Tuesday, 30 January 2018

In The Frenzied New Year

It has been a hectic year so far. There has been a new dog, about to go to surgery, a parent having a knee replacement, several new students, a sudden shift in travel arrangements, and a change away from being a student. In fact, I can't think of any ways that it could have become any more eventful short of a wedding, death or alien abduction. Of course, this might all be the result of an alien abduction, and the following immersion in a virtual reality environment, bent on turning me into a mental vegetable. However, and this they could not anticipate, already being an intellectual tuber has its advantages. You can't get me, extra-terrestrials! Bwahahahahaha!

Ah, the old 'bwahahaha'. What memories. I was introduced to the 'bwahahaha' by reading the old 'Justice League' comics by Giffen and DeMatteis, which were a quiet delight in being funny or dramatic, when appropriate, and in not being particularly interested in having a silly fistfight every issue. It was lovely. It was a superhero clubhouse for all the supporting players who didn't have their own comic books, and who were prone to not get on from time to time. I'll have to write about it properly on some other occasion. The subsequent devolution of the comic book form was a painful thing to observe.

The problem with having hectic days is that you end up with very little energy left to write a blog post, or an e-mail to a friend, or anything else! At least good work is being done, and people are being helped. It's nice to help people. Now, with it being very late at night, and with exhaustion setting in, it's almost time to hang up the keyboard for the night and descend into the pits of deepest slumber. What a fascinating thing sleep is. It is often used as a device to make aliens seem more alien. The Vulcans don't sleep in 'Star Trek', and there was once a very strange Robert Duval character in 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea' who positively scorned the slumber instinct. Of course, he didn't make it to the end, the fiend. Sleep is important.

And now, to the hibernation, and then another busy busy day. Adapting to new students is hard, but patterns will return to normal once it has been done.


Sunday, 28 January 2018

The Literary Reflection, VIII

Once again, and so on and so on, it's time to a reading roundup. On this occasion, we have three disparate, all of which are, however, intended to lighten the mood.

'The Columbo Collection' (2010) by William Link

This is a very unpredictable set of twelve stories from the surviving half of the duo that created the legendary detective Columbo. Some of the stories feel very genuine and authentic to the best of the series, and some of them authentic to the less interesting parts of the revival. It is very nice to get that Columbo paradigm in written stories, though; to get at the detective story from the murderer's point of view has always been refreshing. And it is still Columbo, because the culprit is always rich or a celebrity, and normally hoist on their own petard. In a nice twist, one of the stories involves a policeman as the culprit, who actually takes Columbo to task over his methods, and criticises 'the duel' in which our dogged sleuth customarily engages. I thought that I was going to be far more critical, but actually it's a pretty good set of stories. There aren't any particularly neat 'gotcha' moments, but it is good and solid, especially if you like 'Columbo' in general. It was one of the all time classic detective series, after all.

'Pyramids' (1989) by Terry Pratchett

'Pyramids' is one of the best Discworld books, which is natural as it's only the eighth one that he published. There's a sense of vast potential lurking around in the freshness of 'Pyramids', which has so many jokes and so many great ideas that it really should be a great novel. As with Wodehouse, however, there's a slightness that limits it to merely being an excellent comedic novel. 'Pyramids' is one of the most original of the series, features almost no overlap with any other entry, and has camels with lots of mathematics jokes. No, not serious mathematics, so don't be scared, people of the Internet, nor alarmed. The sheer scale of the lampooning of Egyptian epics is incredible, as is the expansion of the methodology of the Assassins' Guild of Ankh-Morpock. A special note should be made here for the opposing lines of Trojan Horses in the extremely brief Ephebean/Tsortean conflict, which is utter genius and completely brilliant. How stupid can opposing forces be? Exactly this stupid.

