Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Die Is Cast

Will this be the last course I have to take? Will there finally be work stability afterwards? Will it all work out? Speculation must be cast aside as the die is cast, finally. Let the chips fall where they may! It's taken a long time to get to the point where decisions are made boldly, in the knowledge that nothing can happen without taking a few chances. Well done, world, even if all goes awry, something is done and a lesson is learned. It's nice to have steerage way at last.

What is 'steerage way'? Someone is surely asking that somewhere in the world, and not because they've just read the term here. 'Steerage way' is a minimal speed required such that you actually have some control over your direction. It's the speed required to not just be drifting randomly, as so many people do. In fact, I've been drifting aimlessly myself, and will do so for a few more months. Steerage way feels good, it's that sense of having a direction.

Hence, with the wind at the back, and still nothing to do for months, it's time to get back down to business! Yes, the students have dissolved into nothing, but proofreading goes on, and on, and on! Come, one and all, have me copy edit what you've been doing down to the abysmal level of the Quirky Muffin. Here on occasion whole sentences are missing, and giant narrative chasms passed over senselessly. We don't care, no! It's a world of it's own, a weblog, a strange little corner of cyberspace dedicated to nothing in particular. Ah, how interminable it would be to write to an audience constantly...

So, business as usual for a few more months. Expect more stories, more reviews or articles, more words of the day, and more general rambling and philosophical thoughts based on nothing in particular. It is the way of things, after all, especially when at least one wedding is being attended in the coming months. Oh, good grief, a wedding! No, no, no. Whose mad idea was that? I'll get my ex-housemate Steve for this. Mutter mutter. Foolish mortals, you know not what you do...


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Communication Barrier

In day to day activities, there's an invisible barrier that follows us all around, and it's the barrier of communication. Some people feel its presence more than others, but it is there. It's not an obstacle so much as a garbler, a distorting layer through which all words become subject to uncertainty and interpretation, and may become totally unintelligible despite all your best efforts. These are great thoughts for a potential educator of young children to be having, aren't they? Actually children are easy to talk to as they accept a lot of things at face value, thank goodness!

The garble barrier is also circumvented, ironically, by translating into another language. In my example, as a Spanish writer, often most of the potential for confusion is removed due to the logicality of the target language. It's pretty hard to confuse when you translate into Spanish; It's also almost impossible to be funny, but that's another story. (There's a reason why so many Spanish stories and movies are serious and/or tragedic.) Just don't ask me to understand something spoken as that's even more vulnerable to the garbling effect than English.

Oh, the perils of communication, always there but never crippling. What proportion of words will get converted into 'bungle bungle bungle' today? Did I actually just say 'salmon' in the middle of explaining bicycle gears to that bored looking woman? What did that man mean when he started going on about the mesmerising effect of rutabagas? What does it all mean? Yes, that was a rutabaga reference, you were not mistaken. I have been referencing rutabagas ever since they were referenced in 'The Belgariad', one of my primal early reading loves. What are you doing reading this, anyway, go read 'The Belgariad'! Sheesh, you just can't find good readers in this day and age...

It's bizarre that correpondence is one of the keystones of my existence, considering how much I think gets garbled in the process. Yes, bizarre, but it does happen. Welcome to the garbled mess that is the Quirky Muffin. You are now a correspondent. Don't be afraid, for it will all be alright.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

Television: 'Get Smart' (1965-1970)

It was great; A legendary sitcom, and one not widely known here in the United Kingdom. Recently I finally finished watching the last episode of the fifth and final season of 'Get Smart', and realised that it was good for five years. Five whole seasons! You wouldn't think that a simple show spoofing spy movies and television could accomplish that remarkable deed, but judicious changes of emphasis and well-timed transitions in the writing room can work wonders, especially when your show is captained by one lead actor named Mr Don Adams.

The nerve centre of 'Get Smart' was not the creative team that devised the show, which included legends Buck Henry and Mel Brooks. No, the nerve centre was that lead actor, a consummate comedic performer who somehow made it easy to play a credible buffoon who was also a top spy. My knowledge of Don Adams is minimal, but the Maxwell Smart persona was so durable, so funny, and so flexible that he went on to voice Inspector Gadget, who also exactly the same character but with bionic enhancements galore. Yet, he was almost totally unknown here. It's hard to understand. Alongside Don Adams, there was the incredibly elegant Barbara Feldon as the perfectly capable Agent 99, and Edward Platt as The Chief of CONTROL, both cast to pinpoint perfection. The importance of Agent 99 as the capable female agent can not be underappreciated, even if she does play the love-stricken and doe-eyed second fiddle to Max for most of the time. It was a pivotal piece of progress, up there with Uhura's presence on the Enterprise.

