Thursday, 31 August 2017

Film: 'Ruggles Of Red Gap' (1935)

It's a beautiful little movie, effortlessly funny and wonderfully made. Directed by Leo McCarey, and starring the great Charles Laughton as well as the unfairly forgotten Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland, this is one of the great comedies. Sadly, though, it is also almost completely forgotten. Had you ever heard of 'Ruggles Of Red Gap' before looking at the title of this post?

This may require some thought before we continue. Perhaps we should talk about the story, then Laughton, then Ruggles the actor, and finally toss in a few words for McCarey and the mumbling Roland Young?

The story is exceedingly simple. A bumbling Earl (Roland Young) loses his extremely repressed butler Ruggles (Charles Laughton) to a Washington state couple (Ruggles and Boland) in a poker game, and the nervous servant slowly becomes liberated as he is assimilated into the American society around the turn into the nineteenth century. Everything else in the movie is a natural consequence of the character interactions between butler Ruggles and actor Ruggles, as the latter slowly releases the former from his traditional bonds, while Boland tries her best to keep those bonds in place!

The core of the movie is Laughton's wonderfully buttoned-down performance as the valet, and in the brief glimpses of a brilliant interior life that he seeds increasingly as the movie goes on. The man was truly a master, pulling off comedy here as well as he did drama in other famous instances. There is one marvelous drunken scene with actor Ruggles that works so well that it could almost have been a movie by itself. There are a couple of problems near the beginning of the movie, when the possibility of interminable sedateness becomes a fear, but it soons works itself out, as Laughton and actor Ruggles settle into their back and forth. Ah, Charlie Ruggles. a great comedic talent. You may have also seen him in 'Trouble in Paradise' or 'Bringing Up Baby', although I didn't realise it at the time and have no idea if he was any good.

One of the most famous aspects of the movie, apart from the marvelous checked suits of actor Ruggles and the wonderful interludes between Laughton and ZaSu Pitts, is the scene where a whole saloon fails to remember the contents of the Gettysburg Address, before being stunned by Laughton's quiet recital of the famous words. It's truly the turning point of the movie, and shows off Laughton's oratorical ability. Coupled with the closing moments, and the secondary conversion of the Earl when he visits the titular town of Red Gap, it makes for a great arc to the whole piece. Leo McCarey judges the tone precisely, possibly borrowing from the original play where necessary, and Roland Young takes mild-mannered to a whole new level as the Earl, before revealing some hidden depths of his own.

A grand old classic comedy. Well done, Leo McCarey.


Wednesday, 30 August 2017


Well, that's another trip done and dusted, with far too much coach travel. Almost three whole novels got read, which was an amazing feat, but almost nothing else could be done over a cumulative twenty hours on the road, including delays and some chaos. At least they were good books: 'Kentucky Thriller', 'Three Hearts and Three Lions' and 'God Save The Mark'. 'Three Hearts And Three Lions' is especially fascinating, but we'll get to that eventually. It was a nice trip, which included an excursion to Liverpool. In impersonal events, there was a good game of 'Mystery Of The Abbey', which is a more fascinating game than I suspected, and one which reopens a very odd quandary. You see, this deduction game had a misprint in its last edition which I enjoy playing with rather more than I suspect would be true with the unbotched rules. What to do? It's one of the odder first world problems you can bump up against, isn't it? Oh, let's just stick with the wrong rules and see what happens...

It's a wacky world, but sometimes it gets all kinds of wackier. Today, for example, in a burst of courageous idiocy, saw the first end of holidays board game extravaganza for my students, which was quite the rowdy affair and reminded quite forcibly of just why I'm ever so pleased to not be trapped in a classroom. There's no escape! Aaack! And there's no way to keep anything on the tracks. All you can do is hold your nerve, ride the bucking bronco of fate, and try to keep some plan up your sleeve to finish the time. Usually, said plan is Pictionary, but you never know when it might be something else. Sigh. I really thought 'Jamaica' would work out brilliantly. There's no justice.

Thankfully, with that trip and the party done, all the grand enjoyable disruptions are now over, and it is time to get back to simply living life for a few days. The value of that simple thing is not to be underestimated, even when you still have a grand woodworking project and the looming start of the second year of Open University studies on the horizon. Oh, what fun it will be to only be juggling two over-projects! What happy times! 'Wordspace' may even finish! Wowsers! We can only hope!

More will follow in the coming days, as the relief fully settles in. Cowabunga, dudes!


Monday, 28 August 2017

Television: 'Supergirl' (2015-2016)

(Pre-written cover for travelling)

After a fairly stinky season finale, it's time to talk about the season as a whole. For our purposes, this is a wrap for 'Supergirl', and we have to ask the question, 'Was it any good?'

It was both very good and bad. The writing was sometimes excellent, and sometimes very lazy and dumb. For every inventive and authentic use of Supergirl's powers, we also had a opposingly stupid brawl or angrily dumb heat vision staring duel. There was much heart and warmth, but it was sometimes ruined by spells of cynicism and tediousness when dealing with the arching thread of the escaped criminals from the crashed space prison Fort Roz. Most of the casting was great, except for the small portion which was plain bad. When every supporting character is absurdly beautiful, it's easy to switch off for a few minutes.