'The Kobayashi Maru' (1989) by Julia Ecklar

One of the favourites of the 'Star Trek' novels, which takes its initial cue from the Kobayashi Maru incident seen in 'Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan', and then runs with it magnificently. This is really a set of five short stories, one of which is both a framing device for the four anecdotes told and a pretty compelling narrative in itself. For background, the Kobayashi Maru was a ship inside a command school simulation, a simulation which was impossible to win and therefore constituted a vital test of character for potential future captains. Kirk, of course, cheated and reprogrammed the scenario on his third attempt, which is the first of the four anecdotes told while he and a shuttle party are trapped in a crippled craft, deep in an extremely dangerous part of space. As they go about the business of survival and trying out schemes for attracting rescue, Kirk, Chekov, a badly wounded Sulu, and even Scotty relate the events surrounding their own performances in the legendary test to an incredulous doctor McCoy. They're all different, and reveal interesting backgrounds on the three supporting characters. Julia Ecklar was one half of the writing team known as LA Graf, who paid a lot of attention to developing Chekov, Sulu and Uhura. Chekov, in particular, became a very different character in their novels, entirely disconnected to how odd he was in the show and films. Very good, and it's nice to have even more reason to be impressed by Scotty. He's a legend for more than one reason, after all. In later years, the box ticking of the Star Trek novels became a severe problem, but here it's charming and feels organic.


Friday, 26 January 2018

They Call It Fruit Cake

Since the brown feeling of fatigue has struck, and there is plenty to worry about it in other events, this post can fill the rarely met baking remit of the Quirky Muffin. Yes, baking. It's not just a silly subtitle to the blog! So, without further ado, here's a new spin on the previously featured no added sugar chocolate cake. However, there is no chocolate this time, as it's a prototype fruit cake. Huzzah! (The first result was pretty awesome.)

Can you believe that January is almost over? Finally?

Experimental Fruit Cake

2 medium apples
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup butter (I use Clover, which is half-butter)
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour (and maybe a bit more to stiffen it up)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup set honey
Some chopped dried pears (8, perhaps)
Some raisins (roughly the same mass as the pears)

01 Peel, core and chop the apples finely. Put them in a bowl with the lemon juice, to stop the apple going too brown.
02 Preheat your oven to 140C-160C, and line a cake tin with greaseproof paper.
03 Sift and combine the soda, salt and flour.
04 Melt together the butter and honey.
05 Mix together the dry and melted ingredients.
06 Add the eggs and vanilla extract. Combine.
07 Finally, mix in the apple, pears and raisins.
08 Place the batter into your baking tin, make the necessary prayers and rituals, and then put it in the oven. My prototype was cooked after fifty-five minutes.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Giuoco Piano Affair' (1964) (Aired 1x07, Produced 1x10)

This is quietly excellent, and one of the rare examples of continuity in a 1960s television series. We have several recurring characters, from the previously produced episode 'The Quadripartite Affair', and a continuation of the story itself! They were aired several episodes apart, so it's even more rare. On this occasion, we have a recurrence of all three of the guest cast (Jill Ireland, Anne Francis, and John Van Dreelen), as well as director Richard Donner and writer Alan Caillou.

The economy of these early episodes is one of their main strengths, as is the movie-grade production. 'The Giuoco Piano Affair' is often better than a James Bond movie of the time for those reasons, and it's no surprise that Donner went on to make hugely popular movies. He's one of the lesser known cameo directors, but he appears here in a great two-part party sequence, where the producers Sam Rolf, Norman Felton and Joseph Calvelli also pop in in quirky fashion. It'a a party that bookends the whole episode, as it continues without Marion (Ireland), in her apartment, as she is hooked on a decoy mission with Ilya and Napoleon, and doesn't even notice that she has vanished for four days. It looks like a nice party. There is a chess board, so it can't have been all bad.

If we must have a plot summary, then let it be brief: Napoleon and Ilya talk Marion Raven into going with them and being kidnapped by the fugitives Gervaise Ravel and Harold Bufferton, so that the deviously dangerous duo can finally be captured. Using a mix of hideous schemes and double bluffs, and while being betrayed in unexpected ways, will the UNCLE agents reach their objective? Well, of course they do! Let's not ask questions which are too silly.

It's the usual fluffy nonsense, of course, but it is done very very well. The then-married McCallum and Ireland click more in this episode, not having to start from scratch this time, and Robert Vaughn continues to out-class practically everyone in the show apart from Leo G Carroll and Anne Francis. The man just has to stand there, bizarrely, and barely do anything. He even flashed a mirror stylishly. Maybe he was the king of cool, after all? His take town of the corrupt police lieutenant at the end is masterful. The big test will be when we get Vaughn and Shatner on the same side, in a few episodes time, and Nimoy too! Also in the plusses for this episode, we have John Van Dreelen giving a very cool performance of what could have been some very hacky lines indeed. He was definitely one of the great UNCLE villains.

