Thursday, 27 November 2014

Story: Wordspace, XXIII

(Part I , XXII , XXIV)

The punctuation dust billowed on the horizon, periods flying highest into the air while the commas and semi-colons wobbled about, imbalanced in the atmosphere of the Wordspace.

Mystery stood watching the horizon, events having overtaken its own importance, and feeling unusually alone. Its stalwart and taciturn companion Club was off with War's army, preparing for the possible Battle of the Zone of Meaningless Jargon, and all that were left around him were the Lesser and Greater Abstracts that had no immediate value in a conflict. A conflict that had been unthinkable a few short days ago.

The Council was meeting. Mystery perambulated over and listened. As the meeting progressed a question shifted over it like a particularly warm blanket in the cold season. No-one else had mentioned the missing Change even once, in this meeting, or in any meeting he had ever attended. It was the greatest error of omission it could remember, and one that was totally absolute. No-one was talking about that phantom word now, despite its not being in the legion that had been retrieved from their exiles. Mystery drifted over to its old friend Wimsy and whispered a light summons, and then gathered up a loitering Dereliction on the way. Dereliction always had a good stock of gossip on hand, the best source of information now with Gossip absent with another group.

Wimsy spoke up first once they reached a small and comfortable dip in the firmament of the world. "You look as if you've had a few too many days under the strain, old chap. Getting a bit blank and stary, I'm afraid."

Dereliction chuckled, and added, "You could take a few days and sleep, if not for this massive disaster!"

"Yes, this massive disaster. It's linked to something we haven't talked about yet. Have either of you ever heard anyone talk about Change?" Mystery tried to downplay it as much as possible.

"Change?" Wimsy started suddenly. "Change... I've never heard anyone mention it at all outside of the records. That was my predecessor's time, I'm afraid, and it seemed to be preoccupied with limericks and verse at the time." Wimsy shuddered; It had never liked verse and ran to ballads and riddles instead. Dereliction was silent.

"Yes, Change was in my predecessor's time too, and it features prominently in its notes, but why not a word in any meeting I've attended. We've had debates and dialogues on the nature of the Destructives, always ending up in maintaining the status quo. Never, though, a word on Change."

Dereliction looked pained, and then shuffled. Its capacity for silence was never great.

"Come on, spit it out, old chap!" Wimsy urged their silent companion.

"The Wordspace never speaks of Change," began Dereliction, "but that doesn't mean that no-one does." It looked up at the sky, and began to tell a tale. "Once, I was asleep in the back of a Council meeting..."

There shall be more...

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Productive Day

There are still hours to go until bedtime and all the chores are done. It's unprecedented in recent times. It was the productive day. Everything got done quickly and tidily and now...

What on Earth do people do with free time anyway?

Normally my days are buried under piles of things that Must Be Done, and those things continue on, amidst prevarications and procrastinations, until just a few moments before sleeping time. Frequently e-letters are being pumped out while in the heavy thrall of pre-sleep, with words blurring into abstract geometry before the already vacant eyes. The Quirky Muffin hasn't been written with a clear mind in months, probably not since employment, and yet today it's running smoothly. It feels strange.

A productive day is a very rare thing. Today there two job applications, completed negotiations for next week's primary school experience, the resubmission of the fabled academic paper (version Mu, for those interested), a bucketload of 'Dharma and Greg' episodes, and even a long and unusually coherent electronic missive to codename Blodyn of Mid Wales as well as another to the president of Mexico at Greenpeace's behest. Everything got done.

'Dharma and Greg', right, that needs explanation. There have been a lot of references to that show recently. It's not a favourite, in fact a lot of its typical components fall into the box of things I don't normally like, but when it hits it hits in such an abstract and surreal way that it makes the minor ordeals all worthwhile. How many shows have had a bunch of lead characters trapped on board a boat by a sea lion? Or someone open a shop that doesn't sell anything and be a success? Or even the infamous 'Mr Boots' episode and manly bonding over a bobsleigh? It's one of those shows where you take the rough with the smooth and smile at the good things. They almost never go the easy or predictably awkward route, and that's to be commended.