However, on the whole, it can be described as good. There are some nice moments wedged into the rickety composite framework of the show, and it was lovely to see the Martian Manhunter become part of the series, vastly improving David Harewood's role in the process. It was great to see Super-mythology being tapped into, and to have lovely touches like the Key to the Fortress of Solitude and Kelex, the presence of ex-Daily Planet staffers Cat Grant (the brilliant Calista Flockhart) and James 'Jimmy' Olsen, and some casting tie-ins with practically every available person who has been in a Super-show in the past. It would have been nice to not have recycled so many of the standard superhero series episode plots, but that's to be expected. Probably. Maybe. I don't know.

The stand-out episodes are 'How Does She Do It?', 'Human For A Day', 'Solitude' and then one of 'Manhunter' or 'Worlds' Finest'. When it works, it does so thanks to a great cast and a deep reliance on Melissa Benoist as the titular character Kara Danvers. When the show doesn't work, it's usually connected to the structural flaw that is having her work with the DEO, a para-military organisation that is essentially everything the Super-characters would hate, and an accompanying avoidance of the character of Kara/Supergirl. That deeply divisive flaw at the centre of the series is what stopped it being great. It's also why season two doesn't sound appealing at all, sadly, as all the character relationships are apparently trashed and Kara moved away from the centre of the show? Oh, CBS, why couldn't you just keep the series? Why?

Good character relationships, good acting, decent writing, some good to great directing. It was a solid show. It will never leave the DVD collection. Golly, if only they had tried harder and not been so lazy when it came to villains and nefarious deeds. Is it a good plan to just have your heroes turn up and wait stupidly and brainlessly to be engaged in a fight? I despair. Moving on, they actually dealt with the absence of Superman pretty well for the whole season. It was a good idea to not have him there, but be more of a legend, and an occasional chat partner with Kara.

Overall, Kara Danvers is there for the win. Melissa Benoist was wonderful. Not many people can pull off a cape and humanity at the same time. Mehcad Brooks and Jeremy Jordan get mentions for being lovely too, and it was nice to see Dean Cain again occasionally. Ah...


Sunday, 27 August 2017

Book: 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' by Douglas Adams (1987)

(Pre-written to cover a trip.)

JS Bach. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The mathematics of music and movement. Ghosts. Time travel. Conjuring tricks. Ancient aliens. More. Much more. Electric Monks? Good grief. That's not even a comprehensive list of what goes on inside this novel. There hasn't even been a mention of the sofa paradox!

Reading 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' (DGHDA) was one of the formative experiences of my life. Even now, many years later, this novel is still adored. It is one of the two best Adams novels, the other one being 'So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish', and is very difficult to describe. It's easier to describe it via questions, in fact. Why is technology guru and compulsive babbler Gordon Way shot to death by an Electric Monk that hitched a ride in a passing time machine to Earth? Why did the erratic Professor Chronitis feel the strange urge to make that trip in the first place? Why won't Gordon pass on, or why does he remain as a ghost? What does his employee, ace programmer Richard MacDuff, have to do with it, and why has he too been doing strange things? Does it all connect via Dirk Gently, the self-styled holistic detective? What exactly is a holistic detective anyway? Why are his professional expenses so eclectic? There are more questions than distinct answers, and it's goofy and rather intelligent in alternating fashions.

DGHDA is quietly awesome and unheralded. Yes, some people won't understand what on Earth is going on (and what NOT on Earth, too), and the short chapters which switch around so frequently might be disorienting, but to me it was and is excellent and brilliant. No-one else could have written it. It's a shame that the sequel, 'The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul', was so gloomy and laden with the doom of that last portion of Adams' life, as it could have been even better. DGHDA has jokes where you don't expect jokes, music where you don't expect music, and references to mathematics when no-one ever expects mathematics to be mentioned at all! Oh, it's wonderful. It's marvellous. How could so many disparate elements be incorporated into one novel? How?

This is about as close to fanatical raving as we get here in the Quirky Muffin. The novel is not without flaws, although I couldn't point any out in particular at the moment. Some people complain that the titular character doesn't appear for an extremely long time, but that's just how the story unravels. There could be complaints about all the references to 'Kublai Khan', Coleridge, and JS Bach, but those are easily remedied. You just have to look up the names, after all. No, I can't seriously think of anything wrong, apart from an entirely subjective and personal quibble over some unnecessary swearing. Maybe, just maybe, the final denouement is a little sudden and unexplained, but it works.

'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' does a set of things that practically no other book does. For that, it is to be commended. It's also very funny, very original, and explains the word 'holistic'. Read it, enjoy it, but don't accept any expense claims for obscure leisure trips to Bermuda.


PS No, I'm not going to clarify the sofa paradox. You will just to have to find out the hard way.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Book: 'The Hollow Man' by John Dickson Carr (1935)

(Pre-written to cover a trip)

The might break the word barrier and become its own post. In, I know it will.  'The Hollow Man' is a legend in its own right amongst detective stories, and my own experience of it is dominated by my first exposure, which was the Radio 4 dramatisation starring Donald Sinden as amateur sleuth Dr Gideon Fell. If any of the other Carr novels approach this one in quality, then the author himself will be paramount amongst all the mystery writers, excepting Doyle, who doesn't really exist in any one genre, and is a category all of his own. However, that's a case for another day.

John Dickson Carr specialised in 'impossible crimes; and some his locked room mysteries are works of art. My experience is so far insufficient to allow putting this story at the top of his pile, but the resolution is so simple as to offer a full illumination based on one or two simple facts. What are those facts? Well, read it and find out!