And thus we stop. What a lovely season this is.


Sunday, 21 January 2018


It's a daft game, and one I can frivolously watch now that studies have been put on hold until the next academic year. Yes, two men with sticks hit balls into other balls on a big green table, in the hopes that they will go into pockets and sometimes be replaced by the referee. It's also a fascinating game which plainly demonstrates the sheer futility of our puny human existences, and the importance of bow ties. You stick those coloured balls in the pockets, and then they reappear over and over, until they sudden disappear as if they were never there at all. Plinkety plonk.

The geometry of snooker is wonderful, and it is one of the most fundamentally Newtonian of sports. Force and counter-force, impulses and contacts, spin and drag, and the relentless threat of chaos theory combine to make something special. It used to be better before the players and referee were walking billboards, though, and it was less of a relentless quest for money. Perhaps I'm just being oversensitive to an imagined hollowing out of civilization by capital though? Back to snooker. Is there a current practitioner of the banana shot, I wonder?

One of the interesting things about snooker is that each frame has a finite number of points available within it, and if you get far enough ahead, then it becomes mathematically impossible for your opponent to win unless he forces you to foul and thus get awarded penalty points. This means there are two radically different extremes in games of snooker. There are spells of rapid sequential point scoring, which aren't all that interesting if they're not interrupted from time to time, and there are frames of intense tactical play, which can be indefinitely protracted and totally break or shift the path of destiny. Also, since only one contestant can play at a time, there is a deep character study in watching the passive one of the two deal with losing a frame without ever getting to the table. It's difficult to lose through no fault of your own, without ever having a chance to take part. While wearing a bow tie.

Snooker has suffered through numerous periods of intense domination by single players in the past, which have often deterred us here at the QM, but maybe it's worth another chance. It's wonderfully silly and profound at its best, when it's not a foregone conclusion who will win. This final of the (sponsor omitted) Masters is certainly shaping up to be a nail-bitingly close game. Let's see what happens.

Snooker truly is remarkably relaxing to watch. Let's all be snooker loopy.


Friday, 19 January 2018

Movie: 'Wonder Woman' (2017)

'Wonder Woman' is really two movies, just as that first season of 'Supergirl' was really two series smushed badly into one. It is intelligent and nuanced in one part, and exceedingly dumb and viciously violent in the other. Oh, if only we could break superhero movies and television series out of the mindless brawl blockbuster mold, we might get some really good works. 'Wonder Woman' suffers from an utterly ludicrous and dumb final fight that I would have chopped up and used for firewood, but what can we do? It was an extremely successful movie, which was hopefully due to the other aspects of the movie.

We're in an age of woman power, which is great, and 'Wonder Woman' definitely succeeds in bringing a female protagonist to the fore, but it also brings a male lead along for the ride, and both Diana of Themyscira's and Steve Trevor's stories work. Actually, in many ways, Trevor's story works better as it's not marred by the horrifically dumb final fight, but let's not linger on that any more. We don't have to be boring and negative; we can look at the positives. It's not so much a woman's movie as a fair partnership, which is in itself almost unprecedented.

So, 'Wonder Woman', what is it exactly? It's a war movie, with a nice dose of Greek mythology mixed in. It's also a movie about making peace, led by someone who really does inflict an awful lot of violence, which contradiction was often quite jarring. For every moment that Gal Gadot's lead character was inspiring, or delightfully giddy, while exploring the world outside of the secret sanctuary of Themyscira, there was another moment of violence that was just annoying and vexing. Chris Pine's Steve Trevor was much more the pacifist, which was interesting. There's a mixed message at the core of 'Wonder Woman', which reflects its dual nature.

To summarise the plot very briefly, Diana of Themyscira, a royal princess of the Amazons, rescues a Great War pilot and spy from his sinking plane off the coast of her island, prompting a quest to venture out into the war-torn world to try and eliminate Ares, the last of the Greek Gods, who has been fomenting much of the conflict ravaging the world. Fortunately, Trevor is a spy for the British, who puts together a team to help Diana get to the Front and then behind enemy lines, on a mission that coincidentally overlaps with hers.