Yesterday the blog was about a ghost story, the interview incident in Carmarthen. Ghostly goings on in an abandoned store. It seems as if everyone accrues a personal ghost story in their life, sometimes at secondhand from a relative or friend, but there's always at least one. Isn't that an odd coincidence? Maybe we're all involved in a giant conspiracy, passing around ghost stories in a massive circuit of Chinese Whisper? Perhaps the 'ghosts' are incredibly potent interludes of déjà vu, brought on by unconscious triggers most diabolical? Or could they really be ghosts? I'm drawn in closing to my favourite episode of 'Due South', in which a convalescing Fraser is visited by the recurring presumed ghost of his dead father, who in turn is being visited by the ghost of his own mother, and which all ultimately resolves with Benton senior, deceased, lying on his back in the swimming pool in full RMCP dress uniform and complaining about. Never was there a more wonderful moment, especially when you consider that one of Fraser's uncles died wrapped in cabbage leaves.

That can not be followed.


Monday, 24 November 2014

Ghost Story

Do you believe in ghosts? We don't have to be talking about the remnants of souls long since passed from the mortal coil. They might be n-th dimensional shadows of beings on abstract higher planes of existence intruding into our reality, or echoes of past and future beings reflecting through temporal refractions, or projections from living people onto the collective subconscious, or any of a number of other possibilities. Death is not the sole causal possibility.

Why talk about ghosts at all? Well, it was just mentioned in my current book, Dick Cavett's 'Talk Show', and there is a ghostly anecdote in my story bag, rather incredibly! Is it meaningful or simply a coincidence? It is not my decision to make. Are ghosts impossible? Well, never say 'impossible' unless you've tied up the problem in paradox ribbons, but they certainly seem improbable or at the very least ineffectual. Note, as Cavett says, that if ghosts imply some possibility of a soul's existence after death then why be so upset about it?

So, a story. A long time ago, in a land far far away (twenty minutes bus ride north, sandwiches were necessary) your loveable author found himself present for an interview in a retrospectively doomed new shop in Carmarthen. Did I get the job? No, of course not, my interview failure record remains proudly unsmirched to date. In fact, while making a very creditable performance, my gaze was repeatedly drawn to a dark corner at the back. The proprietor must have noticed as he then proceeded to explain how that location had had trouble keeping a shop for a long time, and was in fact partly built over a prisoners graveyard, the part in question being that dark corner at the back. It was a strange interlude, that interview in the doomed shop, with the odd presence in the dark demanding attention. Was there a presence though, or was the window too bright or the interviewer offputting. It's hard to say after all this time, but creepy was the word.

Have I just told a ghost story? There's no way to tell at the moment. One of the truest traits of a good ghost story is the doubt over whether it is a ghost story to begin with. Also, I'm not MR James. For true ghost stories he's the one to read, that trusty medieval scholar and archivist of supernatural scares. There will have to be more on MR James another day, when I've read through more of the 'Complete Ghost Stories'. Yes, ghost stories will be back for Earth Hour 2015. Oh, Earth Hour, there's something else to talk about!

Plans are afoot.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Television: 'Due South' (1994-1996)

There were few television shows as cool as 'Due South', or as passionate in what they were trying to do. It was a Canadian buddy cop show about a 'perfect' Mountie in Chicago called Benton Fraser and his friendship with Italian American cop Ray Vecchio, which thrived on the dynamic between its two leads as they tackled various kinds of cases both personal and professional. Over the course of two years the excellent Paul Gross and David Marciano took two characters that could have been cardboard cutouts in the wrong hands and pumped so much humanity into them, with the assistance of a writing team that included Paul Haggis and David Shore, that they transcended the genre they began in. Paul Gross in particular was drenched in so much natural sincerity that he could be relied on to carry absolutely anything, while the development of the series was twinned to that of David Marciano's development as Vecchio.