As mentioned obliquely, 'The Hollow Man' is one of the Dr Gideon Fell mysteries (Carr had several series, including the books under his pseudonym Carr Dickson), and therefore features much harrumphing and contemplation of the facts at hand, and many theories, fancies and twists shot to pieces by the procession of events. There is also, famously, a chapter devoted to a lecture given by Fell on the categorisation and classification of locked room mysteries, in which Fell himself acknowledges his own status as a character in a television story, and adds much novelty to the other claims for this being Carr's masterwork. Some people prefer 'Till Death Do Us Part', but such a distinction will have to wait until I've read that other work.

Is 'The Hollow Man' really a masterwork? It's certainly very, very good, and holds up to re-reading (In one day, no less!) very well. This is where the Sinden influence breaks in, though, as his fruity voice washes over the whole story, enriching it unfairly. There's an awful lot of subjectivity creeping in here from that radio play. However, as I begin to hear you ask, “What's it about?”, it becomes clear that there has been a glaring omission.

A French amateur expert on the paranormal, a Professor Charles Grimaud, is murdered, apparently by someone who had publicly threatened him the week before at a club night for enthusiastic eccentrics. The killer thrust himself into Grimaud's study, locked the door behind him and shot the professor before promptly vanishing into thin air on a night laden with undisturbed snow all around. Simultaneously, the supposed killer is killed in the middle of an empty snowy street, at almost point blank range. No-one was there, and no traces remained of his attacker. Dr Fell and Superintendent Hadley are baffled!

It's a classic mystery, despite all my haphazard ramblings. A recommended story if you don't mind some meandering on the way to the final revelation we all expect in a mystery story. In this one, it involves an entirely non-supernatural Hungarian connection.


Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Story: 'Wordspace' Phase II, Part XIII

( Part I , XII , XIV )

There is coincidence, and there is Coincidence. The latter had a habit of dropping on people just when they were about to enjoy afternoon snacks, while the former seemed to be responsible for the rampaging Invader, the discovery or rediscovery of Infinity or Forever or whatever the massive word underneath the foundation of the Wordspace was, and the long delayed returns of the Ordinals to the known Wordspace. Oh, and the presence of Sorpresa, a fun but unexpected visitor from another world.

Mystery looked over at Sorpresa, who was looking down randomly at the Wordspace below, pensively. He apparently had no idea what was happening. Ground, Air, Water and Fire had united for the first time in recent history, and after two of them had been defeated by the rampaging giant word from places unknown. The massive words were below them, communing as only the Elementals could. War and her cohort were making attempts on the Invader, but very ineffectually in the distance.


Mystery jumped, caught as he had been in his own contemplative phase, at Sorpresa's question. "Sorpresa?"

"¿Es una ocasion muy rara, si??"

"Occasion? Rare? Yes." Mystery nodded a few syllables emphatically.

"Si..." Sorpresa seemed to be thinking deeply about something. Then he jumped off of Cloud into nothing.

"What the --- ?!" Mystery crawled over to the edge, even as Cloud pulled a sharp turn to try and go after their mad friend from another space.

"He's okay." Murmured Cloud, in some quiet surprise.

"What?" Mystery looked over and saw a big white sheet of punctuation gliding slowly to the ground. "What in the Wordspace is that?"

Cloud didn't respond. She was on the move.

The sheet hit the ground, and he watched Sorpresa ran up to Ground and hitched a ride. The Elementals seemed to be on the move. Massively. Thunderously. They might have been the biggest pacifists in the world that they knew, but they were definitely a force to be reckoned with. Maybe they hadn't need War after all?

Mystery would have been even more surprised if he had seen Club arriving with his own reinforcements.

*    *    *

At this point, Coincidence almost certainly had arrived with a camera, just in time to take a snapshot of the Elemental reunion.

*    *    *

The eye of Infinity was vast, and looked at Dream, occasionally blinking.

"Do you know us?" Asked Dream.

Infinity waited for what seemed an eon before answering.

"Know? No. Yes. Who?"



Dream realised that this might take a while.

To be continued.

No more live posts until after the weekend trip. Have fun, imaginary readers. Beware mad people on busses!

Monday, 21 August 2017

In The Wake

In the immediate wake of finishing 'The Goodies', or at least all the episodes that are available, there's a bit of a letdown. As a series, it ended on a very weird note, but that will be something to write about more copiously in its own post. For now, it's all over, until a miracle happens and every episode comes out on DVD. It might happen one day, somehow, mightn't it? Please? Some of the episodes that we do have were absolutely and wonderfully funny and remarkable.

Moving on, this was supposed to be the next episode of 'Wordspace', but awful time management and a general lack of inspiration is keeping that story on the slowest of slow burns. Hopefully, with all good intentions, there will be another part before the next brief trip kicks off on Friday, and the blog is converted to pre-written reviews for a few days. Oh, there's nothing wrong with 'reviews', although here they tend to degenerate into the usual ramblings but on a more focussed topic, but they are rather easy to write. There's not a lot of challenge to it. Writing extemporaneously is harder, and writing the stories is harder still. However, they can be very nice to compose, in a trivial way. It's odd, but it feels strange to push one person's opinion upon the world. Why should anyone care in one way or another about what Person X thinks about this, that or frozen yogurt? Is it egocentric just to throw your opinions out into the world, or is it okay if you know no-one's going to read them anyway, have no intention of forcing anything upon anyone, and do it solely as a writing exercise? It's all in the intention, isn't it?

