To Boogie?

Well, well, well. Against all the odds, we have made it to the very brink of 2018. How many people thought that very unlikely, even a few months ago? There were several rashes of alarmist thinking during 2017, after all. We made it! Huzzah! Bring on another year of -- Oh, great herds of kerfuffling dingoes! I forgot.

2018 will be an important year, but at the moment no-one can really tell whether it will be a good one or not. There are massive and invisible forces maneuvering in the world, and we have no idea what the repercussions of their actions will be. Will we head into the abyss of ever more superficial and empty nonsense, be conquered by stealthy and unseen overlords, reach a tipping point and head for somewhere new, continue in an ever more unstable status quo, or experience some other as yet unknown option (preferably involving lemons as a global currency)?

Before we consider 2018, though, we should try and get an idea of what 2017 was. However, this is really a fool's errand as it is entirely unclear what has really happened in 2017 at this point. The traditional routes of information are now so biased as to be utterly unintelligible, and the Internet is being tamed continually in terms of communication by the big forces. It's very difficult to know what happened, but on the gut level it seems like it was a foundational year, setting the scene but without really doing anything in particular. Despite much media furore, what you can point to that was new and terrible in 2017? There were good things, but they're not entirely clear, drowned out as they have been by hysterical gibbering from our reporters and opinion remakers.

This has been a bit serious, hasn't it? Not really very quirky? Or muffiny? It has been that kind of year. Specifically here in the blog, we've had lots of reviews and general blather, but the stories have fallen away. It would be nice to reverse that, but the extra workload of being a part-time student is very draining. It's almost completely impossible to find that well of creative energy that once was so bountiful and flowing! What we can expect from 2018 is a re-invigoration and a return to some level of creative wackiness, especially if studies take a year off. This is meant to be fun to do, not a drain of resources.

Good bye, 2017. Hello, 2018. Roll on, post one thousand. Bring on the positivity!


Friday, 29 December 2017

In The Spirit Of Exploration (AKA Nine Hundred And Ninety Six)

Throughout human history, we have been most happy when we had something to explore (and sadly, exploit, from some points of view). New lands, new frontiers, and new places to be free. That's almost entirely the reason why Westerns were so popular, and before that the pulp tales of barbarian lands. It was all about the frontiers.

Is there a next frontier on our timeline of expectation? Will we couple the ongoing quest with the introspection and inward voyaging that we will need to survive without self-destructing as we often try to?

Where could we go next? A life steeped in speculative fiction and old comic books provides a laundry list of possible destinations. We could build fantastical submarines and chart the depths of the oceans, tunnel to the centre of the planet, or work out how to reduce in size and explore the bizarre lands that exist in between every atom. There are other dimensions, other times, and other worlds out there in the galaxy, and the ever suspected astral realms where spirits are said to linger. We could even develop invisibility and explore the bizarre lands where light reacheth not.

We can explore outwardly, inwardly, and even laterally, if we can only get there, and someone somewhere can be brave enough to make it happen.

Where will it be? The endless limbo of the status quo and possible extinction, or a great journey? It could be a massive adventure! Of course, as with going to the Moon, we're going to have to invent buckets of new sciences and technologies in order to get there. Bring out the chalkboards; it's going to be a rough ride!


Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, a long time ago, someone stood up and said we should go to the Moon. And we did. People laboured, invented, and cobbled together whole new technologies in order to patch them all together into a tin can that would convey three people to our satellite, and back again. Never had 'there and back again' meant so much.

Mathematicians calculated, and checked over and over again, the orbits, flight paths, speeds, and countless variables involved in shooting a projectile in the right direction, while remembering that the start and end points of that path were themselves also moving. Computer systems were pioneered, radio telescopes co-opted, new engineering ideas were brought from the blue sky into concrete reality. It was an immense endeavour.

It's hard to believe that we ever did it. It's hard to believe that an American president was ever brave and bold enough to establish such a project. It's hard to believe that anything so unprecedented could come to fruition. Despite failure after failure, and the assassination of the man who started it all, the people of the planet Earth watched people walk on the Moon.

I wonder if they were thinking at the time about what would be next. Did they imagine that Mars would be next, and the rest of the Solar System, as we headed off into the future so brightly depicted in 'Star Trek'? Into a galaxy filled with hope and opportunity, coupled with a hefty dose of danger and courage? Did they consider that it might all fizzle out to due to a dearth of leadership and aspiration? No, in 1969, they probably thought the future was at hand.

What must it have been like, to watch the television pictures of those two men cautiously stepping down the rungs of the landing module, on to a different world? Could it happen again? If humanity's timeline truly is one of exploration, then it should be inevitable. In fact, we could be thought of as being in the position of 'explore or bust!'. There are whole new worlds out there, and new things that we could learn in the going.

It has been said, by me and probably others, that the great mysteries of our existence are utterly unanswerable, but that everything we will learn will be done in trying to reach those impossible peaks. We won't go to do it just by sitting around, watching terrible movies and reading trashy novels, or being glued to smart phones which are designed to fall apart after a few days.

Someone is going to have to reach, just like that president did. Someone is going to have to reach out for the stars.


Monday, 25 December 2017

On The Book Piles IX - December 2017

Yes, let's completely ignore Christmas and instead take a ramble through what is on the Book Piles this time. What is being read, either slowly or quickly? Does it seem good so far? Does it seem dreadful? This is one of my favourite varieties of post, so let's get cracking.

'The Columbo Collection' (2010) by William Link

This is the second time through 'The Columbo Collection', and it's a similar reaction. Sometimes it feels quite good, and sometimes kind of fluffy and inconsequential. It's probably due to the muddling influence of the Columbo revival episodes, where everything was much softer and fluffier. Having said that, there are genuine some things in here that I don't think they ever did in the tv shows. It's interesting.

'The Code Of The Woosters' (1938) by PG Wodehouse

Ah, my first 'Jeeves & Wooster' novel, and it's a great delight. In fact, the only bad thing is that it is so close to the television adaptation that I know exactly what's coming. However, if that feeling of familiarity can be overcome, then it's recommended for all! Very, very clever, and wonderfully witty.

'The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer' (1876) by Mark Twain

The curious relationship with Twain's novels continues. My progress was quite good, and then stalled after a foolish reading of the introduction. 'Never read the introduction' should be a dictum taught to all readers of books. At the very least, it should be saved until after reading the story, so as to not ruin it all. It seems like a nice story, but so historically and culturally distant as to be an entirely different world. Ah, the old Mississippi, and the old South. The problem with Twain is that you are always worrying that he might mess up the narrative by trying to make a point. Time will tell.

'The Devil In The White City' (2003) by Erik Larson

This is a wildly curious non-fiction book written in novelistic style, and it mainly popped into the collection since it's partly about the now legendary Chicago World's Fair, and also about the serial killer that lurked during that time. When I get further in, there will be more to say, but for now it could go very well or very badly. The fair is a much more interesting thing to me than the killer.

'The Voyage Of The Beagle' (1839) by Charles Darwin

Not much progress with the Beagle again, due to the usual problems with getting into non-fiction. Yes, it's fascinating, but it's not as likely to draw you back in as 'The Code Of The Woosters' or 'The Belgariad'. An effort must be made! It's fascinating, after all! This was first published one hundred and seventy eight years ago? Wow...

'Galileo's Daughter' (1999) by Dava Sobel

No progress at all with 'Galileo's Daughter'. It's no reflection on the book, just a result of having such large book piles.

'Histories' (440 BC) by Herodotus

This has sneaked (snuck?) back into the piles after an abortive attempt back during one of the last two degrees. I forget which. It's the foundation of history, and definitely deserves to be taken seriously.

Sneaking back into the piles soon: 'The Belgariad', 'The Big Over Easy', and 'Cities In Flight'. Oh, and the next part of 'Journey To The West'.


Saturday, 23 December 2017

Christmas Is Coming

We've had the Winter Solstice, huzzah! The cushion of gloom will now begin to lift, as the hours of lightness lengthen, and the world becomes once more a place of growth and hope. The turn of the seasons is as real as the ebb and flow of the tides, and of our own moods toward life, the universe and everything. Huzzah.

Christmas is coming, however, one of the more distressing times of the year for the doomed singletons of the world. It would be overwhelmingly miserable, but for the bucketloads of uplifting books, movies and television series kicking around this cluttered little place. Right now, the great romantic comedy 'Holiday' is playing to one side, and being generally wonderful. 'The Code Of The Woosters' is waiting on the book piles, and there is a pile of studying and proofreading to get someone busy. Yes, there is a survival plan, which might just work...

'Holiday' really is a good movie. It has the trappings of a boring melodrama, but escapes that status by sheer force of will and charm. It has never failed to cheer. In the depths of the cold dark Winter of hilly South Wales, a light influence is something to be treasured. It even has sister films in 'Bringing Up Baby' and 'The Philadelphia Story', for a trio of (disputed) excellence.

There are Christmas traditions to be upheld, which can help a successful traversal of the holidays. The Rathbone/Bruce 'Sherlock Holmes' movies will be revisited, as will the legendary 'Beiderbecke' trilogy of mini-series, and 'The Belgariad' and 'Nursery Crimes' novels. How's that for a scrumptious feast of happy-ish things? 'The Compleat Enchanter' could pop out as well.

The inherent sadness of the holidays for some people is not to be underestimated. Many people all over the West will have fun, but many others will face their own inner demons. Spare a thought for them, and help someone, if you can. Christmas is supposed to be about giving and helping, isn't it? Oh, in this era of inequality, it's a more important season than ever.


Thursday, 21 December 2017

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Quadripartite Affair' (1964) (Aired 1x03, Produced 1x09)

Ooh, it's the beginning of a stealth two-parter, which is usually split between the beginning and the end of the season in airing order. However, this and 'The Giuoco Piano Affair' are definitely two halves of a whole and were produced back-to-back. Also, in a last burst of behind the scenes trivia, David McCallum was married to his on-screen love interest Jill Ireland at the time, making for some nice/odd chemistry. Now, let's get to the real reason for writing this: What kind of show was it?