'Get Smart' started off as a gag-laden spoof of spy stories, with every conceivable variation played out over the first two seasons, and then it seemed to consciously change as producer turnover hit. No longer a generalised spoof, it went on to parody movies of all genres specifically, within its own context, and succeeded. Then, in its final period it began to draw from literature too, and continued to succeed creatively even as the ratings continued to dwindle. In the 1960s, it was remarkable for series to run more than a couple of seasons without being meddled to death by network suits, and 'Get Smart' ran for five, albeit switching channels for the last year. Yes, it did lose steam and transition into a calmer show than it was at the beginning, but practically every comedy does.

Interesting things about 'Get Smart' include the incredible photography, especially in the later seasons, often stretching the boundaries of what you would expect on a comedy. Crane shots, low shots, car chases, ridiculous stunts, all could be found within the confines of the top secret counter-espionage agency CONTROL. Also fascinating is the emergence of the recurring villains Siegfried and Starker, adding a reliable extra dose of comedy and continuity in the ranks of the evil alliance KAOS, and even more catchphrases into the mix. Yes, catchphrases...

Catchphrases, especially as delivered by Don Adams as Max, are a lynchpin of this series. There are quite literally too many to list, but my own favourites are the wonderful "That's the second largest/smallest -- I've ever seen!" (and variants) and "The old -- trick! That's the second time I've fallen for that this --!" They may not convert to text well, but in the hands of Adams they were gold every time. Of course, there were also phones concealed in practically every conceivable device, including the super-durable shoe phones that prevailed throughout the run. Everyone should have an adjustable robe phone, by the way, I wonder why they never made them? Don Adams also directed numerous episodes impeccably in the later seasons, even while starring heavily, leaving a small note of awe in me for his abilities.

A final interesting thing about 'Get Smart' is that it managed to negotiate the muddied waters of network meddling gracefully, not letting the mandates for Max and 99 getting together, marrying and then finally becoming parents ruin the show. In fact, all those things were dealt with extremely economically and avoiding most of the obvious and well-worn pitfalls. It helped that Feldon had some of the best comic timing ever seen in a classically beautiful woman, maybe only challenged by Pam Dawber in 'Mork and Mindy', which latter show we'll get to eventually and had far worse network meddling problems than 'Get Smart' ever did. Oh, Barbara Feldon, if only we hadn't been born continents, decades, and entire cultures apart... (Ditto for Carolyn Jones, Pam Dawber, and Noel Neill.) Feldon truly was a one-off, and much like Don Adams vanished away from the series. Edward Platt, too, was fantastically gifted, and an expert at ridiculously difficult tongue twistery sentences as well as the harrassed put upon frown. No-one could be as convincing and competent as Platt, while still allowing the possibility of having hired Max somehow in the past.

This could go on for longer but for now will stop, pending new reference material. It's best to not tempt fate and get caught up in too many more tangents, for as we all know:

'This is KAOS, we don't tangent here!"


PS It was a great show. Great!

Friday, 23 January 2015


If I hadn't already written about being pleasantly surprised by the 'Supergirl' movie, that is what I would be doing right now. As it is, this whole post lies here, wide open to the possibilities of everything. The wonder of the great open page, so often a scourge to those in a worse frame of mind. Maybe it's time to ruminate on the great structure of the brain, and the safeguards contained therein to prevent us from going mad at the mad flux of being alive? Maybe it's time to contemplate the great disconnect between what we want to do and what we actually do, and the dissonance that stalks the spaces between those two things?

On the other hand, we could diverge into the welcome word reservoir of the Phrontistery, that great collection of unusual and lesser used vocabulary, always so tempting as a resource when all else fails. It's not that nothing has happened in the last few days to provide Muffin fodder, but that it's always nicer to be more philosophical and less personal in the great and invisible expanse of the Internet. Why talk about bizarre trips to the Job Centre, and odd new Draconian practices being imposed down upon us at the village library when you could just as easily do a snap mention of the word 'potamology'.

potamology: study of rivers

Some time ago, in the past of humanity, we used many more words. There were things to be said about rivers that required the introductions of whole new terminologies for every portion of the stretch of a river. According to the greatness of Wikipedia, the source of the river coincides with the 'crenon' zone, was then followed by the 'rhithron', and finally the 'potamos' as the settled remaining slow portion of the watercourse. As with most English language words, it has carried down from the old Greek 'potamos' or 'ποταμός'. Oh, Greek, where would we be without all your loan words, if not wandering about aimlessly and having to point at half the things we want and mouth 'ugg' for lack of nouns of verbs?