Yes, another trip looms, to go off an a tangent to a previous comment, and with it the usual challenges of staying with people. The usual battles to escape itineraries, dig tunnels out of the bathroom, remove the radioactive shower curtains before turning into a mutant carrot, and of course the imperative to find the nearest ferry port, in order to indulge in a slow and steady escape to the Netherlands or Ireland. You have to be prepared for all contingencies. For example, on visiting people, you must emulate Batman and take shark-repellent spray and a portable rope ladder. They are both essential. You may also need a jetpack, a copy of 'The Voyage of the Beagle' by Darwin, and some playing cards. Oh, okay, you may not need the jetpack, but directions to the nearest supermarket and a pogo stick are compulsory preparations. Some of this, of course, is not strictly true, but let's not criticise the Netherlands without reason.

A cumulative twenty hours of travelling await, which means there will be enough time to probably furnish a whole new edition of 'The Literary Reflection' with thoughts on the books read in that time. Twenty hours can see a whole lot of reading get done...


Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Challenge

There's a challenge to taking on new students. You have to dig deep, work on the puzzle for a few weeks, and then try to find the way to lead them through the barrier that's keeping them in the dark. Most of the time, you make it through, but it's still difficult enough to be a challenge. How do you get on the inside, to see what's blocking the way?

Sometimes, it's obvious. There's a misunderstanding that can just be put right, and then they roar away and you help them catch up. On other occasions, it can take hours and hours to reach the problem, and only then if they allow you to get there. Deeper problems come with a defensiveness that can defy many attempts to help. Everyone has a deep-seated tendency to say 'I can't do it.' when they find something difficult, after all. Everyone can do arithmetic, though. It's a minimum level reachable by all, if the student hasn't been undermined at some crucial stage.

Why do people say, 'I can't do it.', so easily. Is it all down to the inherent laziness of the brain? It's fairly well known that the brain is fundamentally conservative (small 'c') and that it discourages the formation of new patterns of grooves in its structure. A therapist told me that on a passing occasion, so I choose to believe that it's true. That's why people are so prone to not learning new things as they get older. It's not just that it's harder, which it of course it, but that biology itself resists. This is a reason why pessimism is hard-wired into the human psyche in many ways.

So, if you have one student who is convinced that arithmetic is hard and that they can't do numbers, then you really have to start to find leverage and work not on the arithmetic so much as the mental block. That's the hard part. That's the challenge beyond the challenge, and it's where a slip up can make things so much worse than better. Oh, for an easy life!


Thursday, 17 August 2017

On The Book Piles VII

Let's look at what's lurking on the piles this time. Would you believe some things have actually changed? It's a miracle! Some titles continue, however, to lurk...

'Kentucky Thriller' by Lauren St John (2013)

Not started yet, but it's time is coming soon. This young readers' adventure, the third in the series, will hopefully live up to the first episode more than the second, but we will see.

'Journey To The West' (Volume 2) by Wu Cheng'en (~1590)

Lots of progress in 'Journey To The West', as Monkey continues to become more and more of a superhero while the rest of the pilgrimage party become increasingly similar to idiot sidekicks. Monkey's antic are awesome, if occasionally coarse, and leads you to wonder at the relationship that the historical Chinese peoples had with nature, spirituality and the animal kingdom. Also, the sheer number of ghosts, gods, spirits, immortals, demons and monks is impressive, to say the least. Very much recommended, if you can take the thousands of pages that make up the whole four volume episodic epic. It's essentially a million interconnected short stories, with cliffhangers. Are the Chinese to blame for serialisation? Oh, the horror!

'The Conan Chronicles' (Volume 2) (1932-1934) by Robert E Howard

Two stories in, and this collection shines very brightly indeed. The man was a certifiable genius, although he is still obsessed with the adjective 'supple' in this second collection. It's important to note that the stories were written out of sequence, while these two collections try to put them in order of Conan's fictional life, so the quality jumps up and down a little. They're still very inventive, no matter which way you look at them, full of lurid details and slimy monsters from the depths. At certain points, you wonder at just how much braver publications were in their content back in the old days. Well done, Robert E Howard. More will follow once it's completed.

'Till Death Do Us Part' by John Dickson Carr (1944)

Just a few pages in, and it becomes clear that this is an entirely different beast of a story to 'The Hollow Man'. It's still familiar, thanks to the Radio 4 adaptation, again featuring the great Donald Sinden, but in a lesser fashion. The central problem so far is this: Did Dick Markham's fiancée really kill the fortune teller at the village fête for knowing about her alleged past, or is he succumbing to paranoia while the true culprit roams free? Only Dr Gideon Fell will be able to penetrate the lies and reach the truth...

'Somebody Owes Me Money' by Donald E Westlake (1969)

Ah, Donald Westlake, the man behind 'The Hot Rock'. This is a lesser known example of his work, currently half read during a sudden burst of re-reading, and is pretty solid. If you don't expect the heights of 'The Hot Rock' or 'God Save The Mark', then it's a nice diversion. A character piece with occasional bursts of adventure and mystery. The main advantage of Westlake is still nicely present: The brilliantly humorous prose. Let's hope it ends well!

'The Voyage Of The Beagle' by Charles Darwin (1839)
Yes, it's still there! Still languishing on the non-fiction pile, but now in top position as Freud's book on jokes has finally been finished. (It was good.) There's not a lot to write. No progress, but I know it's probably very interesting, with lots of detail of the natural world. The next coach journey will see massive progress, definitely.