So far did they move from the gag definition of 'Dudley Doright in Chicago', that Fraser evolved from an invincible moral superhero to the best perfect but flawed man with a vulnerable heart to ever get tangled up in crime, while Vecchio begins as a potentially corrupt streetwise cop and ends as a contemporary wise man who's absorbed much from his friend and supplied all the rest from his tough urban heart. To be true, it's very hard to write about the series as a whole, as the standalone episodes vary in type tremendously, and the season one mini-arc is such an emotional journey that it practically constitutes an award-winning four part mini-series all on its own. Oh, and Leslie Nielsen guest stars twice, brilliantly.

Instead of summarising an summarisable program it might be wiser to pick out some of the standout elements that recurred as series motifs. Easily the best place to begin is with the musical sequences, which lift every episode they appear in tremendously, whether they be montages or not. I honestly don't know if they were montages, whether they were encapsulating sequences of gangsters trying to track down the shoemaker and eliminate Fraser, excellent production value car or carriage chases, Vecchio confronting his star-crossed criminal soulmate, or Fraser's slum-mates renovating their building. Every montage worked, even the very early heavy rock instances.

After the montages, there is of course the wolf. Fraser had a deaf lip-reading wolf companion named Diefenbaker, uncannily intelligent, who essentially functioned as a third lead. There were actually at least two shows where Diefenbaker was the lead and performed pretty well. A wolf, played by a non-wolf called Lincoln in the grand tradition of television and film. Serving as Vecchio's wolf was the coolest car to ever feature in a television show, and I've used 'cool' now in this blog more often than in the past decade, the legendary mint green Buick Riviera from 1971. That car is so pretty that even I would consider driving just to have one.

Finally, the banter in the series formed the basis for some of the most well-rounded characters in a short-lived series. Incidental comments and speeches formed the basis for much of the character development, sometimes inspiring whole episodes later down the run of the show. The primary example, which may be a bad one as I suspect it was planned, was Fraser's monologue in 'You Must Remember This', which is paradoxically the definition of a Vecchio show. That monologue essentially defines and foreshadows the three-part arc that climaxes season one, the last part of which was covered earlier in the blog, and the arc that almost collapses the whole narrative of the series.

Lets stop while we're ahead. This was an impossible task, and revisions surely lie ahead. Good grief, we haven't even made it to the music yet, a mix of fantastic popular music of the time and fascinating original Canadian Indian cues. Sarah Mclachlan practically defined this show for a while. Oh well, another time. A great series, which started roughly but built to a polish by doing the unthinkable and breaking its own premise of 'the perfect mountie' and then rebuilding him to something even better. Yes, I'm prejudiced as it was formative for me, but it's my blog.


PS Yes, I know I haven't talked about the subsequent 'revival' season. Take that as a hint.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Solitude of the Swimmer

Hmmm, now that I've purged myself of 'Star Trek' talk for a few days at least - be grateful you didn't get specialist posts on the episodes 'Arena' and 'Shore Leave'! - it's time to move on to something completely different. A long time ago my imaginary penpal Elena suggested I write a blog in Spanish on the solitude of the swimmer, entitled 'La soledad del nadador'. This will happen, for I can write in Spanish, and sometimes even coherently, but for now it will be English. Spanish will be the translation!

What goes through the mind of the swimmer during the course of a session? Drawing from my weekly trips to Carmarthen swimming pool, I will endeavour to describe the feelings and thoughts that occur, while frantically attempting to not drown. Oh, Carmarthen pool... It's nice there, pastel blue or grey, or not. I really don't remember. It's got a big hole in the ground filled with water, not too deep, and that's what matters. There are two ways to proceed: The humorous route and the contemplative. Of course it will have to be a complicated mix of the two that prevails. It's a foolish and ill-advised mix, but necessary!

Before the solitude kicks in, you first have to change. This is more complicated than you might think, as all the cubicle and locker doors are weighted or sprung to close on you, sometimes with great malice. Once you're ensconced within the apportioned space you then have to shuffle everything around - always dropping and sometimes shattering something in the process - until finally you are changed into the appropriately loud Bermuda swimming shorts. Then, sometimes remembering to hold the cubicle door open with the bag, you shuffle everything from the cubicle to the locker, awkwardly holding it open with one hand while unceremoniously shoving with the other. You might also drop something at this point, and not notice. Upon completing this step, you may be forced to move everything to another locker if the lock is broken or there's no awkward wriststrap on the key and your pocket's velcro is untrustworthy. (Note: There must be something on the topic of velcro to talk about. There must be!)