'The Quadripartite Affair' is a very good example of 'The Man From UNCLE', which showcases both Vaughn and McCallum as the newly formed double act at the heart of the show. Yes, it seems dramatically weaker to have them both, and Napoleon Solo will continue to be my favourite of the two, but this is still a nice hour of television. We have some great guest stars in Jill Ireland, Ann Francis, Richard Anderson, Roger C Carmel and John Van Dreelen, and a moderately daft plot about a fear gas that is being planned for use in taking over a small country. Yes, yes, yes, it's that old schtick, brought nicely home by Ilya catching some of the gas himself and becoming a frightened mouse for a short sequence, cowering under a counter.

Sadly, though, this episode just misses the sweet spot, and it's hard to quite understand why. Richard 'Superman' Donner is a great director and executes his flawless plan, but perhaps the stealth two-part nature of it all is the problem. However, in thinking about it, there are several great sequences and it's hard to find any faults. Napoleon and Marion (Ireland)'s escape from the villains' boat in the midst of a party is a wonderful sequence, without a shot fired, as is the escape from the fortress. Perhaps it's McCallum and Ireland, mis-firing on screen, contradicting what I wrote earlier? We may never know. Oh, it's a good episode. Ignore all this blather.

One of the major high points of this season is the black and white cinematography, by Fred Koenekamp, which is always so very, very pretty. Impossibly so, at times. Sometimes, after this show, or a good episode of 'The Addams Family' or the monochrome season of 'Gilligan's Island', it seems rather sad that television ever switched to colour. Oh, did I not mention the monochrome season of Macnee/Rigg Avengers? Is the point carried?


Tuesday, 19 December 2017


There are moments of beauty that we can stumble on in the irregular patterns of our lives. The natural environment, no matter how abused it may be with hideously ditched litter and refuse, still has it's beauty in its little moments and impermanence. Here are two case studies from the same one hour period.

Case study one: It is mid-December, at dusk, with a clear sky stretching across a very chilly landscape. Overlooking the rugby field, while munching on contraband Big Hoops, white mist begins to form at the hedgerows and in the corners of the field, while the orange setting sun looms massively over the tree-lined horizon. It's utterly beautiful. And cold. So very, very cold. Yes, December does have some good aspects.

Case study two: Continuing toward my student, as sunset continues, there is time to ramble a little and wander down a side road toward a little used footpath behind the primary school. There, completely unexpectedly, a grand sight awaits. A long view down the valley, toward the vividly orange sunset, reflecting from cotton wool strings of cloud. A sunset so amazingly pure and transient that it demands to be seen for a few minutes. In the distance, vehicles zoom along a local road, but it's far enough away to not be distracting What a grand moment it is, when you discover something that no-one else will ever experience, purely because it will never happen again in that exact way.

Could it be that the impermanence of life is what should make it most valuable? It has long been a contention here that immortality would be deathly dull, but there would be many more moments of impermanent glory, culminating in the horrifically slow end of the world. No, let's not be immortal. Can you imagine all the accumulated paperwork from centuries of life? Yikes!


Sunday, 17 December 2017

The Literary Reflection, VII

Once again, and for the first time in a while, it's time to write a little about the books that have been read, but which don't quite support a post all of their own. There are only three this time, due to quite a few of the books on the piles being extremely thick, but why not plug on and do some doodles anyway?

'Three Men In A Boat' (1889) by Jerome K Jerome

It's a classic, and part of that tribe of texts written at the end of the nineteenth century which still feel modern even now. It feels amazingly fresh, and has a very unusual combination of humorous narrative and internal story-telling. An excellent book, which has the serious drawback of being so good, and so slight, that it's difficult to write about. Funny, witty, fittingly brief, and definitely a classic that lives up to its reputation on its now fourth or fifth re-read. Very good. Especially the bit with the mounted fish.

'The Ghostway' (1984) by Tony Hillerman

Hmm. This would be a great novel for me, if it weren't for one particularly and incongruously gruesome passage. Otherwise, it would be an automatic keeper. The idea of a Navajo detective in the Reservation's police force as the protagonist is sheer genius, and it's great to get into all the traditions and ways of the tribe, even as it's pointed out that they are traditions and ways which are dying out. The writing is excellent, with depth, and I didn't see the ultimate twist. However, there is a sequence where a hitman dismembers and mutilates a dead dog, and that's a major black mark, so black as to make continuing the whole thing problematic. We will see. Recommended, if you're less squeamish than me.

'Journey to the West' (volume 2) (16th C) by Wu Cheng'En and WJF Jenner

Finally, we have made it to the end of volume two, and it is still a wonderful sequence of humorous and fantastic capers. There is no letup in the amazement of this having been written (or codified?) in the sixteenth century. Apart from the occasional coarse moment, it's fantastic, but you have to be able to deal with an episodic epic to appreciate it, and have no problems with translated poetry with no apparent rhyme or reason. The prevailing question remains the same: How incredibly incompetent are the Tang Priest, Friar Sand and Brother Pig, that they need Monkey to bail them out every time? Will Monkey eventually fail and have an instant character moment instead of a long-term evolution? Will his associates ever improve to the point of being able to spend an hour alone without being captured by a demon? Two more volumes will reveal some of those answers, or none. There's no way to predict what will transpire. Will they even reach the Holy Scriptures?


Friday, 15 December 2017

It Can Be Resisted

The 'Alpha Centauri' crazy may have finally peaked. That 'one more turn' itch is subsiding. Or is it? It's a tough habit to break, but a convincing win is a good time to try and stop. Take that, untranscended other factions! Oh, that wasn't a very transcendental thing to say... IIt may be wearing off. This old is so good, so very good. There will be more written about 'Alpha Centauri', which is unbelievably almost twenty years old at this point.

Maybe this could be the general notes and highlights post. Is that useful? The most notable event by far was the prototyping of a new recipe, some peppers stuffed with turkey rice. Yes, a new recipe, a figurative smashing together of two other ideas, and it was actually pretty good for a prototype! Hurrah! It takes much bravery to set forth into the kitchen and do something different, but it can be worthwhile. Now, it needs only to be codified and refined. Ah, the wacky world of experimental culinary exploits! It feels like there might be a tangential story that could spin off from there somehow...

In other weekly news, for anyone still reading and not a figment of the imagination, we had the completion of the second volume of 'Journey To The West', which is something that never seemed possible until now. Yes, the halfway point of the whole odyssey has now been reached, and it should be downhill all the way until the conclusion. It will actually come to an end! Also, 'The Goddess And The Thief' was dropped and given away to a charity shop, and 'The Bob Newhart Show' finally arrived on DVD, and it looks as if it's going to be absolutely brilliant. If ever there was a television series purchase that was so unknown and anticipated, I have no idea what it was. I used to think that the 1970s were a hideous wasteland for television and movies, but now the television part has been partially redeemed. The cinema of that time, on the other hand, only becomes more and more ridiculous. And beige. Getting back on track, Bob Newhart is in the building, and he may be bring wonders with him.

That's about it. Preparations for Quirky Muffin One Thousand have been badly derailed, leading to possible chaos and an anti-climax. It would therefore be utterly fitting! However, let's hope for something more.


Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Deadly Games Affair' (1964) (Aired 1x05, Produced 1x08)

Wow, wow, wow. That was one stylish and elegant episode of spy capers, right up until we hit the cryogenically preserved Fuhrer. That's my third cryogenic Hitler this week. It must be catching. The stamps, and the wonderful banter between Robert Vaughn and Janine Gray more than make up for it, though. Janine Gray was very lovely indeed as the extremely devious Angelique, agent of the thoroughly evil organisation we know as THRUSH.

The notion of Napoleon being deliciously involved with an equally suave female THRUSH operative is almost irresistible. They bounce off each other so brilliantly, that you wish it could be done again and again, but it was a one-off occurrence. Oh, Angelique, you are so wonderful, but so devilishly dangerous. So dangerous... And armed with poison spiders?

The other reason why this hour is great is that it all begins with stamps. Yes, a grand mystery that ends in stamps, runs through the story of two university students, some messing around between Napoleon and Angelique, and then culminates in an extended sequence of the obligatory mad scientist trying to revive Hitler at the expense of Solo's life, before tagging out with a lovely tease between the star-crossed Napoleon and Angelique again. It started so promisingly, too. What a mess! However, at least the German dictator went in a suitably very trivial manner.

Despite the mild derailment of the cryogenics sequence, this is an admirable episode, which really tunes in to both the strengths of Napoleon as a lead character and Ilya's pointed remarks and assistance, as well as the style which permeates through the best episodes of UNCLE. The willingness of the show to go literally anywhere in the stories it contains is amazing. They show no restraint, while remaining true to their core bible, and that's something that always draws me into a show. Just go crazy, writers. Why not?


Side note: By not talking about the Nazis and Hitler factually, and suppressing people who try, we are actually deifying and elevating those awful people and their actions. They deserve to be treated and condemned as real people, not mystified by non-discussion. Those were horrible real times, not sequences of mythical events.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Nine Hundred And Eighty Seven

We are nine hundred and eighty seven posts into the Quirky Muffin, and still going. Yes, this is the weblog that can't be stopped, not by dodgy three-part stories on 'Hunter', not by accumulated stress due to assignments, or the extreme fatigue brought on by mid-Winter, or even sheer literary incompetence. The weblog survives, somehow. For the record, the 'Hunter' three-parter that I wrote about yesterday, turned out to be a bit of a dud after that brilliant first episode. It's a very predictable outcome when beginning three-parters, alas.

Out there, not many miles away, the United Kingdom is struggling under centimetres of snow. However, here in the scenic Gwendraeth Valley, it looks completely normal. It's a green and characteristically damp sight, and completely normal for December. You might even begin to think that all the snow reports and closures are made up, figments from the media's powers of distortion. Is the snow real? Is it?

Oh, of course the snow is real. Probably. There are independent reports coming in from associates around the country. There really is snow. Let's not have any paranoia.

The world is rotating still, and Christmas is coming. It is relentlessly sneaking closer on the calendar, and absorbing all that would normally take place. It's creepy, massive, and utterly unimportant while being crucial. A mid-Winter holiday makes perfect sense, but having it be forcibly linked to a religious festival is problematic, here in the present day of 2017. Oh well, it's a few days off, and an opportunity to catch up with studies and preparation.

Christmas! Bah humbug! Let's all put up the pumpkins all over again and go counter-conventional! Aren't we supposed to be a country full of eccentrics, after all?


