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.