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

Only a few pages in, still, but it will fly by once it's restarted. There's something so very intriguing about reading the correspondence to Galileo from his daughter. Yes, his side has been lost, but we still have hints and fragments of his life as reflected in her writing. It might even warrant some writing after it's read! We can only wait and see...


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Nothing Happening

The rain is falling once again, as it seemingly has forever. Exhaustion has set in, and the keys tap reluctantly into action. What to write about this time? Insanity and the common cold? The gigantic challenge of building confidence in reluctant students in mathematics? The supreme disappointment that is the main feature of starting the third season of 'Alias'? The final few episodes of 'The Goodies'? John Dickson Carr? The history of the tin? Well, it can't be the latter, as I know nothing about tins at this time, except that they were presumably at one point made out of tin? Are they even made out of tin now?

It might be time to look into the Phrontistery, that grand collection of disused and rare words. Dipping into 'k', we find the following:

'kenspeckle: easily recognizable or distinguishable',
'kibble: the bucket of a well',
'krobylos: tuft of hair on the top of the head'.

Once again, it's fascinating to see just how many words have fallen out of usage. Were they ever in usage? Would hordes of the fashionably inclined (the superficiality of it all!) be disgusted if they realised they were afflicted with krobyloses? In all likelihood, they would be. Mwahahaha, cackle, et cetera et cetera. Nope, it's not working. No juice from rare words at this point. It might be time to retire for the nigh, and get back to sleeping and unconsciously planning the next few bits of 'Wordspace' or the rewriting of 'The Disappearance'. There's still the sequence of games to be played in the first annual end of the summer holidays tutoring group board games extravaganza party, too.

Oh well, this blog post is curtailed due to exhaustion. We can't win every time.


Monday, 14 August 2017

The Literary Reflection, V

Once again, it's time to take a quick look at the books that have made if off the book piles recently, but don't fit having whole posts to themselves. It's a defiantly mixed bag!

'The Ship Who Won' by Anne McCaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye (1994) and 'The Ship Errant' by Jody Lynn Nye (1996)
These two were read in the wrong order, but is my liking the second one more a result of that or is it just down to the qualities of the two novels? 'The Ship Errant' seemed a lot more interesting and less hacky than 'The Ship Who Won', although they both have good ideas. The first has the living scout ship Carialle and her crewman Keff discover a world where sorcerors and magicians apparently rule the roost, while the second sees the spacefaring duo escort some newly discovered aliens (see first book) back to their homeworld for technical assistance, but end up in a piratical conflict en-route. If you're interested at all, read 'The Ship Errant'. It feels more original and less drawn-out, thanks to the absence of the ambiguous force that was Anne McCaffrey at the time. Also, there's a Frog Prince. Who's not going to like that?

'Murder Must Advertise' by Dorothy L Sayers (1933)
I'm just not sure. The best mysteries are ones you want to read again, despite knowing the solution to the puzzle. 'Murder Must Advertise' just about manages on that level, but that's mainly due to the exposé of advertising. It's a mild-mannered exposé, but it is one, nonetheless, and is still relevant. The 'Lord Peter Wimsey' series is very uneven, sometimes being wonderful and romantic and at other times rather tedious, but 'Murder Must Advertise' is very solid. I wonder, though, how confusing it would be to read the book without any knowledge of the rest of the Wimsey stories? Would it be perplexing to wonder just why we're spending so much thime with this 'Death Bredon' as he probes the goings on at Pym's advertising company after an accidental death that must have been murder? What does it all have to do with drug running, and how does a cricket match fit into it all? Pretty solid, but it's not going to contend with 'Gaudy Night' for best in the series. There are some finely written sequences during the illicit parties, though.

'The Ascent Of Rum Doodle' by WE Bowman (1956)
This is a classic comedy, a well-sustained parody about an inept and oblivious expedition leader's ordeals while leading a group of misfit moutaineers on an ascent of the legendary tallest mountain Rum Doodle. It would be about as famous as Jerome K Jerome's 'Three Men In A Boat', but for its higher levels of parody and satire. Comedies are hard to write about, so we shall move on to some questions instead. Can you resist the lure of the mountain? Do you want to be mystified by the missing Camp One? Can you stand being perplexed by Binder's obsession with fiancées, pushed to the edge of doom by Pong's diabolical cuisine, or taunted by the evils of butter beans? And what about the medical supplies? If so, you should head straight for Rum Doodle, and join in the first-person cluelessness. It's really very good, although you might have to make allowances for the Asian stereotypes of the time, even as applied to a completely made up nationality.

'Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious' by Sigmund Freud (German 1940, English 1960)

If it hadn't taken years to read the Standard Edition of this volume of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, it would probably get a weblog post all of its own. However, it has taken such a long time, that it's impossible to talk about it in any kind of depth. The genius and brilliance are clearly apparent, however, and the writing is surprisingly clear and easy to understand. Perhaps, and this is meant with humility, an enlarged vocabulary is advantageous in reading the translations of Freud. You don't want to go into these things without some experience in reading articles and textbooks. This text comes somewhere in the middle of the set chronologically, and was chosen as it seemed that an analysis of jokes might make it the most accessible of the bunch. It was indeed very easy to get into, and then went in a few unexpected directions. It was fascinating, especially in considering just what makes a joke a joke. Innocent jokes, tendentious jokes, the differences between jokes, the comic and humour. It's all in there. Next time, it won't take several years to read! And it will get a post all of its own! I just need to get through this Jung textbook first...