Saturday, 9 December 2017

Television: 'Hunter: City Of Passion (Part One)' (1987) (Episode 4x06)

Well that was creepy, and right there on the cusp of shows I would not actually choose to watch. Also, this is the beginning of a three-parter. A THREE-parter? Who on Earth makes three-parters? It's lunacy! Mutter mutter.

'Hunter' was a 1980s detective show which frequently wobbled between goofy and adult, and serious and daft plot elements and storylines. In the early years, it was mainly a vehicle for its titular star Fred Dryer to get in some car chases and shoot a villain dead in self-defence every week, and for Stepfanie Kramer to over-dress ridiculously every week as his partner McCall, and sometimes go undercover as a tarty prostitute. That all partly changed when Roy 'Maverick' Huggins took over the show, and made it his last television project before retirement. He added consistency but sadly removed the goofier peaks and troughs. If it weren't for the actors, it might not have worked, but they were great enough to pull it off, and that is what is really going on here. Huggins also instituted his old practice of adapting stories and novels, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.

'City Of Passion' seems to be a triple-layered narrative at the moment, where even the dynamic duo's boss is getting in on the action, staging a campaign to remove an incompetent or corrupt senior officer from the force. It is packed full of things, which probably originates from the source novel it is at least partly pulled from. There is political intrigue inside the force, a serial rapist who has possibly turned homicidal, a threat to Dee Dee that calls back to her previous rape trauma, and even a supposed subplot involving demon worshippers and a possible death cult. Demon worshippers? It's madness! It's bizarre, crazy lunacy! That flashback/story was the most awkward part of it all.

This hour was really well done. However, and this may have been due to it being December here, and the mood being generally in the deep doldrums, this episode was packed with foreboding and it seems as if it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Of course, if it goes badly, this may be the only time we mention 'Hunter' here on the QM. There may never be a second Fred Dryer reference. This could be it. No uttered confusion as to why 'Stepfanie' has a 'pf'. No wondering at the sheer ineptitude of their first few lieutenants, or Hunter's relentless early destruction of his cars. No ponderings on Sporty James. Nada.

What will happen with the rest of this three-parter? There are going to be some serious events, we'll probably have some mostly boring personal stories from the guest cops, and McCall will almost certainly be in extreme danger at some point. The main question is this: How will these three stories combine by the end? Will they all combine? Will just two converge, or will there be three different resolutions to come? We'll have to wait to see.


Subsequent Note: Sadly, parts two and three weren't anywhere near as good, the three plots didn't converge in any meaningful manner, and the end result was quite underwhelming. No posts for those, then!

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Hound Dog

As I sit here, idly watching the Dice Tower people play a board game, and wondering just what life has come to, it seems like it has been a very silly day. Any day which involves watching people play board games in another country has to be silly, yes? No? Oh good grief, I'm talking to contrary imaginary people! This is the bottom of the blog writing barrel, right there under writing about television shows and pretending to be Elvis Presley...

They're playing 'Pandemic Legacy: Season Two', and it's a very strange thing. It's difficult to get behind the idea of a game, a very expensive physical game, that can only be played through once, even if it is over a set sequence of mini-games, gets permanently changed and partly destroyed in the process, and is then useless thereafter. That's just plain odd. People seem to like it, though. Obviously, this is a rich person phenomenon. I imagine that it would be like playing a very immersive computer game, but with a real thing that you can't turn back to the beginning just by clicking your fingers? (They're having problems... Nyahahahahaha!)

(No, don't look at the blue suede shoes.)

It's a week full of cancellations, here in the wacky world of mathematics tuition, and it's only getting worse as we approach the bizarre event that is known as Christmas. Yes, we're going fully festive and Christmas cards are being thrown around with grim abandon. Whether people want them or not. Yes, take the Christmas card and enjoy it, person of interest! Grraaaaaa! At least all the packages and cards have gone out now, which is nice. There is no Christmas related postal pressure to come. Now, there is only Christmas itself, and then New Year's Day. The year two thousand and eighteen is coming, and with it even more oddities in the geopolitical world.

(It's going to be a blue... Christmas...)

Oh, they lost their game, badly. And with implications. Oh dear. You don't get these problems with 'Scrabble', 'Carcassonne', 'Hare & Tortoise' or 'Thebes'. Or with thousands of other games. It looks so stressful! And the rant about weather forecasting has still not happened! Next time? Or the time after that? Before or after the thousandth post?


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Green Opal Affair' (1964) (Aired 1x06, Produced 1x07)

That was an interesting hour. We get another example of Napoleon being hypno-trained into a cover personality, another delicious villain, and Ilya training with a stick and a pointy thing on a rope. On the other hand, the Innocent's story is a bit half-baked, and the whole thing is just a tad prolonged. Ultimately, it's still a fun hour of television, so let's be happy.

In 'The Green Opal Affair', a visiting agent is discovered destroying a record tape while in a tortured mental state, whose words while collapsing point Napoleon towards an eccentric millionaire suspected of being part of THRUSH. However, and this is where we get a turnaround, the dying words are a trap! Napoleon has been selected for subtle brain surgery, so that he will become a double agent when he reaches the high command of UNCLE, along with many other professionals in other areas. Yes, almost the whole episode is a trap! Ha! The Innocent this week is a housewife, who has also been taken in order to later push her husband into a senior position for THRUSH's later benefit. She works pretty well, but not perfectly, as someone who is unhappy with her husband not being ambitious.

We don't have Mr Waverley this time, which is a shame, but we do have Carroll O'Connor as the hilariously villainous mastermind behind the brain alteration scheme, the wheelchair bound Brach, who has a numerologist and that great villain staple that is the shark bay. What better way than to be nobbled by your own sharks after your numerologist gets annoyed and shoves your wheelchair in? Huzzah!

All in all, this is a much better example of brain alteration and villainy than 'The Brain-Killer Affair', which really faltered thanks to the odd tonal shifts, and was bumped in the airing order to be far away from this one as they're thematically similar. 'The Green Opal Affair' isn't perfect, but it's pretty good, and it's great to see Ilya's bizarre exercise routines. He's definitely an usual and kooky Russian, but time will tell as to whether we prefer one man from UNCLE or two. Jerry Goldsmith's scores are continuing to be excellent when its his turn to compose, and we had sharks!

You can't beat sharks in secret agent stories. Go, sharks, go!


Sunday, 3 December 2017

A Reason To Delve Deep

Right, what to write about? Is it time to dig into the little used words bag? Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. It's almost certainly too soon to mention 'persiflage' again, so hold on for a moment while the Phrontistery gets one of its semi-regular visits. Hmm...

Once again, it's astonishing how many more words there are than we use. It's astounding, shocking and even bewildering! Just a quick glance through 'K' and 'P' yields the following list!

kakorrhaphiophobia: fear of failure

kenophobia: fear of empty spaces

keraunoscopia: divination using thunder

proceleusmatic: inciting; encouraging; exhorting

proxemics: study of man's need for personal space

Of these, the most interesting in the moment seems to be 'proxemics', which shares a root with 'proximity' and deeply connects to that deep desire that we all have to be alone for some of the time. What is the etymological root, though? The psychological root is easy: we just need to avoid cognitive dissonance part of the time, and be able to what we want instead of what is forced upon us by the social situation. It's mad that some people never get to just follow their whims, the poor people. Oh, the etymological root is from Latin, from 'proximus'. Alas, there was nothing super interesting about it. No Greek gods or animals anywhere.

'Keraunoscopia' is quite a nice word too, though. The many words for the different kinds of divination are fascinating. Divination was such a prominent part of life in the old days, before it was reduced to just being the pseudo science of meteorology. Ooooh, there hasn't been a rant about meteorology yet, has there? That's something to come back too! Yes, people used to divine the future from thunder, which must have meant that such diviners had quite a few days off in the year. What an excuse that would be for not correctly predicting the future. "Sorry, dear, I couldn't read anything as there hasn't been a storm for six months. Try me again in November..."


Friday, 1 December 2017

Television: 'Bugs: Season 1' (1995)

'Bugs' is an anachronism now, an example of 1990s style adventurous science fiction televisual nonsense, but it's still good if you look at it from the right angle, squint, and can connect to some naive part of your mind. Since that's a significant strength here at the QM, 'Bugs' is considered to be fun, as a matter of course. Also, the theme music is awesome. Truly awesome.

This really is a goofy show, partly derived from the mind of Brian 'The Avengers' Clemens, and one which is roughly contemporaneous with another dippy show known as 'Crime Traveller'. Apparently, it was a good time for inventivity. Ah, happy days... The central conceit is that intelligence operative Beckett is framed and drummed out of his agency, and inadvertently teams up with a gadget expert called Roz and a daredevil lunatic known only as Ed in order to clear his name. Then, after the dust has settled, they set up a high-technology security consultancy (Gizmos) and get into a sequence of capers, mainly dealing with strains of eccentric crimes and dippy scientists not dreamt of for decades. Sadly, the actors didn't then and still don't exist to enable full vintage kookiness but they had a good go!

Season one is distinct from the following three years of the show, as the Gizmos trios are operating independently, instead of under the auspices of a governmental agency. As a result, the dangers are daftly diverse and partly follow as a consequence of how incompetent our three protagonists frequently are at the outset of each story! Good grief, people, you call yourselves experts?! And what about your morals? Huh? Over the course of ten episodes, we get experimental (and toxic) seaweed food, electromagnetic pulse weapons, remote control airplane heists, stealth cars, bank frauds involving submarines, explosive new alloys, and performance enhancing drugs. It's a full set of then novelties, and the show is often remarkably prescient. And goofy, with extremely erratic writing and performances. Also, there are loads of really old computers, hurrah!

It's fun when it's good, and very odd when it's bad. Jesse Birdsall is stern, Jaye Griffiths is lovely and sparky, and Craig McLachlan is charismatic. The standout episodes from these ten are the deliciously dippy finale 'Pulse', and the genuinely scary 'All Under Control'. In fact, as soon as the opening to 'Pulse' was reviewed this week, I remembered just how much the villain stuck in my mind for years. What a nasty bloke. Boo. Hiss.

Ultimately, season one of 'Bugs' is dumb adventure with gadgets. What's not to like? Oh, you don't like the terrible humour sequences at the end? Sigh. I don't know you.


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Call (Or How To Package)

Well, that was surprising. There was a good episode of 'BUGS'! We'll get back to that in due course, but it was a surprise. Jesse Birdsall was even likeable! Of course, this is all just a diversion, to buy time while I try to remember just what... Oh! Better go back and change the title.