Some disused words just roll around luxuriously in your head when you discover them, begging to be used. Could I write a story around the word 'potamology'? Could I? There are still new phases of 'Wordspace' and 'Triangles' lined up, waiting to be kicked off sometime before the end of the world. Is there time to be self-indulgent about a word? Is there anything more worthy of indulgence than a word? Of all the luxuries in the world, is there anything more harmless than an obscure word? Discuss, and send me your reports within a week. All disagreeing papers will be eliminated in the approved manner. Gosh, this is old school, getting back to the obscure words early days of the Quirky Muffin, with not a mention of ridiculous travails. It's nice.


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Story: Oneiromancy, XIV

(Part O , XIII , XV)

They had gone to sleep finally, after much effort, with the words "And that's how Bonzo Bunsen invented the rotating electrical sheep drier." Kibbel had exhausted almost all of his tricks and techniques for inducing trances and resorted to the ultimate final measure of telling stories he used to tell his children at bedtime. At least Stanley and Helen wouldn't dream this time, in a meditative trance as they were. They had only been a few hours away from total meltdowns.

As they slept, he picked up the phone and dialled a number for the first time in seven years.


Helen was lost in a hazy tunnel of psychedelic colours. As she turned endlessly, head over heels, and rolled in the gusts of pinks and purples, the tunnel seemed to recede ever further into the distance. Helen continued to turn, and turn, and turn...


Stanley was standing in his class, at the whiteboard, with pen poised. The room was empty apart from him. Outside the window there was a clear night's sky, the stars clearly visible. He began to write, words issuing endlessly and being unwritten as soon as he looked to the next. What they were, he had no idea, nor what he taught, but he went on writing.


Dr Kibbel noted the growing restlessness of his patients with unease, even as he replaced the phone receiver on its old fashioned stand. Moving quickly, he reached for the smelling salts and cold sponge, and hoped that nothing was going drastically wrong. They really shouldn't have been dreaming at all in their state of sleep. How absurd it was, and dangerous/


Stanley wrote and wrote, while Helen turned and turned. She shrank to nothing and popped out of existence, appearing once more on the island beach. The gibberish on Stanley's board began to take on some meaning even as he forgot every word as soon as it was erased. The tweedy woman walked down the hill and examined Helen, with a malicious look in her eyes. Both the dreamers began to become aware of a vile aroma sweeping over them. Just before he woke up, Stanley saw the last words on his board. Helen was being struck across the face.


Kibbel jumped back as the two sleepers practically rolled off their couches in reaction to the industrial grade smelling salts. Even before Stanley had finished catching his breath, he gasped out, "Dreamline Omega!", even as Helen muttered, "That witch!"

Kibbel was astounded, and astounded further when the phone rang, and his call was returned.

There shall be more...

Monday, 19 January 2015

Icebergs? What Icebergs?

You can only be down for so long, and labour under so many burdens before it all becomes silly and pathetic. For goodness sake, people are dying by the continent load out there in the world, the environment is going to pieces, the planet overpopulated to the point of utter idiocy, and people still worry about themselves? Bah, humbug, I say to that. Self-pity, get ye to your kennel and stay there for another day. I don't want to see you until after my ex-housemate Steve's wedding, if then.

We can keep going. Sure, there might be endless obstacles standing there waiting to obstruct, but remember, "Obstacles are for climbing, Lenny, that's why God gave us grappling hooks." Even as an atheist, that line has such power that it cannot be excised. As human beings, supposedly the most intelligent species on the planet ever, we have devised tools to allow us to overcome every problem. Shall mere inconveniences get in our way?