Sunday, 13 August 2017

Roller Skates?

With a week full of teaching, woodworking, French study and general worry ahead, this would probably be a good time to kick back and relax. Yes, we could amble on, chattering about butterflies, arithmetic, the virtues of the colour green, and the greatest aspects of 'Star Trek' for a whole page, couldn't we? Couldn't we? Or would a chuckling appreciation of 'The Six Million Dollar Man' be in order? In the current episode, great tension is being presumed from a scene involving a roller skate jump from a one foot ramp. Yes, it's really that tense! Does it help if I add that the roller skaters are wearing Halloween costumes? No? Oh, such jaded cynicism. It's very interesting to see just how goofy 'The Six Million Dollar Man' could be at times. It's almost as far as out there as Douglas Adams in some cases. Oh, Douglas Adams... Expect some writing on 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' sometime soon. A classic novel, and a formative one, featuring... Oh, never mind. That can be for its own post.

We're halfway through August, one quarter of the way through the lunatic woodwork project, and only a few weeks away from the commencement of a second year of Open University study. There's a lot going on. A dear friend has possibly had her second child in the last few days, a potential conflict is brewing between the madmen running North Korea and the United States, and everyone's getting just a little nervous as xenophobes and bigots raise their slimy but un-numerous heads above their slimy parapets all over the developed world. Who knows where it will all end? Doubtlessly, there will be much confusion about how it all came to pass, and lots of mislabelling of people on all sides of every decision. (Of course, mislabelling can take many forms, ranging from sheer opposites to missing out the 'creepy' in 'creepy weirdo'.)

If we don't all go up in a nuclear armageddon, then what will happen? It seems that we're in the pull of a tidal change in what is bizarrely called 'The West'. Will it result in greater democracy or the corporations grabbing ever more power and forcing an even more entrenched plutocracy? The key will be the influence of what we euphemistically call 'social media'. How possible is it to pull the wool over the eyes of a populace when people can talk to each other instantly and with great fidelity (we presume)? That's a question for another day, along with the accompanying concern of just why do governments always want to crack down on the Internet anyway? Who gets to benefit? Make your own opinions, people of the world, while the Quirky Muffin spins mad conspiracy theories like a fruitcake with an axe to grind about the size of the chip on its shoulder. Are those enough metaphors for now? No? Let's not slip on a banana peel of linguistic ambition.

Every fruitcake needs to rest from time to time, so let's wrap up another edition of the Quirky Muffin for now. 'What happened to  Colonel Steve Austin and his rollerskates?', you might be asking. The answer to that must remain unrevealed for now. Check out the episode 'Rollback' from the fifth and final season of 'The Six Million Dollar Man', if you're truly interested. Robert Loggia is certainly confused in it.


Friday, 11 August 2017

Story: 'Wordspace' Phase II, Part XII

( Part I , XI , XIII )

"You do not understand."

Club looked around at the interruption. Fifth was looking at him, as he in turn looked at First being annoyed and full of worry. "What do I not understand?"

"Something momentous has occurred." Fifth gestured around them.

"A quake?"

"No. Something far more important. He knows." They looked at First, who was staring into the distance. Then he looked at them, and visibly pulled himself together. He motioned to the rest of the group, and they moved on once again.

Club followed on, in fully mystified mode. Fifth walked beside him, and began what seemed to be the preamble for a long story. "We, the Ordinals, counted what was countable and ordered. Our cousins, the Cardinals, were very similar, but different..."

Club realised that it was going to be a long march.

*    *    *

Mystery and Surprise, riding on the ever reliable Cloud, were buzzing the Invader, who was becoming annoyed. It gave them something to do, while they waited for War and her troop to arrive, and cover the last few steps of their march. Mystery was paying attention to their giant nemesis, and could see that it was beginning to tire. In fact, if it hadn't been for their own aerial activities, the Invader might have stomped away and abandoned its siege on the Zone of Impenetrable Jargon. Why were they hindering it, he wondered.

It was an odd thing to do, to bash away at that grand and inexplicable prison. Perhaps the giant suspected a concealed treasure? A huge fist swung through the space they had been occupying an instant before, and Sorpresa gasped. "¡Dío mio!" Then he threw what looked like a yo-yo, a toy that young words used to play with while learning with School, which promptly and unexpectedly exploded.

War arrived on the scene. Her generals, Strategy and Tactics, took contingents off to either side, and then watched as the great Destructive picked up a massive piece of free-lying grammar, and projected it directly at their enemy's most vulnerable syllables. It impacted with a large 'Thunk', and then fell down. War grimaced at the lack of reaction in her target.

"This is going to get rocky." Thought Mystery.

"Look up." Murmured Cloud.

Mystery looked up, and then pointed so Sorpresa would notice too. Finally, some old friends were returning. Zephyr, Breeze, Wind and Air were descending from high altitude.

"Air! We have missed you!" He shouted in wonder at their vast Elemental friend.

"We're not alone." Replied Air, who was rather out of puff. "It took a while to get us together again." A rumble was heard.

The rumble was so loud that it could mean only one thing. Two Elementals? Earth? Then Mystery saw that it was a far more complete set than that.

There will be more.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

I Say, This Saddle, It Looks Familiar

A journey has been completed. The first season of 'Supergirl' has been watched. A corner of the first part of the woodwork project has been readied. 'The Hollow Man' has been read in its entirety, and Freud's 'Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious' has finally been finished. Both will be read again. Many things have happened. Were any of them real...?