The Call came today. After years of being free of it, the Call came, and Sid Meier's hold returned. Yes, turn-based computer games came back with a vengeance, in the form of 'Alpha Centauri', one of the best computer games to ever be released. Oh, so many hours have been spent colonizing that blasted fungus-enriched world, and being endlessly betrayed by those creeps Chairman Yang, Sister Miriam, and the loony Santiago of the Spartans. So many hours! You click, and click, and take turn after turn, until the world becomes a grey splurge. And it's wonderful. It probably deserves a post of its own, if I'm ever freed from it.

Maybe 'Alpha Centauri' is a displacement activity, as wrapping and packaging awaits. The only problem with finishing your Christmas shopping is that you then have to send all the items off. This requires lots of bubblewrap, tape, brown paper, and a ridiculous amount of patience and organisation. Packaging is one of the most annoying and frustrating things to do in the civilized world, but it's important to do it right. It's more important to make it reusable than to use the bare minimum of stuff.

Yes, it's far too easy to take the easy route in packaging, but if you do it right then you really can make almost all the materials used reusable. If you wrap it in simple bubblewrap, then that can be re-used flexibly by the recipient. The same is true for the brown paper. Boxes are pretty worthless, so it's best to avoid those if at all possible, as well as those horrible plastic bags that masquerade as mailers and can only go in the bin, and padded envelopes, which are utterly inflexible in their applications. Be old-fashioned, and remember to leave an easy way for the person at the other end to get in, so the packaging isn't ruined!

No, this wasn't intended to be a lecture on how to wrap things, but it worked out. Didn't it?


Monday, 27 November 2017

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Shark Affair' (1964) (Aired 1x04, Produced 1x05)

Interesting and somewhat confusing questions: Is he a villain, or isn't he? Is that really Robert Culp or someone who looks a bit like him? Is there a better moment than when a conquering pirate asks if there's a piano tuner on board?

This is a very nice and unusual episode of UNCLE, which essentially re-introduces Ilya as an equally important operative to Napoleon, and puts together a bizarre situation which nonetheless seems just a little credible. In fact, we don't entirely even have a villain this time, but an ambiguous antagonist instead! Yes, this week on 'The Man From UNCLE', Napoleon and Ilya investigate the mysterious disappearances of several people which happen to coincide with episodes of piracy by the mysterious renegade known only as Captain Shark.

We get the ruthless side of Mr Waverley again, as he rather entertainigly chucks his two favourite stooges in the middle of the ocean on a plank of wood, expecting that they'll be picked up by the pirate's next target, but probably hoping the pirate himself will rescue them. Waverley was somewhat tetchy this week, folks! We get some nice banter, and differentiation between Solo and Kuryakin's temperaments this time, especially in how they deal with Captain Shark and the innocent of the week, the wife of one of the captured missing people, who has a slightly irritating voice.

However, there is one big problem with this episode, and it's not Robert Culp. who is quietly awesome. The problem is that the UNCLE operatives seem to actively do something rather dastardly in stopping the plot by sinking Shark's ship and sending him to his doom. He really wasn't that bad a guy, just deluded and doing what he thought was best in a rather stupid and bad way. He could have been stopped in some better way, surely? Surely? It leaves a very odd impression of the episode as a whole, being much more nuanced than a regular 1960s hour of television. Ah well, it's pretty good nonetheless, with some great moments for Ilya and Napoleon, and some nice story and character moments.

That was Robert Culp, yes?

Next, we'll be skipping 'The King Of Knaves Affair', which is a bit unremarkable, and will rejoin at a point unknown.


Post-script: Very cute act titles this week. Nice.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

A Moment Put Aside For Outrage

Let's have a moment of self-righteous outrage, for the supposed 'Black Friday' sales are upon us, and we have a moment to think. Somehow, we are supposed to accept that suddenly lower prices are acceptable from the people that sell us things, and yet not deduce that we may have been cruelly ripped off during the rest of the year. Seriously. How can it work now, and not before? Somehow, a large number of people don't become immensely nauseated by this, and still manage to buy lots of things, so it must work. Obviously, my outrage is an extremely localised phenomenon. Oh well. C'est la vie. How on Earth do they get away with it? Blasted pirates.

Of course, I'm assuming that they're actually putting anything good on sale, but I wouldn't know without looking. It's much more fun to mutter and fume based on moral indignation, after all. Take that, retailers of tat! Nyahahahaha!

Putting aside incoherent ramblings for a moment, it is time to report that Project Wood is over, and that a major weight has been lifted off the writer of this fine blog, and so things should look up here pretty soon. It was no fun to have four simultaneous major projects, after all, and was actually a major source of stress. Stress is to avoided at all costs. Stress is the source of problems that need not be. Stress is a six letter pseudonym for self-inflicted torture. Never indulge in stress when you can do other things. In any case, Project Wood is complete! All the very many TV DVDs are now homed nicely, away from massive stacks of boxes. Now, if only the movies could be so lucky, and the remaining backlog of books. We may not be materialistic here, but we do love the books, television series and films. And radio shows.

Now, having been incoherent for several paragraphs as usual, it's time to roll on out and pick up a book. Ah, books, the old fashioned but incredibly durable entertainment of history. 'Three Men In A Boat', 'The Code Of The Woosters', 'Journey To The West', 'The Voyage Of The Beagle' and more... The book piles are nice right now. Very nice. Time to read.


Thursday, 23 November 2017

Story: 'Wordspace' Phase II, Part XV

( Part I , XIV , XVI )

Surprise, having recovered from his faint, and being unexpectedly resourceful on occasion, had rushed off to find a pot of t's, returning quickly. He and Dream enjoyed their snack, while Infinity looked on bemusedly. The crunching was a funny noise in the underground cavern.

"Where did you go, Dream?" Asked the indescribably curious Surprise. He had asked many times before, only to receive a confused and distracted answer.

Dream turned inward, and considered. "Wherever it was, it seemed as if the world was everywhere, or everywhere was here. Did you really all start dreaming while I was gone?"

"Yes. Mystery became quite confused by it all. You know how he is; always frustrated when he's not the one mystifying people."

Dream smiled fondly. "Yes, I know. He's probably out there right now, trying to reach the core of whatever's going on."

Surprise looked around at the word that made everyone feel small. "What about you, Infinity. What did you see while you were asleep?"

"I do not know. Neither of us knows?"

*    *    *

Fire, Earth, Water and Air surrounded the Invader. It looked down upon them and considered. Earth, Water and Air didn't look, or consider. They flowed over the Invader, and stiffened into a set of restraints. Then, the Invader rumbled over and fell onto the surface of the Wordspace. It was immobile, for now, and sheer Elemental stubbornness was something very difficult to overcome.

War approached, and stood over the captured giant. She looked grim, her syllables taut with tension.

"What in the Lexicon are we supposed to do now?"

There shall be more.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Boop Boop

Gargle. Gargle. Is this going to work? Are the words going to flow? After a couple of days of juggling ruined plans and barely sleeping due to dehydration, it seems almost impossible to focus long enough to make a blog post. We've already discussed how crazily error-strewn the first version of 'The Disappearance' was, and it seems redundant to have the similar discussion about the revised version of 'Wordspace'. Yes, version two of 'Wordspace' actually has conceptual errors and inconsistencies. It will have to be re-edited again, eventually, perhaps for the book release! Oh, what wishful thinking...

Oh, this is a hard one to write. I can't imagine what's going to finish off this post. Not the faintest idea. Perhaps moving away from the board game obsession is a useful topic? Books are regaining their prevalence once again. It's very difficult to find new books to read when you have some criteria to stick to, isn't it? Yes, as a slightly prudish person who enjoys story and characterisation, it's hard to find those novels which are interesting, funny and non-gratuitous in any of the relevant ways. It's actually really difficult! That's why the world of archive and vintage fiction is so appealing. There was a time when stories were the rulers over flash and substance, or at least it feels that way. This is what it feels like to be and old fogie, isn't it?

There must be modern authors to get interested in, but it's so hard to find them. Everything I touch feels like a soulless bestseller in its prose, and that is a terrible barrier to overcome. You can't turn up with plain bestseller writing when the reader has read Lord Dunsany, Arthur Conan Doyle, Woody Allen's prose, GK Chesterton, or even David Eddings. It's a fool's errand! There will be more on this in the future.


Sunday, 19 November 2017

In Retrospect

Looking over the draft version of 'The Disappearance', which will soon be revised into something much much better, it becomes clear the quality control on these serial stories is pretty low. In fact, there was no quality control at all! There are typos, grammatical flaws, odd vacancies, and plain inconsistencies. It's alarming, but somehow also reassuring. After several weeks of painting in short bursts, for example, it seems as if perfection is perennially unattainable. Yes, it's rather embarrassing to see just how much gibberish there was in 'The Disappearance', but at least the path of improvement is clear. It just needs to be rewritten a few times, have a few gaps filled in, have some consistency resettled into it, and be processed a few times through the editing mill in time for the thousandth post. So, that's easy! That was irony, folks!

The thousandth post is coming, and is becoming a bit scary. A thousand posts is a ridiculous number, signalling the passage of ludicrous lengths of time, and the madness of our current plane of reality. A thousand posts? Of this stuff? Is is possible? Is it feasible? Is it allowable by law? It has been ninety-nine-per-cent gibberish, after all. What a staggering number. Perhaps it has all been some kind of delusion, and in fact the whole Quirky Muffin is a metaphor for something on a different level of being. Perhaps all of reality is like the tip of an iceberg, and we're all just the smallest parts of the manifestations of utterly incomprehensible multi-dimensional beings. Perhaps they like broccoli, which is actually high entertainment in the multi-space? It all makes sense, if you close your eyes and think of dodos. Oh, dodos, what a shame it was that you vanished from the world we know. Sigh.

In any case, the next few weeks will be all about getting 'The Disappearance' into shape for the thousandth post, and in understanding just what on Earth has happened in 'Wordspace' to date, in the hopes of it actually continuing to completion. 'Wordspace' is by far the most interesting story to ever be attempted here, and it would be nice if it went somewhere. It would be very nice. Anything else would be a waste. The other stories could go either way, but this one needs to be finished. Perhaps the third year of OU study should be delayed in order to get some stories finished. Perhaps.