The changing of clothes complete, and the fiddling with the key bracelet completed, you approach the pool and with washed feet attempt the entry. Dangling of feet is necessary at this point in order to gauge the upcoming torture. If cold to feet then the pool will be very cold, and if the toes detect some relative warmth then it will also be very cold! Ultimately you slide in and dunk until all is settled, and reach the portion of this essay that is actually based on the title.

Swimming is one of the greatest things you can do alone while surrounded by people. True, it's impossible to actually swim if there are too many people or a couple of families disgorge into the water and claim it all for themselves arbitrarily, but in the case where swimming is actually possible it's very cooling and soothing. Up and down you waft, water blunting the sounds so they feel distant indeed, struggling for air from time to time, never really getting anywhere... It doesn't look very interesting to do what some of the others do though: Determinedly thrashing up and down a regulation number of lengths before sloping off to the showers. Exercise should really be freeform or utilitarian wherever possible. Make it totally useless or totally useful but nothing in between! Was there a Falstaff quote similar to that?

Finally when the pool begins to feel cold again, indicating a possible risk to health and sanity, you emerge. It's a tough life. Heading to the shower room, you contemplate the crushed feeling all over your body before slowly becoming more upright and poised. The worst is yet to come, with the forced folksiness of the showers. Nothing is stranger than being naked with a bunch of strangers in a shower room, so you just get it over with as quickly as possible and then make a break back to the locker, doing the awkwardness in reverse this time, then the cubicle for more drops and smashes, and finally out into the wide world. Brrr. It is cold, but worth it. For a few minutes you were in a whole different world, where the physics were startlingly different, and there was space to think at last. Shall we do it again? Oh, why not?! Well done!


Note: Possibly I was channelling some of the narration from the old Goofy cartoons. It's impossible to tell. Hopefully imaginary Elena will like this stupid nonsense.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Book: 'Final Frontier' by Diane Carey (1988, Star Trek)

I have to raise my flag, as I have many times, to my status as a lover of 'Star Trek'. It's a guilty pleasure, yes, but still one not to be sneezed at. Specifically, the original series is the one to watch, and it's also the one to read. Before the advent of the spin-off series, the original run was the base for a massive expanded universe of novels, some wonderful and some dreadful, some clashing dreadfully with each other, but all written by the fans. It was the one example of a television series blowing up into a massive book series that you could point at categorically as a creative miracle, an unprecedented creative phenomenon that was only really curtailed when the added series and accumulated material choked the whole endeavour into a continuity choke hold after twenty five years! They still make 'Star Trek' novels now, but without the licence to really go non-canonical and instead living in the niches left unexplored by the screen versions. The original 'Star Trek' novels just let it rip as there was nothing left to compare too!

Anyway, I'm bringing this all up because I just finished re-reading one of my favourite 'Star Trek' novels, a historical epic in fact, the legendary 'Final Frontier' by Diane Carey. Carey was one of the few authors to capture the nautical elements of the series, its true spirit of exploration, and the sheer drama of being in command. 'Final Frontier', on top of all that, is a historical within 'Star Trek', a tale of James Kirk's father George Kirk, his friend Captain Robert April, and the true first adventure of the Starship Enterprise, even before it was named. The concept of a 'Star Trek' historical seems audacious even now, especially one that partly establishes the chain of events that leads into early episodes of the series, tying in directly to the classic 'The City On The Edge Of Forever', and especially audacious in its own success. It succeeds by quality of writing, and that's the key. You can convey so much by exchanging looks in the written word, and by cracking jokes where they're warranted.