Reality is the great philosophical bugbear. Are our experiences real, or are they interpreted versions of reality. Is there a colour blue, or is it just a neural phenomenon? Is anything actually there, or are we all butterflies dreaming that we're people, who are thinking that we're maybe really butterflies? It goes on forever, and forever, and forever... These are the things that might jump to mind on a long coach journey.

There were no ponderings on reality, or the lack or reality, on the last two coach journeys, though. Instead, much reading was done. A lot of reading in fact. In addition to the two texts already noted, there was also a complete reading of 'The Ascent Of Rum Doodle', which was wonderful. Books are wonderful things, aren't they? It's so easy to believe that paper is still one of the most stable formats for storing information ever devised. Given the right conditions, it can last for centuries, long after your hard drives, DVDs and cloud storage have all disintegrated into complete nonsense. Go, analogue power, go!

It was a nice trip. There was gardening, ceiling painting, much playing of 'Thunderbirds' and 'Schotten Totten', and of course the inevitable misadventures in food land. It happens on every trip to every location. This occasion, it was mostly due to a developing cold making everything taste of nothing. Has there ever been a less lucky traveller? Oh, there have been many, many, innumerable less lucky travellers. Let's get things in context here. Everyone who has ever been robbed, or injured, or caught the wrong bus, or missed a connection, or been caught up in a disaster is a less lucky traveller. Developing a cold is nothing! What will happen on the next occasion, at the end of month, when you are all subjected to another barrage of pre-written reviews? We can only wait and see...

Yes, the Quirky Muffin is live once again. This was not pre-recorded, and the studio audience was real.


Monday, 7 August 2017

Television: 'Supergirl: Myriad' (2016) (Episode 1x19)

(Pre-written holiday cover)

If it weren't for the annoying and stereotypical jumping towards each other to fight in the finale, this would be a near perfect episode of 'Supergirl'. It was close to excellent, with Peter Facinelli returning as Maxwell Lord to prop up the cast, and even Alex being interesting while a blondened fugitive, before returning to plot monkey mode halfway through. There were morality questions aplenty, some good surprises, the return of the blue cyber-being Indigo (do all women look better while blue or green?), and even the Non was almost interesting, but not really. The Kryptonian plots have been the most boring part of the season, even as their Myriad mind control scheme unrolled this time.

Apparently, Non and and Kara's aunt Astra had conceived a miraculous mind control program while on Krypton, which led to their banishment to the Phantom Zone. They have now unleashed in on National City, enslaving the entire human population, and oddly Superman who almost makes it to the screen only to succumb and fall into the enthralled army. Why did Superman succumb and not Supergirl? Insert a flailing silly made-up reason here. The best moment of the whole thing is when Cat turns up to work and has to have her automaton staff pointed out to her, by a woman in a cape, before she even notices. This is really Cat's show, as she motivates Kara, defies Max Lord's practical but rather lethal plan to save the human race, and then pushes to get things as close to organised as possible before we hit the unbearably stupid cliffhanger. More on that to follow.

This is a very good hour, as previously mentioned. J'Onn and Alex visit her mother, while on the run, find out about the disasters back home, and then... J'Onn lets Alex go back with him to the city, ready to be mind-controlled at the first lapse in his mental shield? Really? He gets badly wounded, and she ends up in a kryptonite battle suit ready to lock horns with her sister, who doesn't actually need to fight her at all, because she's got superpowers. It's all just silly. It reeks of stupid writing, because J'Onn would have just dumped her there, no questions asked. However, as with the previous episode, we have a solid story, with intrusive aspects from the serialised aspects of the rest of the season. It's really very good. Calista Flockhart, Melissa Benoist and Peter Facinelli form a great triangle. David Harewood and Helen Slater work well together. Mehcad Brooks and Jeremy Jordan are relegated to automata but do fulfil a vital plot function. Chyler Leigh looks remarkably different in a blonde wig, but mostly does what she consistently does all the time.

It's really all about the Cat, Max and Kara triangle, though. You don't even doubt the credibility of Cat just wandering in despite the Myriad scheme, before it's revealed that Max proofed his gift of earrings to her in the same way he proofed his odd techno-gizmo-thingamabob. Yes, if anyone could resist alien mind control, it would be the unbearably stubborn Cat Grant! When those three are around, it works, and Laura Vandervoort is pretty good as the occasionally clawed blue Indigo too. If the finale can have maximum Cat/Max/Kara time, and minimal dumb fights, which latter thing Cat declaimed in the text of the episode itself, it might be a classic. We will have to see...


Sunday, 6 August 2017

Film: 'The First Men In The Moon' (1964)

(Pre-written holiday cover)

Now, fresh in the aftermath of watching this for the first time, this movie can be safely classified as being fascinating. For an extremely long stretch of time, it is actually brilliant, but then suffers from the HG Wells effect and becomes merely good as horror acquires a greater prominence. However, it is still a great film, and one which is definitely anachronistic for its time.

In this adaptation of the HG Wells story, a moon landing in 1964 (yes, five years early!) is confused when the astronauts discover a small British flag spiked into the ground through a claim paper made in 1899. Radioing this news back to the Earth, a team tracks down one of the people who were on the expedition, who recounts a fantastical tale. Yes, three people did go to the Moon, and they saw amazing things, but only two returned. The surviving early astronaut, an Arnold Bedford, reveals it all.