As with the 'Supergirl' series, the problem here is a generational one, where lots of people are used to superheroes who aren't warriors, and who think lots of violent brawling is the opposite of heroics, and lots of more modern people have no idea that there used to be another way. That's where I am, and it is an issue. Will we move on from what we have right now one day?

'Wonder Woman' is one of the very best superhero of the last twelve years, since 'Iron Man II' and 'Superman Returns'. It still has lots of the problems you find in these movies, but it's definitely trying to be more when it's not being dragged into the black hole of bad finales. And it's got a wonderful woman in the lead.


Wednesday, 17 January 2018

To Baker Street!

It's that time again, and it may be a long haul after three hours of teaching and an hour in the swimming pool. Only industrial grade matches might keep these open for very long. This may well degenerate into completely gibberish before the cabbages even begin to crow at midnight. It might already be too late...

It's very restful to watch people playing abstract games, for some reason. At this very moment, Zee and Tom from the Dice Tower are happily shuffling pieces around in an abstract tryout session, and it's very nice. It's just a shame that there is no-one here with whom to play abstract games, as there are lots of unusual ones to be explored. That is definitely a first world problem, isn't it? A lack of people with whom to play abstract games? The video is becoming hypnotic, and now there's something very nice called 'Katarenga', which is a very unusual chess variant. How... mesmerising...

No! It is not yet time to be brainwashed by the board game fanatics! That can be for tomorrow!

There are lots of things that could be written about right now, as the world is full of lunacy. There are crazy presidents, collapsing service companies of giant proportions, snow storms, long-running scandals and wibbly wobbly movements in the prophetic winds. Society is trying to reshape itself, but the world is fighting back. It's
still not as chaotic as last year or its predecessor, though.

The most exciting thing here at the Quirky Muffin, to be very different, is the advent of 'Basil of Baker Street', the classic children's novel. Will it be good? Will it be bad? Will it be extraordinarily rad? Yes, 'rad' is the word. We invented the colloquial time tunnel and are very proud of it! Let's be dated, but to a different time period than the one that seems most obvious. Cowabunga.

To Baker Street! After Terry Pratchett's 'Pyramids'! And more exclamation marks!


Monday, 15 January 2018

Television: 'The Invisible Man' (1975-1976)

It's a series that got a short pilot movie, and ran for only twelve episodes before being cancelled. I have no idea why it was cancelled as it's a delight to watch now, a great concoction of humour, invisibility effects and a wonderful variety of plot types to explore. It's 'The Invisible Man', the television series featuring David McCallum from the 1970s, and if you haven't heard of it, then that's a shame.

While the pilot movie is sombre, and therefore appropriate to the original text despite being set in the 1970s (at least I assume the original text is sombre?), the twelve regular episodes are a delightful set of capers. They all positively revel in using as any practical effects as they can, and then making the best use of blue screen techniques to do everything else. It's amazing. You might get dizzy from counting the number of times the masks gets pulled off to reveal nothing, though.

The concept is this: Physicist Dr Daniel Westin, against the wishes of his computer genius wife, tests his invisibility generator on himself, and then ultimately ends up permanently invisible, and working doing missions for the corporation they work for, while trying to reverse the effect. As you begin to work through the episodes, you expect a rash of silly spy stories, but instead you get a raft of silly unpredictable nonsense! There's a reverse bank heist, a bid to stop a foreign premier's facelift being disrupted, an invasion of the corporation by a criminal mastermind, a false medium, a crooked judge (Harry Mudd!) ruling over a small town, and a corrupt prison scheme. There are still quite a few spy stories anyway, though.

It feels strange now, after corporations have in many ways become the villains in our global narrative, to have a company (The Klae Corporation) controlling and hiring out the Westins, for they work as a team, to any government entity that needs the help of the mysterious 'Klae Resource', but that's more of a problem in our minds than in the reality of the show. They go out of their way to explain that it's a family-owned business on many levels.

The main thing to take from 'The Invisible Man' is how goofy it is, and how much less time than usual that David McCallum must have spent on screen, as the leading man. He gets to do a lot of voiceover with the practical effects, and watch the lovely and talented Melinda Fee and stalwart Craig Stevens react to all effects, including with a hefty dose of mime-craft. It's delightful, and it's a shame that it didn't last longer.