The new week is looming, and now it's time to get some sleep and prepare for a new set of teaching hours, a new set of studying challenges, and yet more corrective painting. Project Wood will finish this week. Hurrah!


Friday, 17 November 2017

Getting Back On Track

All of the stories here at the Quirky Muffin seem to have vanished, which is sad, but it does provide an opportunity. 'Wordspace', in particular, is now so stalled that it allows a re-read and re-assessment of what has come before. Has enough time passed to make it possible to go on? Of course, being exhausted all the time makes being creative very difficult, which is the main problem! There is no inspiration while sleepwalking around the world, nor is there energy to evaluate and re-evalute possible future directions.

So, we have an opportunity to get back on the story track, hopefully before the thousandth post hits the virtual printing press. This is good, isn't it? IT will be nice to know what on Earth is going on? It's very pleasant to now be almost finished with Christmas shopping and bookcase painting, leaving each day virtually free of ancillary projects. Thank goodness. It's nice to be able to focus on just three things instead of five, this weblog duelling with tutoring and studying for the majority of the week's useful hours.

Oh, Christmas shopping, why do you multiply so?! Why? Another idea just popped into my mind, blast it. Grumble grumble. I blame Barney Rubble.

What will happen with 'Wordspace'? I have no idea, as I don't even know what has happened so far at this point. There is just a bare shadow of events lingering in the memory, hidden behind the confusing clouds of the last few episodes of stalling, needlessly added to the end of the narrative. You wouldn't think that it would be difficult to continue, with so many things happening at once, but all those things were really just methods for not advancing the main plot. Something will have to give. The wood must be found amongst the trees. Somehow.

And now, we return you to your regular scheduled existences. Please return the curtains to their resting position and do not upset the apple carts on your ways to the exit.


Note: No apple carts featured in the making of this post. At all. Something is wrong with the world.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Neptune Affair' (1964) (Aired 1x11, Produced 1x04)

We will be up to date with the UNCLE Season 1 rewatch after this post, having skipped the oddly flat 'The Brain-Killer Affair', and so there will be space for other posts that aren't about Napoleon Solo! However, first we will chatter on about 'The Neptune Affair'. This is very much a return to basics, and a good return at that, as Solo is sent off to follow a tenuous trail in hopes of averting a horrific conflict with Ilya's home country. It seems that someone has been launching fungicidal attacks on Soviet crops, and launching them from American territory...

It was nice to see Ilya in Soviet uniform at the beginning, confirming that he is in fact a Soviet officer even while working for UNCLE (or undercover), and it was interesting to see that spilling over a little into his conference with Solo. We get very little Ilya early in the run as he was essentially a minor character until the audience warmed up to him very similarly to the way they did to Spock on 'Star Trek'. Anyway, we get more of him here, but it's still very definitely (and thankfully) the man from UNCLE and not the men from UNCLE that we're following at the moment. Robert Vaughn could easily carry episodes on his own, and with magnificent charm and swagger.

There are some very nice moments in this episode, including some nifty emergency conditioning so that Solo can resist drugged interrogation after muttering a code phrase, and a cute closing sequence on a beach after escaping from the scheme of this week's evil schemer. This time it was the ever wonderful Henry Jones, the prototypical memorable man with an unremarkable name. He had a scheme, and a team, bent on inciting a conflict and then cleaning up what was left of the world after the dust had settled. Presumably from his secret base under a marine oil rig? It's patently daft, but it does allow Robert Vaughn to get in a lot of very impressive and well-shot water work, and the introduction of the innocent's story is very natural and organic.

Hmm. Is there anything else of note? It's good to see Solo going undercover again. It shows an interesting level of deviousness to his abilities. This one will probably be remembered for all the lovely boat and water work, and some very interesting characterisation for Henry Jones' antagonist. It also looks spectacular. Some of these episodes look better than the movies of the time!


Monday, 13 November 2017

Long, Long Ago...

Practically every post of the Quirky Muffin will eventually be a rewrite of something I've written before and forgotten. It's inevitable. Does it matter? Maybe, and maybe not. Is this going to be a first? Who knows? The Great Bird Of The Galaxy? The Mighty Fruitloop?

We could waffle on forever, and even engage in imaginary persiflage (thank you, PG Wodehouse) with ourselves, or we could find some theme to bang on about for a few minutes. Or we could even just ramble on about the issues of the day. Anyone want to talk about Trump, Putin, frozen yogurt, the meaning of life or giant hamsters? No? Blast. Mutter mutter.

It has been a good day. Students are making progress, people are happy, the pressure is off on several fronts, and Christmas is approaching. Oh, Christmas, the season of restrained gifting and Christmas card sending. Christmas cards are pretty easy to buy if you just go to Oxfam or Barnardos and pick the nicest ones. If you're going to buy Christmas cards, then it's entirely fitting to have the proceeds go to charity, isn't it? (Other charity shops are available.)

Christmas is a funny time of year for the principled agnostic. You becomes a little put off by the core Christian aspects that get pushed at you from time to time, appalled by the hideous materialism exhibited by many people, and cheered by the good cheer and charitable moments which pop out naturally as a natural byproduct of it all. Christmas can be a great time of year, if it's taken in the right spirit, and if you avoid adverts as scrupulously as we do here at the Quirky Muffin. No mood will be spoilt by advertising here, mwahahahahah!

It's too early to say if it will be a nice Christmas or not, but the early indications are good. Does that mean disaster is coming?


Saturday, 11 November 2017

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Iowa Scuba Affair' (1964) (Aired 1x02, Produced 1x02)

We won't do every episode of the first season of 'The Man From UNCLE' here at the Quirky Muffin, only the ones that are fun, interesting or just staggeringly well-made. We won't be talking about the next one made, for example, 'The Brain-Killer Affair', which was plain disappointing. Here we have something much better: 'The Iowa Scuba Affair' is a classic Napoleon episode, which begins with him facing down a motorcycle and gunning down the driver who's out to run him down, and then sees our sort-of hero posing as the driver's brother, intent on finding out the truth behind his death. It's double-dealings all the way to the bottom, including an encounter with a deadly explosive bath bomb. Yes! Another unlikely sentence printed in all innocence!

It's all go for the man from UNCLE. We also have one of the classical innocents in peril, which enlivens the proceedings, giving a very naive and pretty Katherine Crawford something to do as she gets pulled out of her backwater life into a world of danger and high adventure. The photography becomes less impressive later in the series, or so I remember, but here we get some of the best monochrome imagery, including a wonderful interlude in a grain silo. We can thank director Richard Donner for some of that. Yes, Richard 'Superman' Donner, who also gave us 'Ladyhawke', 'The Goonies', a particularly favourite episode of the 'Twilight Zone', and other works of legendary repute. He did a few for 'Gilligan's Island', to give some idea of his flexibility.

Now, you may be wondering why it's called 'The Iowa Scuba Affair'. This relates to the daft spy plot part of the episode, which involves Slim Pickens digging a tunnel to the nearby air base, using his new well as a secret entrance, which requires scuba gear to gain entry. The tunnel, in association with a deal with a rebel force looking to take over a foreign country and possible THRUSH involvement, means Solo has to get to grips with the mystery of the driver, who was not who he was claiming to be, as quickly as possible.

The genius of this original format is that the story of the 'innocent' character is often more involving than the official spy story. In this case, the lady in question is longing to get away from her lonely country life, and the consequences of being engaged to the dead man wearing the wrong name, and gets more than she bargained for from Napoleon Solo. At least she'll get to visit New York, and get the Solo tour, hopefully without a touch of heartbreak. He's a gent, that guy. The world is full of people who think they don't have choices, isn't it? Is it a happy ending? Maybe, and maybe not, but it's certainly a touching one.

Never take scuba gear to Iowa. Bad things will happen.


Thursday, 9 November 2017

Letting Things Go

Words, words, words. It's a weird week. There are still bonfires being burnt, Project Wood has finished principal painting and only requires little touches, maximum tutoring has been reached, two OU assignments have been dispatched, and two board games have been swapped. It has been remarkably busy. In fact, it has been so busy that this post has almost not happened, and may not happen now. This could be a phantom post, always hanging around in blog limbo. Limbo!

Where is blog limbo? Is it up near Jupiter, in the secret Internet archiving station being kept up by the Archons from Planet X? Or is a virtual base deep in the Internet, somewhere that no-one can ever reach except by accident? We can not know.

Oh, it really has been a too hectic day. We may have to let this go quickly. In the coming weeks, you hypothetical readers can expect more 'Man From UNCLE', more 'Wordspace', and more random gibberings. For now, after too much painting, shopping and teaching of graph sketching, it's time to go and think about nicer things in repose, and possibly even reach the end of volume two of 'Journey To The West'! Yes, progress! It has been a very odd journey so far, but enjoyable...

Oh, local humans, stop it with the bonfires!


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Vulcan Affair' (1964) (Aired 1x01, Produced 1x01)

Original Airdate: 22/09/1964

Napoleon Solo is a wise man. He seems to hold some of the secrets of the universe, which power his coolness and poise. Yes, he's definitely the man, and he seems to be a far better agent than that Bond bloke, and a better man.

This is a remade version of the original pilot for UNCLE, which was mysteriously in colour, and featured a different actor as the equivalent to Mr Waverley, the supervisor of our favourite international agents.

'The Vulcan Affair' introduces many of the things which are deeply important to the series as it moves onward, and also pulls off an absolutely brilliant hour of cinematic television. It's excellent. Sam Rolfe truly knew what he was doing when he developed this show. It's a shame that it was run into the ground after he left, but it's all part of history now.

'The Vulcan Affair' has the archetypal example of the 'involved innocent', that was used to some extent in every episode. Patricia Crowley is great as the housewife who gets dragged into action to help entrap a THRUSH industrialist who was an old flame at college, and who becomes confused by her new glamorous life. It's actually more feminist than it sounds! Fritz Weaver is good as the half-sympathetic villain, and William Marshall plays an African villain. Yes, a sophisticated person of colour in 1964! The actual plot is typically corny, but we can't have everything.

The interactions between Robert Vaughn (Solo) and Crowley are especially well judged, and there's a great suspense sequence involving a pipe, some steam, and a lot of futile bashing with a shoe. She and Vaughn really work well together, and their hysteria is a great moment. The music by Jerry Goldsmith works entirely to the show's credit, and the whole thing reeks of potential. Is it going to be a good season? Is it? Yes, with great patches.