Carey wrote a number of great 'Star Trek' novels including 'Dreadnought', 'Battlestations', 'Final Frontier', 'Best Destiny' and 'The Great Starship Race', and some following stories. They are all steeped in something I referred to before: Space nauticality. It literally does become a separate version of 'Horatio Hornblower in outer space', a slightly other parallel dimension to the series, but one with lots of added detail. 'Final Frontier' has its main strength in the twinned narratives of George Kirk's main story, his letters to his kids, and the framing story of James Kirk in the wake of 'City on the Edge of Forever'. It works brilliantly! The second strength is in the rich definition of the characters set up in the historical portion. George Kirk and Robert April are pen sketched thoroughly almost immediately, and then put through the ringer as sabotage lands the still-new and unnamed starship Enterprise deep in Romulan space instead of the ion storm that was the focus of their rescue mission, all with a crew of technicians. It all rings true to both its own reality of a fledgeling Starfleet, and the original series itself.

Two of the most beneficial and novel aspects of 'Star Trek' is the positive view of the future, and the linked aspirational view of exploring the universe. It really was a great fusion and rebuttal of most previous screen science fiction. 'Final Frontier' helps set up that positive future even more, with Robert April being the effective spear carrier for diplomacy and exploration, fusing his strengths with the more militaristic viewpoints of George Kirk into the mindset that informs the Starfleet of the television show. In between those two ideals lies James Kirk, the mightiest captain of them all. In our era where manned exploration has very much faded out to nothing, it's fascinating to see how different everything could be. One day we could all be out there, sailing amongst the stars. Wouldn't it be wonderful? That's what 'Star Trek' was always meant to be!


Sunday, 16 November 2014

To shmoosh or not to shmoosh

Hmm. To shmoosh or not to shmoosh? Should this author, in blatant flouting of recent tradition, resort to shmooshing a lot of hot air into a blog post, or instead commit to some overly worthy bit of storytelling or reviewing? It would be so easy to fall into a habit of endlessly alternating between focus and non-focus, between trying to get to the conclusion of 'Wordspace' and just pitter-pattering at the keyboard until at least four paragraphs of text have miraculously emerged. No, on this occasion the pattern must be broken. Let's shmoosh!

Originally, almost a couple of weeks ago in fact, this title was going to be used for blathering about my attempts to shmoosh the first phase of the serial story 'Triangles' into a single entry, and how bizarrely difficult it is to get into full shmooshing mode. Once you've got there though, shmooshing (please don't go thinking that 'shmoosh' is a real word, by the way!) is very easy; you just need to be mildly deranged, partially phased into a different mental dimension, and inordinately unaware of everything else but the paper in front of you. Editing demands paper; Nothing else will do! Similarly, hot air condensation needs a keyboard and a mild instability.

Oh, to shmoosh, or not to shmoosh? It's a tough path. Even now the temptation is to twist off onto a targeted tangent and talk about the rather excellent episode of 'Maverick' that just spun off the DVD player, or to wonder at the novels currently being processed in my book pile, or even to write a totally redundant blog about the famed classic movie 'Jaws' that I watched earlier in the day. No, there's very little left to be said about 'Jaws', if anything at all. Only Spielberg and Dreyfus know whatever else is there to be said, and they're not telling!

Oh, the reams of things that could be reported, if it were that kind of day. Yes, the pool was crowded once again, with families making and characteristically rude invasions and hogging the place. Yes, preoccupations are growing with somehow finding copies of the lesser known and short-lived 1993 series 'Moon Over Miami'. Darn, I wish I had never remembered it existed! It was actually a sweet detective romantic comedy show that ran for only thirteen episodes, and which almost no-one remembers. It will never make it to DVD on anything but bootleg, but oh it would be a nice bootleg to have! It's just one of those odd moments of television that will never reappear again, like 'Sharky and George', 'Crazy Like A Fox', 'Close And True' and horribly 'Muppet Babies'. Getting back on track: Yes, this is yet another day of not learning Greek. All these things are normal.

Blast, now I'll be thinking about 'Muppet Babies' too! It's a world of torment for the man-children out there! No wonder the world is full of confused people! 'Batman' still won't arrive for weeks, in order to dispel the gloom.

Bring on the orange jelly and article corrections. It's going to be a long haul.


PS Consider yourself shmooshed.