'The Invisible Man' lives on. A great show, if you can handle the naivete of the past, and thrive on the comparative innocence of it all.


Sunday, 14 January 2018

Doodle Doodle Doodle

What to write about today? Nothing is springing to mind. Oh, if this were tomorrow, it could have been a post on the David McCallum 'Invisible Man' series, but there is still one episode to go. It has been surprisingly good, and is definitely the best of the Harve Bennett set of shows from the 1970s (see also 'The Six Million Dollar Man', 'The Bionic Woman', and by legacy extension 'The Incredible Hulk'), but let's not jump ahead.

January is a very awkward month, isn't it? It happens so early that we have very little context for how it's going to fit into the rest of the year. This is a silly phenomenon, as we have December for comparison, and all those preceding months, but the mental conditioning is that this is a whole new year, with its own tone and thematic context. What a load of silliness! Time is a long and continuous string, without knots to separate each calendar year. The knots do make it easier for us to comprehend the temporal vastness though, don't they? We have such funny minds. Once, in a lecture, the lecturer told us the average life expectancy, but in seconds instead of years, and it caused a small nervous breakdown! A year is intangible enough that it doesn't affect you too much, but a second is a time increment with which we are intimately familiar. Knowing your life expectancy in seconds is a crippling piece of knowledge, just like knowing it in monthly toothbrush changes. A second is a period of time of which we can be consciously aware, unlike a year. Changing between these periods of time can completely change the impact of what you are trying to express. It's interesting, isn't it?

Getting back to the previous cul-de-sac, January is a very strange month. There is no plan you can make for it, and many people use it as a great opportunity to try and change routines and norms. It is the season of the New Year's Resolution, after all! It's also the season for recruiting mathematics tutors, but that can be pursued on some other occasion.

For now, since it is so late, we stop. Tomorrow, or Tuesday, we will have a chat about 'The Invisible Man' television show.


Friday, 12 January 2018

One Year Ago, Almost

Three hundred and sixty four days ago, or a year ago tomorrow, our dog died. The magnificent Tess was no more, and some guilt still lingers amidst the general grief. Some times, those animals really do get to you. Thus, this is a sad time of year. She was a nice dog, and I still wish she hadn't been left alone, despite the signs. The heart aches.

Grief is a funny thing. Some things get filed to the back of the brain very quickly, never to be thought of again, and others become monumental in their permanence. It's very much like regrets over lost loves, where you realise that some of those failures were really very lucky escapes, and those regrets fade quickly, while others only grow in poignancy. They are all necessary parts of the rich tapestries of our lives. Where would we be without experiences, after all?

Despite sad things, there are reasons to be happy. Student registration is very suddenly at a high, and The overwhelming work overhead may be about to be slashed, if I can work out either how to balance everything well or stop part-time studies. The studying is really not working well! There's a problem, which ties in to a long-standing issue in past work: Switching between activities is really hard! In the old days, switching between research, writing, teaching and meetings was hideously difficult. Perhaps it's a sign of a warped brain, but not only is switching between teaching and studying difficult, but so is switching between written, spoken and online teaching activities. It's a monstrous endeavour! And that's not even factoring in household activities, which distract constantly. Well, without exaggerating any further, it's a difficult thing to try and pull off.

It obviously doesn't help to be hooked on the computer game 'Zeus: Master Of Olympus', either. Oh, the perils of old computer games! Things are looking up, nonetheless, and perhaps all will end well. Or the Kraken will get us all.


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Computer Game: 'Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri' (1999)

This is the turn-based strategy computer game that defines the genre for me. There is no equal, since it combines super smooth gameplay with a nice level of glitz, but not so much glitz that it slows the computer down to a crawl. In second face we would probably find either 'Civilization II' or 'Civilization IV', but they both fail in one respect: They're not science-fiction! 'Alpha Centauri' beats them with a shower of conceits, and by being the rare sequel that works. 'Alpha Centauri' is thematically the story of what happened after someone won 'Civilization' by launching that spaceship to another world...

It's a lovely game. It has all the hallmarks of the 'Civilization' series, but some new features and a new setting. The most novel aspect is setting the parameters of your own society, which carried over to following games, but you also get to design your own units, which was marvelous and didn't carry over! To be fair, it did become cumbersome to micro-manage all the designs and fight the computer's meddling, but I still love being able to mix up the combinations and give them names of my own choice.