Sunday, 5 November 2017

Perfectionists Must Never Use Brushes...

The last phase of Project Wood is nearing its end, but its an end that keeps moving further and further away. First you paint the white, then you make the shelves orange, then you make the trim blue, and then you go back and go over the splashes made by each of the distinct steps, and then over the splashes from the corrections, and so on, and so on, before you eventually go mad from all that and the hours of applying masking tape. Oh, the masking tape! It's madness! Absolute madness! Sticky, icky, relentless madness!

On an unrelated tangent: Fireworks are popping, or were until a few moments ago. It's fitting, as it's November the Fifth. It's the anniversary of that attempted explosive change of government yet again, and the world outside is reeking once again of smoke, while a very bright full-ish Moon is peering down in perplexity upon the smokey landscape. It's not an exaggeration, for once there is no rain on Fireworks Night, and it reeks out there. It reeks in here. It reeks everywhere! Smoke is permeating the country from all the revolting bonfires. Bleuch! I never could understand the appeal of this rotten cold and smelly event. Perhaps it's yet another aspect of innate human masochism peeking through the veil of civilization? Perhaps it's just that people like burning things and making loud noises? Why do people like to burn things anyway? It's such a malodorous waste of material.

Painting and burning are actually two examples of just how primitive our methods can be at times. How do we change the colour of something? We slop appropriately coloured slime all over the object and then wait for it to dry. How do we make heat? We burn something to a crisp and wave our hands over it. It really is just like being in the old days all over again. Maybe it's good to have primitive aspects to our lives, but I really wish that painting and burning weren't amongst them them. Music is pretty primitive and not hideous, after all. Let's keep music. And frisbees.

At some point in the process of painting something with several colours, you really need to throw away any slant for perfectionism that you have and say that it's good enough. As a perfectionist, it hurts to say that, but no matter what you do, there will always be a problem caused by the last thing you did, or the storage conditions, or sheer random luck. Perfection is practically impossible. Instead of going mad, it becomes time to stop, and think of fountains, weirs, forests and mountains. Ah, the real world of the old Greek elements... Earth, Wind, Fire, Water and the other one. Yes, yes, I know the fifth one was really Aether. It was a joke! Sheesh...


Friday, 3 November 2017

Film: 'It Happened Tomorrow' (1944)

It's sweet, unexpected, and really rather kooky. It may be the only time I get to see Dick Powell in a movie, and thankfully is is a good one. He was great in 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective' on the radio, and he's good here. As is Linda Darnell, rehabilitating herself from the dodgy performance in 'The Mark Of Zorro', and director Rene Clair, who made the extremely flimsy 'I Married A Witch' (IMAW). 'It Happened Tomorrow' (IHT) feels much better than than IMAW, which was almost disturbingly vacuous. There is a lot more of a through-line here, and the ending would have been unexpected in 1944. The ending to what? Is it time for the obligatory plot explanation. Not quite yet. We need to do some background.

Ah, some background, there was a show in the 1990s called 'Early Edition', which had a wonderful first season, and then stopped being aired in the UK. It was about a man who started receiving tomorrow's newspaper a day early, delivered by a cat, and set out to try and save people from the calamities occurring in the headlines. Apparently, the latter seasons fell apart, but I couldn't say so from personal experience. It was a nice season of television, and it may have been inspired partially by this movie, which in turn was inspired by a story by Hugh Wedlock and Howard Snyder, and was very similar to a one-act play by Lord Dunsany. Have we never mentioned Dunsany yet here on the Quirky Muffin? Corr! It must be some kind of hideous anomaly! IHT also keeps to a lesser known indicator of good movies: the presence of Sig Ruman. Hurrah! He's back again!

In IHT, a reporter in the late nineteenth century makes a flippant bet with a veteran colleage at his newspaper, after a bizarre conversational interlude, that he would do very well out of getting the paper a day early. Pops, the colleague, promptly shows up later and hands him one before vanishing into the night, and we get a bizarre string of narrative feedback loops over the next few days as Stevens, the reporter, is both influenced by and ends up guaranteeing the stories that he's reading early. He also becomes involved with some stage psychics, gets robbed, and ultimately is scared witless by reading his own obituary. Of course, that may not have been quite what it seemed...

In common with IMAW, this movie has a deep supernatural element, and a probable angel, but it also has a lot more story happening. It's much more interesting. The plotting is in fact very clever, as it never quite unravels in the ways that you think it might, and the last few sequences are very impressive as we chase over parts of the city and eventually down a chimney into the one fatal place that Stevens absolutely did not want to visit...

Dick Powell is quietly very good, Linda Darnell is capable and very pretty in places, and Jack Oakie is excellent as her uncle, with much mugging and fainting during a great and profitable interlude at the race track. It's all lots of fun. Hurrah for fun movies! And hoorah for movies told as flashbacks. Recommended.


Thursday, 2 November 2017

Ask It Another Day

Fresh from watching 'It Happened Tomorrow', which was a wonderful and kooky little movie which we'll talk about tomorrow, perhaps, it's time to get a bit wordy. Or very wordy, in a bid to escape assignment pressure. Oh, that assignment pressure! It's not fun to have two modules with identically scheduled assignments. It's not fun at all! At least the following years will not feature plural courses...

Actually, assignment season isn't so bad once you get an idea of what you need to do. Exams and assessments always look more intimidating in prospect, and they usually have big mountains of pressure which actually don't exist. Oh, the horror. There's no reason to be scared of assessment, or is there? Oh well, that's a question for another day.

There are lots of questions to be asked on other days. Some are serious. Is this the day to make a will? Can I not do this sufficiently well any more? Some are frivolous. Why are we throwing fish at the penguins? Is this frisbee really the reincarnation of Uncle Fritz? Who is that person waving a roundhead helmet in the window?

Actually, who is that person in the window, waving a roundhead helmet? And how do I know what a roundhead helmet looks like? Good questions! Is it all related to Ando Hiroshige, who is ironically the topic of my Spanish assignment, despite being a nineteenth century Japanese expert in landscape engravings, who quite liked the Tokaido, the ancient trading and pilgrimage route. Ah, the Tokaido... It's also a very odd little game... Ah, the window figure is just a ghost. What a relief. Next delusion, please, this is getting interesting.

In any case, 'It Happened Tomorrow' was rather good. It may be the only time I'll ever see Dick 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective' Powell on a screen, looking entirely unlike what you might expect. More on this tomorrow.


Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Book: 'Leave It To Psmith' by PG Wodehouse (1923)

It's funny while being intricate, and manages to juggle numerous distinct character lines without any apparent effort. It is the culmination of the 'Psmith' sequence of stories and only the second episode in the 'Blandings' saga. In short, it is 'Leave It To Psmith', and it is easily one of Wodehouse's best novels, in my limited experience. The 'Jeeves' stories are still to come, and a whole era of Wodehouse remains untouched.

There's a mighty freshness to Wodehouse's work prior to the Second World War and his dubious misadventures, beyond which it feels somehow unnecessary to tread at the moment. Reading his works for the first time is like the first taste of an ice cream soda, or singing and dancing in the rain on a blustery day, and this is one of the best.

What is 'Leave It To Psmith' about? On this occasion, that's quite a difficult question to answer. There's Psmith, one of Wodehouse's earlier characters, seeking employment after resigning from an odious, and odorous, family job in the fish business falls into fairly innocently impersonating a poet who is about to visit Blandings Castle, as a means of following the extremely freshly discovered love of his live Eve, who has been hired to catalogue their library. Simultaneously, the Earl of Emsworth's brother-in-law, Joe Keeble, and Emsworth's idiot son Freddie conspire to steal Constance Keeble's fabulous necklace and then return it as part of a scheme to liberate some money from her control for the noble purposes of helping some friends, and themselves. Freddie enlists Psmith, and then Eve (love of both their lives), in the necklace scheme, little suspecting that a fellow guest and poetess is also on the hunt for the jewellery. Not only that, but the efficient Baxter, secretary extraordinaire is hot on all their trails, and flowerpots feature heavily in the plot, with a recurring theme of hollyhocks. Ah, hollyhocks... All in all, it would be complex, if not for the wonderful prose.

'Leave It To Psmith' is a daft and entertaining diversion, with some excellent juggling of all the various elements, and some endearing silliness all around as we untangle numerous impostures, attempts at theft, flingings of flowerpots, and one throughline in which everyone, except Lady Constance Keeble, is out to help the course of true love for Psmith's and Eve's old friends Mike and Phyllis.

It's lovely.


Monday, 30 October 2017

Returned Once Again, For The First Time

Greetings, and welcome to the resumption of this piece of prosaic fluff, which is otherwise known as the Quirky Muffin. Ah, such bliss it is to write with the sure skills of someone who has made it through a whole day without doing anything correctly! Perhaps this blog post will actually be resolved in dodgy Spanish, without it ever being realised? It's entirely possible after a few particularly bizarre episodes. "I meant to write 'plus', not 'flop'!".

'Condorman' is playing to one side as this is written. Ah, it's a classic, misunderstood by the masses, and yet strangely compelling to people who still have contact with the silly romantic sides of their natures. Don't believe the nay-sayers, for they have no idea what's going on! It's a nice way to finish a day of triple tutoring after a long and relatively sleepless weekend away.

Trips can be nice. On this occasion the weekend away incorporated a trip to scenic Dove Dale, home of some of the most famous stepping stones in Britain. It was ever so pretty, but unfortunately combined with a bleak and overcast day to make something less than ideal. At least the littler people had a nice time, which is something. The bigger people got to play 'Ghost Stories', 'Card City XL' and the evergreen 'Ra'. Ah, a classical game, that last one.

It's time for school holidays once again, which means the board game theme continues as a board game party is due for the students. What on Earth to play with a bunch of year fives, sixes and sevens? The current plan is to keep it simple and go with the classics: 'Forbidden Island', 'Mississippi Queen', 'King Of Tokyo', 'A Fake Artist In New York' or some selection of the above. Isn't it grand?

Uh-oh, Natalia just found out the truth in 'Condorman'. The dreaded romantic break is surely coming...