Apart from all the rhetoric, it's always easy to imagine problems to be far bigger than they seem. Sure, most of Film Bin is down with the flu, my unemployment is becoming chronic and private students are running away screaming at the very mention of my name. Yes, the burden of being in the Benefits System is becoming harder with every passing day, and it seems impossible to win even the tiniest of projects on Freelancer, but there is hope. Hope: That flickering light in the night sky, so hard to see against all the streetlights, is always with us up until the final catastrophe or restaurant check. Apparently one of the side effects of great intelligence is great delusion. How else would we get through each stultifying stupid day?
Unerring human delusion must be one of the most bizarre jokes ever played in the Universe. Someone is probably laughing about it even as I type. Infinite money! Mwahahahahaha! Infinite space for everyone and their robot kitchen attendants! Ho ho ho. Attach fans to everything? Hee hee hee. Petty self-interest more important than saving the planet? Sign me up! Oh, even the sarcasm is having problems with keeping up. It's strange to think that in a period when the world really needs to become more unified to deal with its problems, Europe is trying to fragment into more of a patchwork than ever, as the peoples of countries and regions like Scotland and Catalan ponder on their own issues and dependences. Oh, humans, there is still hope. We still have cheese after all.

Hmm, this post started out being optimistic, continued into cynicism, and is about to conclude a full circle. There's a limit to the number of things we change as individuals, but we can make some differences. There's a General Election coming here in the United Kingdom, after all, and how about actually considering the candidates in your constituencies instead of voting arbitrarily for the parties that people always vote for. Our system is based on people, not parties, the great strength of 'first past the post'. I for one will try to find out who the best person standing for this place is, and whether they believe the things that will help us through this mess, whatever colour party they might belong to. Hope springs eternal, and things can still get better. Believe in the great mass of self-deluded people who really have no idea what's going on; That's what I do.

Oh, and if you get a chance, go and find a star to look at. Out there, in the whole wide universe, anything might be happening. Isn't it awesome?


Note: This post was brought to you by the 2015 version of naive idealism, available at most blog pages all around the world. We now return you to your regularly scheduled nonsense.

Note: Alternately sponsored by Armageddon Shoes Inc.: "Friends, do you like shoes? Do you like the end of the World? Well, step on over to..."

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Television: 'Due South: Hawk And A Handsaw' (1995) (Episode 1x12)

There's more to my liking for the television series 'Due South' than just nostalgic indulgence. It's a show that ran for only two seasons (excluding the revival that shall not be named), and was of such high and quirky quality for that short time that it practically demands that its merits be shouted from the rooftops and crenellations of not just this decadently appointed mansion and sometime fortress, but also from the Quirky Muffin itself.

'Hawk and a Handsaw' is one of the best episodes of the first season of 'Due South'. and one deeply dipped into the psyche of Constable Benton Fraser RCMP and his relationship with his father. In many other shows, a plot that involves a protagonist going undercover at a mental hospital would become unceasingly awkward or either in its sentimentality or humour, but here all is saved by sheer unmitigated class, cleverness and quirky wittiness. Even dopey jokes about guessing computer passwords by noting that the key sequence sounded like 'I'll Be Working On The Railroad' will not defeat this master plan, especially when said plan is backed up by yet another knockdown monologue story from Paul Gross. That man could deliver speeches naturalistically like no other actor I know, except for possibly the Shatner.

Inevitably, any post about a specific film, book or television show requires a synopsis. 'Hawk and a Handsaw' begins with Ray's periodic psychiatric exam and Fraser saving a suicide from the mental hospital ledge, and then continues with Fraser investigating that patient's story for being out there. Ultimately there's a drug testing conspiracy and our dynamic duo clear up the mess, but that's only the plot of the episode. It's really about Walter Sparks, the patient on the ledge. This episode, much like the season finale 'Letting Go' manages to touch on intense drama, grieving, and recovery from grief and never loses touch with the quirky charm that defines the whole show. This was a series that could be heavyweight and funny in the same show and become doubly potent as a result, even quoting 'Hamlet' in the process.

Ultimately 'Hawk and a Handsaw' has its main strength in the dynamo acting power of the ever sincere Paul Gross, but it's all based in smart writing and beautiful photography. There have been very few series as beautiful as this one, and that's what pushes it over the top. Was it a super-expensive show, I wonder, back in the day on Canadian television? It may be impossible to ever know, just as it's impossible to file this show away in 'old television' with other things long forgotten. What a great episode it must be to make a story that resolves finally by the sudden absence of a beard, and allows insanity into the room but then refuses to let it take over. Also, Fraser sharpens his hat buckle. You have been warned.