This game also has a nice narrative about human beings adapting to a new world, and eventually winning by achieving transcendence, amongst other victory conditions. There is no follow up that beats the transcendence victory condition. None.

The issue that comes to mind when playing 'Alpha Centauri' is much more philosophical than game-based. Since I always go after the peacemongering victory, and always choose one of the two factions that is environmental or diplomatic, it seems as if most of the game is being missed, but I don't want to be a military nut or crazy fanatic. (The factions are very stereotypical and polarised, but that can't be helped now.)

Is it right to play a game according to your own values and never vary? Is that okay? It's a bothersome question to have hanging about your head. It's not as if it's easy to win by your preferred manner, and it's not as if that manner is ever ignored. Sometimes, after being betrayed by The Hive or The Believers repeatedly over several hours, there is a perverse pleasure to be taken in rolling out a defensive counter-strike over their cities, but it always gets reined in once revenge fever cools. For those in the know, it's very similar to going after Genghis Khan in 'Civilization' after he has been similarly attacking you for several thousand years. It's an almost irresistible impulse.

Is it good to always try and win your game the same way? Is it a waste? Is it a good idea to try and do it the other way, even if the other way doesn't really chime with your own attitudes? Isn't that the point of games?


Monday, 8 January 2018

Free Wheeling

The controls are off, and now we're flying freely into the second thousand of posts. Hurrah! Can we make it through another thousand, this time without pushing lots of unnecessary self-imposed structures over the foundation of this silly mess of words? Begone, structure, begone!

I've been thinking about a rant on weather forecasting for a while now, but it feels like too negative a thing. Let it suffice to say that it's all a load of hokum, and that you really can't predict the weather, especially on this unpredictably manic island on the edge of the world. Let's be happy with looking out the window each morning and seeing what's there.

It would be nice to dig into one of those unfinished stories, but I have no idea where to go with any of them. The core conceits are rather nice ones. Let's see if we can work something out, without piling on the pressure. This blog has almost died under piles of automatic pressure on several occasions. It's not wise to get too lost in the quest to find the heart of 'Wordspace'.

These first few weeks of January are a funny time, as schedules try to reschedule after that massive black hole of planning that is the festive week. Work begins to ramp up, demands on time escalate, and people begin to reappear after their family times. Here, much time is lost on 'Alpha Centauri' and 'Master Of Olympus: Zeus', as computer games stage a resurgence, thanks to GOG. Both are to be recommended, strenuously.

What will happen next?


Saturday, 6 January 2018

One Thousand

This is going to be a doddle. After one thousand posts, and innumerable words, writing a Quirky Muffin has got to be one of the easiest things in the world. One thousand posts! Ah, it gives a person a warm feeling to know that the wheels have been spinning here on this project for so long, and why wouldn't they keep on spinning for a thousand more?

One thousand is a large number, and was coincidentally the largest of the dedicated Roman numerals. They didn't seem to need any larger numbers, so why do we? Something fantastic must have happened in the centuries since for us to require gigantic numbers, or maybe it was just the advances in astronomy. You can't really describe the distances between planets without inventing a new number or five.

After failing to accurately predict where the Quirky Muffin would be heading for the last couple of hundred posts (I thought I would be able to keep the stories going, alas), it now seems pretty silly to make a forecast for the next thousand. At the moment, it seems very probable that there will be lots of blathering, quite a lot of talking around books, movies and television episodes, and lots of equally unimportant other things. There are no pretencions, for this is nothing more than an excuse to write a few hundred words every couple of days or so. Just a few hundred words, to avoid becoming rusty in the wordsmithery.

In the spirit of the uplifting time of year, with the lengthening of the days, and the stirring spirit of exploration, it's time to turn a corner here and be positively confused instead of negatively lost. There have been many losses of focus, and many recoveries, and they will probably happen again. This weblog is built from the foundational reading not of doom and gloom, but of Verne and 'Star Trek' (novels). This is a place where 'The Dish' is one of the barons of movies, and 'Galaxy Quest' is the cinema's court jester. Let's not be gloomy, but be optimistic.