Thursday, 26 October 2017

Movie: 'Around The World In 80 Days' (1956)

(Pre-prepared to cover for a trip)

If it weren't for a couple of things, this would be one of the greatest adaptations to be filmed, but it's not. Every Jules Verne adaptation seems to founder bizarrely, caught on the rocky shoals of production or conception. This one, to get the bad out of the way early, seems to have taken Spanish funding and inserted a freshly fabricated sequence involving a balloon and landing mistakenly in Spain that lasts for about forty minutes of the one hundred and seventy minutes. Almost an entire quarter of a movie based in racing around the world in record time is stuck in Spain, doing practically nothing and messing around with bulls! It's infuriating! Utterly infuriating! The movie bombs in that first hour after a very encouraging beginning, and then doesn't pick up until afterward, when presumably most people have given up and gone back to counting their fingers or watching the wallpaper.

It's doubly infuriating since the movie sticks very closely to the original adventure after the interlude the air and Spain, and is actually very well made, pretty and watchable after it completes the transition back to the properly adapted story. Alas, sometimes that's how movies were made. The introduction of legendary Mexican star Cantinflas as a suddenly Spanish servant Passepartout, (originally French) results in a huge amount of time spent on showcasing his talents in the Spanish sequence, annoying a lot of viewers in the process, and undermining his excellent work later when he's treated as a regular character. Oh, the movie of two parts... If only, if only.

That's enough of the bad. The remainder of the film, which can be accessed easily by skipping the aforementioned Spanish sequence, is pretty solid. It omits some portions of the travel, and instead concentrates on certain passages. For example, they skip directly from the place of cinematic doom to Suez, and miss out everything between, but do reproduce the story of the novel whenever they choose to keep a sequence. The music is very patriotic and lampoons the stuffiness of David Niven's hero, the dispassionate Phileas Fogg, as much as Verne did in his prose. 'Around The World In Eighty Days' wasn't an entirely serious work, after all. It was meant to be humorous. It's also fast paced once you get into the good part, and David Niven is brilliantly subdued as the great traveller. A very young Shirley Maclaine is oddly cast as an Indian princess, but doesn't do badly with what she's given. Robert Newton is funny, but a bit too caricatured as Detective Fix, the policeman tacked on to Fogg's party, who is intent on arresting him once he reaches his home country once again.

Apart from the sheer length of the movie, the music, the brilliant photography and production values, a great closing credit sequence by Saul Bass, and a very odd production story that includes Orson Welles going bankrupt from the stage version, the most notable aspect of this film is the ridiculous number of high profile cameo appearance. The movie is stuffed with notable actors and performers popping up for a few seconds, and almost buries itself under the burden of featuring them all. However, ultimately it does benefit from the accumulated star power. David Niven is lovely, and caught the comedic moments perfectly when they come his way.

It's a good film, if you know what not to watch. If only it had been two hours long instead of three, then it would have been great. Go ahead, give it a try, but forward through that bizarre addition and save yourself an hour. There are no balloons in the original story. It's a nice experience, which lovely trains and ships.


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Movie: 'Blind Date' (1987)

What a curious movie. It doesn't feel like a movie that should fit into the usual sensibilities, but it does. Very much so, except for one particularly crude moment. Perhaps it's childhood familiarity coming into play, but it seems nice without being twee. Sincere without being arduous. It's incredible to think that Blake Edwards, who made the 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective' radio series in the 1950s, 'The Pink Panther' and 'A Short In The Dark' in the 1960s, as well as 'Peter Gunn', also made this twenty years later. That's history. He worked for a long, long time.

Let's not get carried away though, as this really is just silly fluff. However, why not have some silly fluff around the place from time to time. That's what 'Blind Date' is for in the grander scheme of things. Everyone needs some silly movies kicking around in their collections. They're more useful than emotional traumas and relationship melodramas.

What's 'Blind Date' about? It's a fairly standard romantic comedy that briefly goes berzerk, businessman Walter (Bruce Willis) is set up with blind date Tania (Kim Basinger) for an important business dinner, but she goes off the rails after some drinks, and causes chaos in his life in combination with her pursuing deranged ex-boyfriend David (John Larroquette). Ultimately, after some extreme destruction, they end up together, after some comedic sequences and the traditional separation, and all is well. There's nothing super-special, but it works very well at what it does, and marks what could have been for Bruce Willis, if he hadn't been sucked into idiotic action movie land. Oh, if only 'Moonlighting' had inspired his destiny instead of 'Die Hard'. If only.

When we originally watched 'Blind Date' here, we had no real idea who John Larroquette was. Now, in the context of having seen him in 'Night Court', and his guest shots in 'The West Wing' and a few other things, it's wonderful to see him appear here. Oh, Larroquette, the great underdog! He was also in 'Baa Baa Black Sheep', which will be popping up on a DVD review sometime in the future. He's good here, too, working with fairly standard material.

'Blind Date' is a fairly standard romantic comedy, but it zips along and oozes style when you least expect it. On the other hand, you might think it's terrible. Such is the way for these things.


Sunday, 22 October 2017


As may have been obvious for a time now, these extemporised off posts of the Quirky Muffin have been running on nothing for quite a while, but they will continue! It's fun to pump out words without any idea of what it's all going to come to.

It's really all in the perception. If this blog were perceived as a worthy thing, as a project of meaning, then it would have ended long, long ago. It's not that. The Quirky Muffin is a challenge in being able to write, often without any particular topic! It's an excuse to write. That's why it continues, and that's why it will continue to exist. Quality? We smirk at the idea of quality! Consistency? Consistency is for people who care not for rhubarb!

Oh, perception, that great deceiver. The perception of things is so important that the newspapers, other press, and the political class, have been competing for centuries to change and warp our perceptions of things for their own ends. Perception is everything. Do any of us get the real idea about anything in the world? Fortunately, the world of the Internet could allow direct perception of the world on many levels, and the power of the press is slowly ebbing away. Perception may be getting truer, or more wrong. It's hard to say. The perception of a mob of people may not be quite the same thing as reality, after all.

Hmm. Perception. At some point, we'll have to have a post about how perception is altered by headlines, and the power of loaded questions to shift your opinion before you even think about the answer. That should really be something to do in English lessons: a full debunking of brainwashing by the media, and the masquerading of opinions as news. Maybe it would be a bit dull, though.

With that, it's time to put away the keyboard and get back down to sleepy time. Beware the Jabberwocky, people!

Oh, that was a nice ramble. Sometimes the random jumble of words does make sense after all.


Friday, 20 October 2017

Erg, The Blue Paint Is The Worst

Paint can really get to you. Being sensitive to smells has constant drawbacks, especially in bonfire season, but paint is one of the worse ones. Especially blue paint, for some reason. Is the unnatural nature of blue something which requires a deep pong? Yes, with every colour comes a dodgy whiff, it is a law that always has been true... And it lingers on and on, and on, for days... What is it. you wonder, that can make it all worthwhile? Is this why artists and painters are sometimes so wacky?

It's a Friday, and Halloween is coming very soon! The non-event that never stops giving! There will be no trick or treaters on this desolate stretch of road, just as there are never Christmas carollers or people trying to sell atomic tin openers. Ooh, an atomic tin opener! What an idea! What would an 'atomic tin' be, though? A little microscopic tin used to store small talk? Small might be too inconsequential to store in an atomic tin, though. It would probably rattle. Oh, that icky small talk! Halloween is a week and a half away, and thoughts turn to the Halloween episode of 'Star Trek' once again. How strange 'Cat's Paw' truly is.

The world is awash with small talk. I wonder how it all gets generated? This human need to be talking becomes irksome sometimes, when there's not a huge amount to be said. It's probably just my Bohemian soul screaming in anguish, though. Having written that, it's time to worry about whether 'Bohemian' has picked up unhelpful connotations since the last time it recurred. Just in case, the Quirky Muffin here and now denies all information on the fake dolphin trade. We know nothing. About anything. But we do like 'Star Trek', and unnecessarily and erroneously talking about ourselves in the plural, and using long words.

Yes, it is a Friday, and the weekend looms. Then, there will be a short trip at the end of next week, followed finally by half-term, Halloween and the holiday board games party for the perennially lucky students. This time around: 'King Of Tokyo', 'Fake Artist In New York', 'The Mississippi Queen' and not a lot else! That's enough for two hours.


Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE' (1964-1965)

Let's talk about Napoleon Solo, the suavest spy of them all. Let's talk about the first season of 'The Man From UNCLE', the best season, the monochrome year, the one overseen by the series creator Sam Rolfe before he wandered off and it all went a bit wonky.

'The Man From UNCLE' (UNCLE) was a revolutionary series, which built on a lot of the strengths of 'Maverick' and to a lesser extent the 'James Bond' movies. In fact, Ian Fleming helped set up the series in its earliest formative stages. There's a lot of early Bond in there. However, UNCLE really deviated from Bond in the introduction of an innocent character in each story, whose life intersects with the story of the episode in an unpredictable way, and in eventually having multiple lead characters. However, let's not get ahead of ourselves too much.

Dramas on television were for a long time exceptionally serious. The word 'grim' comes to mind. There was very little between dramas and situational comedies. You either had stone-faced dramatic hams gnawing away on tragedies (see 'The Fugitive', or other Quinn Martin  or Irwin Allen productions, for example, or even 'Mission: Impossible') or clowns merrily plotting away ('The Phil Silvers Show' being a brilliantly funny example). 'Maverick' really bridged that gap by being able to do both, sometimes even at the same time. UNCLE plotted a far more precarious path, but in its best season it was definitely a show bent on mixing spy stories with the real world, and on not taking itself too seriously. Later, it would be a parody, but at this time it was well balanced. It also has the first appearance of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in the same episode of anything in 'The Project Strigas Affair', even if they never exchange a word.

The titular man from UNCLE was Napoleon Solo, played by the extremely cool Robert Vaughn. He dominated the early episodes, twinkling as he navigated his way through the thriller and spy stories that dominated, and safeguarding the civilians caught up in the mayhem. Later in the season, David McCallum ascended to full lead character status as Solo's dispassionate Russian partner Ilya Kuryakin. In fact, Kuryakin was known as the Blonde Beatle for a time, so popular was he as a character, and can now be seen clearly as a Spock prototype. Ilya added something special to the show, but he also weakened Robert Vaughn's Napoleon Solo. It was a precarious balance.