The main reason to check out this movie was originally the presence of the legendary Lionel Jeffries, who played the crackpot scientist Professor Cavor, inventor of the gravity-defying substance Cavorite. Bedford, who is not a particularly nice person, cons his fiancée Kate Callender into a dodgy deal involving his rented cottage and then invests the money into Cavorite. However, Cavor has something he wants to do first, which is a trip to the Moon! Needless to say, all three principal characters end up on the voyage, which leads to an encounter with an alien race living beneath the surface and a host of Ray Harryhausen effects. Sadly, it doesn't end well, with the humans' aggression causing misunderstandings, and the so-called Selenites becoming worrying inquisitive about the military operations and unity of the Earth peoples.

'First Men In The Moon' is not, however, a perfect film. There are character problems during the establishment of the 1899 storyline, with dear Lionel Jeffries apparently floundering for a little while until he finds his way through the role, and Edward Juff and Martha Hyer not being a particularly convincing couple, but it does pick up. There are some bona fide Harryhausen effects during the Selenite sequence on the Moon, which will probably polarise viewers, and the downer ending is frustrating and a little repetitive for those who have knowledge of other HG Wells stories. The framing device works wonderfully, though, and Jeffries does save the film. Ah, he was a great performer. There is also a great attention to some of the details, and not to others, but the general effect is to add authenticity to the goofy origins of the story.

Overall, a very solid science fiction movie, which could have been better but for it's doom-laden climax. Good.


Friday, 4 August 2017

Television: 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea: The Phantom Strikes' (1966) (Episode 2x17)

(Pre-written holiday cover)

'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea' was a great and strange television series. Over four years it morphed from over-serious spy show, through adventure series and kiddie monster series and finally came back to semi-serious science fiction. It also went from black and white to colour, and suffered through the incredibly bad influence of the 'Batman' craze in 1966, but it still plodded on and produced a few stellar episodes. This is one of them.

'The Phantom Strikes' is an excellent little theatrical piece, written to show off star Richard Basehart's acting talents, as well as that of the serial 1960s ambivalent villain Alfred Ryder. Oh, Alfred Ryder, you never did any wrong! He plays the ghost of a Second World War u-boat commander, which the Seaview discovers at... the bottom of the sea! First, the u-boat haunts the Seaview, and then its captain does, under the guise of being recovered from the sea as a wrecked sailor. The ghostly Captain Krueger is intent on forcing Admiral Nelson to kill Captain Crane, so that the ghost can claim his body and restart his naval career from that point onward. It turns into a tense battle of wills, as Nelson tries to save both his captain, and the crew's lives that are being threatened as a bargaining chip.

There's something very nice about a two-hander. Yes, the other actors get some things to do, but it is really a two-hander between Basehart and Ryder in almost all the key scenes. There's a classical buildup in tension as Nelson begins to believe the supernatural reality that he had previously hardly dared to admit even as a possibility, and a great ruthlessness to Krueger as he continues to pile on the pressure and unnerve the crew, who unravel almost instantly. To be dar, the selection of the crew of the Seaview does seem to to favour the emotionally unstable and nervously erratic. They can be set off by Christmas crackers on even their best days! In any case, they get very unnerved and add to pressure nicely.

The nicest thing about 'The Phantom Strikes' is the ending, which was retconned by its sequel, where the ghostly Krueger isn't defeated but instead surrenders and moves on, impressed by how much technology has moved on and left him behind. It's a very poetic moment, a theatrical exit, as the phantom walks out through the bow of the submarine and into the depths of the ocean. Yes, the episode is still standard 'Voyage' material for the most part, and very cheesy in places, but it is one of the highpoints of the series and gets respect for pushing further into its strengths than usual. More Basehart usually meant better episode, and that was true here too. Also, alas, it has the usual zero number of women, but that couldn't really be helped due to the naval setting. There were loads of actresses in the first season of espionage shows.

'The Phantom Strikes' is highly recommended for people who can watch old television and not cynically smirk. A great example of the show.


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

A Few Days Sojourn

It's time to go away again, for a few days, and so you, the notional and perhaps unhinged readers of the Quirky Muffin, will have to make do with some pre-written posts. A few television reviews will certainly keep the blog ticking over until The Story picks up again next week. 'Wordspace' could well be the one thing that transcends the rest of the blog, if it doesn't run itself into a cul-de-sac first!

Yes, there shall be a brief sojourn far, far away. A long coach journey awaits, with all the wonderful enforced isolation and reading that that entails. Long coach journeys are little bubbles of slow time in between the manic bubbles of every day activity that we call life. Sometimes, I wonder just how we all manage to bodge our lives to the extent that there's rarely time to read a book without a thousand chores hanging over your head and upsetting your mental state. On the other hand, this post is being written to the accompaniment of a lovely and silly episode of 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea', which is a sign of decadent free time, isn't it? Yes? No, for it is multi-tasking, but it could be far, far worse.

So, what do people do on a long coach trip? Well, you stare out the front window, read books, edit down serial stories into single pieces, catch up on French, and think about whatever tangential nonsense comes to mind. Chasing down tangents is a fine and traditional means of passing the time. It can easily be imagined that stagecoach drivers had more inventive and diverse thoughts in a few days of historical journeying than most other people had in whole years of their lives! For my part, I might be getting on with sorting out the compiled version of 'The Disappearance' or be caught in eight hours of dozing or even trying to do puzzles. Only time will tell.

Normal service will resume in the middle of next week.