There are brighter times to come. There always are. The Captain's String is holding, as they say in Diane Carey's 'Best Destiny'. 'Star Trek' novels have a lot to answer for, don't they? There are some very good ones in that pile, before mediocrity set in.

Onward to two thousand!


Thursday, 4 January 2018

Team Tortoise

We are proud members of Team Tortoise here at the Quirky Muffin. It's not entirely voluntary membership, as any attempt to do anything quickly promptly devolves into attempts to repair damage and or throw water on social infernos. There can be no rushing when you have less luck than a stranger in a small town who has unwittingly had 'lunatic' written on the back of his coat, and is being stalked by people with butterfly nets. Explosive butterfly nets. No, there will be no rushing, even though there should be when you are several hours behind schedule, and trying to write a few words for your weblog before pushing off to Sleepy Sleepy Land.

Ah, Sleepy Sleepy Land. How strange it is to think about being asleep. For more than a third of each day, if you sleep as much as you are supposed to, you are completely oblivious to everything and saved from the stresses and toils of everyday life. How lucky we are. What a marvelous invention sleep must have been, back at the evolutionary/divine design shop. What a jolly old laugh they all must have had, before hard wiring a diurnal rhythm into our DNA, alongside the ageing process and a tendency to enjoy things which are no good for us at all. There were probably party snacks and balloons as a celebration!

'Team Tortoise' has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? We could have baseball caps, depicting a cuddly tortoise wearing a fez. Why a fez? Because, once upon a time, fezzes were cool. To reproduce Gene Wilder's performance from 'Young Frankenstein', it is time to write: 'This... could... WORK!' Mild and accidental rephrasing may have occurred.

What would be the aims of Team Tortoise? Would it simply be a show of solidarity for all those people who don't want to bodge things or make a hash of anything rushed, or would this be an evangelical exercise? Would we want to go out into the world, and start a testudinian revolution? We could march, very slowly, for a more measured and silly way of things, and distribute hats. This... could... work...

Also, we could have a twinned movement called Team Turtle, who would be exactly the same except for the fezzes. They could have snorkels instead?

Why be serious, when you can write about tortoises instead?

Happy New Year from the Quirky Muffin.


Tuesday, 2 January 2018

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

For some reason, perhaps due to overexposure to the ITV series in the 1990s, I've always managed to avoid reading a 'Jeeves and Wooster' novel or short story. Maybe it was a fear of comparisons, or a worry of something being overhyped, but 'The Code Of The Woosters' (henceforth to be referred to as 'Code') has put it all to rest. It is absolutely brilliant, and much better than the closest reference point here on the QM, which is 'Leave It To Psmith'. 'Code' feels much more substantial, although that feeling might be inherited from the relevant series episode. Mutter mutter. 'Code' feels like a building block, whereas 'Psmith' felt like a gossamer thread.

There is almost no point in trying to describe the plot of 'Code', but the keypoints include the purloining of a cow creamer (a silver milk jug) and of a police helmet, Bertie being imperilled by a possible marriage to the endlessly wet and soppy Madeline Bassett, Gussie Fink-Nottle being an oaf, the introduction of Stinker Pinker and Sir Roderick Spode (leader of the proto-fascist 'Brownshorts'), much blackmail from all corners, and the invention of the Junior Ganymede Club.

The plot of this story is a fascinating and neverending ordeal for Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves, which would probably have toppled lesser beings, as circumstance and plot pile upon circumstance and plot in a grand recursive mountain until you begin to wonder if there's any possible escape for Bertie from his brief sojourn at Totleigh Towers. From beginning to end, there is no stop to the troubles being pushed on him from all corners, but he does ultimately prevail. There is an utterly stomach-clenching moment involving a police helmet being found in a suitcase, which doesn't really belong in a comedic romp but which works perfectly. Twists and turns, twists and turns.

'Code' leaps straight into the rarified heights of my book list, which is a great achievement. It really is brilliant, and now it is clearly time to begin making progress through the rest of the pre-War 'Jeeves and Wooster' stories, and begin to put them all into context. It would be nice for the novels to take prominence over the television show, as 'Code' has over the relevent episodes. At the novel's beginning, the extreme similarity between the text and the episode was offputting, but this went away as the differences became established in the latter portions of the story. It became its own entity and flourished.

This is a very nice, very witty, and very accomplished work. Excellent.