The writing was smart and the acting and direction was excellent (Richard Donner, hurrah!). Yes, subsequent seasons wobbled over the place, but here it worked. The list of guest stars is stellar, with my own favourite being Barbara Feldon having a first spy story here, before appearing as Agent 99 on 'Get Smart'. In some ways, 'Get Smart' is a parody sequel to this series. 'The Man From UNCLE' was definitely a product of its times, but it was a wonderful show. It was probably a purer experience earlier on, when Napoleon Solo was king of the castle, being directed around by Leo G Carroll's Mr Waverley, but it didn't fail for a whole extended season*, and it did it with an inward grin.


* Maybe 'The Shark Affair' breaks this. Maybe.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Storms That Dare To Fret And Blow

The ex-hurricane known as Ophelia is blowing with gleeful abandon outside the window, making the darkness even more scary than it usually is. Wooo.... wooo.... No, it's not the scary monster of a hurricane that menaced the Caribbean last month, but it's still disturbing.

When you walk in the wind, and stick out your hands, or even your whole arms while doing an airplane impression, you get a very interesting feeling as the air rushes under your fingers. It feels a little like the way flying is in the imagination: A cool rushing sensation and a sense of freedom. It's very nice, apart from the flying debris in this case, of course. Ophelia is, after all, an ex-hurricane! It was a nice walk home earlier. Very fun, in a slightly perilous mode.

It's probably the meteorologists' fault. They had to give the storm a Shakespearean name from his most famous play, didn't they? Of course it was going to be a gigantic drama! Of course! If only I knew enough about 'Hamlet' to comment further! Ophelia is in that play, yes? Oh, Shakespeare, you and your storms. There was famously a storm in 'The Tempest', wasn't there? Well, it would be hard for there not to be a storm in 'The Tempest'! Cancel the redundant question. Cancel everything. Bring back woodcuts as the prime form of entertainment.

Shakespeare is a massive weak spot in the pile of literary knowledge that lies behind the Quirky Muffin. We studied 'Macbeth' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at school, both of which seemed interminable, but which probably weren't motivated in the best way in class. Is there a good way to motivate reading 'Macbeth'? It's one of the dreariest plays. We even went to see one of the incredibly clich├ęd productions set in Nazi Germany. Oh, those hideous days... 'Julius Caesar' seems a far more interesting play, in prospect, and 'The Tempest' seems more approachable after a brief read through some time ago.

What would Shakespeare have written about storm Ophelia? Would it have involved a long sketch about someone painting little bookcases, and watching them repeatedly being blown over? No, it would have been something much different. Or would it? Would Ophelia have been the main character?


Saturday, 14 October 2017

That Was Actually Kind Of Nice AKA Game: 'Fake Artist In New York'

It's nice to get out of your groove and play a few games from time to time. Yes, there are vital projects, but we have to be able to relax, right?

This time, it was 'Small World', a home brewed version of 'Fake Artist In New York' and some observation of 'King of Tokyo'. Three radically different games for three different locations. 'Small World' was more tricky to play than I remembered from the last playing, but good, and 'King Of Tokyo' was excellent as always. 'Fake Artist' was a nice surprise, however, that everyone easily 'got'. It's a shoe-in for the next students' games afternoon, which is supposed to be coming soon. It involves drawing, so it's a natural!

'Fake Artist' is a simple implementation of the 'hidden traitor' breed of social deduction games, which are typically far too stressful to be fun. This one, however, is actually very nice, mainly because it ditches most of the arguments and interrogations in favour of... drawing! Hurrah! It's a hidden fraud tricky pictionary game! Nyahahahahha! Much better than 'The Resistance' or 'Spyfall' might be for more sensitive people.

Each round, one player takes the role of question master and declares a category. They then write their chosen word on some cards, one for each player, excepting one card which has an 'X' written on it. The person who gets the 'X' card is the fake artist, who has to get by without anyone suspecting. Everyone gets to make a mark on the paper in turn with their unique colour, without giving any hints as to the real subject of the drawing. At the end, if the fake artist evades suspicion, or if he's spotted but guesses the word anyway, the fake artist and question master win two points each. If the fake artist isn't spotted, or if he is spotted but can't work out what was being drawn, then the real artists get one point each. The target is five points, but that can be changed easily. That's it. It's actually very good, and light. It's the epitome of drawing games with a twist, acting as a nice complement to 'Pictionary' perhaps.

Good. Relaxation? Ha! Oh, and Project Wood has completed assembly. Only a few rounds of painting to go now.


Thursday, 12 October 2017


It seems as if my life, and perhaps this is normal and I just don't know it, is divided up into the discrete bubbles, and that no-one crosses over from bubble to bubble. Period A had one set of friends, period B had another, and that they go away when the bubble bursts. Is that normal, after all? It doesn't seem so. Perhaps it's a sign of inflexibility that all these different spheres have been kept so discrete, or perhaps it's a sign of a deeply buried reluctance or complete bewilderment when considering how to push different parts of life together and not go mad in the process?

Compartmentalisation is a psychological phenomenon where we, and this is mostly being conjectured on the spot, break our sets of people and experiences into sets so that we can handle them all at the same without going completely mad from holding all the variables of our entire lives in our minds at the same time? Does that make sense?

We all compartmentalise, but do we all get a bit confused when the work sphere crosses the family sphere or either crosses the friend space? Is it just me? Isn't there always squeamishness? Is it something to be dealt with, or something to be cherished? Are these defined spheres good for us, preserving different senses of identity? It seems natural to try to keep work as far away from your personal life, doesn't it?

As a private tutor, the dividing line between work and personal life is far less rigidly defined. It's interesting, and will require more thought as to whether that's a healthy thing or not. Do we need all these compartments, after all?


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Movie: 'The Big Year' (2011)

It's a curious world that we live in, where a charming little movie such as 'The Big Year' can be such a dramatic box office flop. What went wrong? Did it get marketed badly? Did people think that a Steve Martin/Jack Black/Owen Wilson movie would be a riotous comedy instead of a comedy drama with indie undertones? That was probably the case. Nothing else really makes sense. The world is strange.

'The Big Year' (TBY) is based on the similarly titled non-fiction book by Mark Obmascik, chronicling the experiences of three aspiring record breaking birders, out to spot the most birds in a calendar year in the United States and Canada. In fact, the movie is based on the book very closely, changing only the names and adding one melodramatic subplot to the arc of Wilson's character Bostick, the reigning champion birder. Actually, that added subplot is the most infuriating part of the movie, it being the most melodramatic and signposted thread to be found. It's actually vexing.

As mentioned earlier, TBY is a charming comedy drama, showcasing Jack Black and Steve Martin at their most approachable, and Owen Wilson at his most charming. It takes the real world phenomenon of birding, during a peak spotting year, and turns it into a very enjoyable romp with a nicely studded cast. We get Joel McHale in a not particularly rewarding small role, Rashida Jones being as bright and beautiful as she ever has been, the great and underrated Brian Dennehy brilliantly cast as Black's father, and Dianne Wiest doing her usual role as the lovable mother. They all pale against the backdrop of all the beautiful birds, though, which are what make this movie special. Lots and lots of birds!

When the three leads are off on their birding adventures, it's a very good romp. (Birds!) When each of them are having their character arcs, it jumps up and down a little. Wilson plays the obsessed Bostick, who is neglecting his baby-crazy wife, and who has already ruined one marriage through his birding. This subplot is the weak point of the film. Martin plays Stu, a retiring CEO, who keeps being pulled back into action at his business, and who is coming to terms with his age and future. Black plays Brad, a worker bee, who is pulling off his Big Year and job at the same time, while trying to appease his parents and credit card companies at the same time. Most of it works very well. Nothing is super excellent, but it is nice and moves along pretty quickly. If only the Bostick arc could have been done in shorthand more. It's incredibly obvious what's going to happen...

There are nice comedic beats from a subdued Jack Black, some heartfelt moments from Steve Martin, and the usual Owen Wilson excellence. This gets a good recommendation, but gets promoted closer to greatness by all the birds. Huzzah! Not excellent, but very good.


Sunday, 8 October 2017

Where Would You Go?

Let's be brief: It's late on a Sunday, after a day full of swimming and teaching, and there is currently no plan for this post. What on Earth could this possibly be about? What? Could it be about the joy of learning to swim through experience and learning to be comfortable in the water? Well, maybe. Could it be about the joys of being at the very end stages of Project Wood 2017? Could it even be about the relative joy of realising your story can be about anything you want, and feeling free to jettison the path you were on in order to move forward on another? What about being very happy with student progress, or the perplexing nature of language teaching? All these topics could work. Ack. They're also all pretty boring and expected, based on recent writing. There's nothing particularly interesting there, from the writer's point of view. There's not even a reference to cheese of the world of competitive pleating.

Ah well, when you have your back to the wall, and a deadline looms, you just go with what you have: If you had your own submarine, what would you do with it? Now, this is not a segue into 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea', where Admiral Nelson made a deal with the Navy to get a deeply deranged nuclear reactor on his private underwater scientific vessel, which people operate by pulling out orange rods with their bare hands. No. No, where would you go with your own submarine, really? It's a nice question. We know so little, in the popular sphere, about the underwater world that we have absolutely no idea where we would go. Yes, the name Mariana Trench pops up pretty commonly in fiction, but what else do we know? Anything? There were some references in 'The Hunf For Red October', and you can count on 'Voyage' to throw in some made-up nonsense, but otherwise it's a blank mystery. Where would we go if we had our own submarines?

In the spirit of scientific investigation, my choices would be to go explore a deep submarine trench, visit an active underwater volcano, explore a darkened cave, and then visit any (friendly) underwater civilizations that might be hiding out down at the bottom of the sea. You can never have too many friends, even if they have tentacles or a tendency to squish when they walk. Actually, that would be kind of silly. An underwater species wouldn't need to walk, unless they have their own sealed habitats of course. Hmm. What would be the point of being an underwater species and then having sealed air filled habitats, presumably stuffed with oxygen filtered from the ocean? What would be the point, indeed? Maybe, they would really be refugees from another planet, landed in antiquity, or a race that just likes to have their own version of the swimming pool, which would be the air bubble. Yes! Yes! It's an aquatic version of a swimming pool! They might just to go squilching from time to time. They would have to have lessons: beginner's squilching, improvers' squilching, and competitive amateur squilching clubs. It would be nice.

That's how you end a post on a bewildering note, isn't it. It feels like it would be a good theme for something, actually...