Friday, 28 August 2015

Well, It May Be Nonsense, But So Is Reality!

What's that, you say? The world is going to be overrun by Blue Banana despots from Planet Z? What kind of madness is this? Could it be true?

Some days ago, while idly picking blackberries from idle hedgerows, one of the top carrier pigeons used by those accursed herbal dictators dropped its message in my basket, and the truth was revealed. What a devastating truth it is!

Long ago, in the 1970s, a delegation of Blue Bananas infiltrated the British botanical gardens under the cover of hybridisation trials. These Bananas promptly developed a network of crack espionage agents by mind control of greengrocers, before spreading out into Europe and North America, and then the world.

Apparently, the Bananas aim to rule by stealth, with the eventual aim of converting the whole world to Blue Banana worship, a tactical move to avert the eventual evolution of our yellow bananas to a sentient and spacefaring species, a species prophesied to rule benevolently where the Blue Bananas have conquered. Oh, so many planets decimated by their Tripods, so many economies undermined by planned herb gluts, and so many agents lost to atomic banana peels...

Yes, we must somehow stop the Blue Bananas of Planet Z, but how? Where will we find their weakness? Can the world be saved? Can Planet Z be reached? Who can reach Buckingham Palace with the Rubber Nose and Groucho glasses of victory? Will releasing the Prime Minister from servitude make things better or worse?

People of the world, unite, and put your petty differences aside. It is time for liberty! Down with the Blue Bananas!


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Story: The Glove, XIII

(Part I , XII , XIV )

"What's your name?", asked the man known as Banksy.

"Steffan", replied our protagonist.

"Steffan who?"

Steffan hesitated for a moment and then told the truth.

"Why were you asking so many questions about the incident at Canterbury, Steffan?" Banksy wasn't being aggressive or menacing. For now, he was just asking questions.

"I was there when it happened. Nothing like this ever happened back home in Burgh." Steffan tried to be as calm as he could.

"You're not in Burgh. You're in Edin. Why?"

"You're running a lie detector on me, aren't you?" The former apprentice piper risked a question.

A long pause ensued. "You'll answer my question, laddie."

"I was curious about the strange incidents Master Octavius told me about, before I passed on his remarkably generous job offer."

"Octavius?!" Banksy's silver eyebrows almost jumped to the ceiling. "You've met the Master Piper Octavius?"

"Yes. He was a funny little man. Very impressed with me, it seemed. Wanted me to be a master piper from the start."

"And you said no?" Banksy was incredulous.

"Yes, I said 'no', a negative response." Steffan was beginning to enjoy it all, despite himself. This was a lot more interesting than a straighforward recapitulation.

"Are you mad, boy?!"

"No. I don't think I'm mad. The order of the Pipers wasn't what I thought. Are you dissidents?"

A long pause.

"What do you know about the incident at Canterbury?" asked Banksy, again.

"I know I heard a man shooting from a church, and troops deployed to put him down. Is that enough? I know I was supposed to come here as an emissary, but instead came as a citizen. I know I want to know what is going on, and I know that I was knocked out and brought here because I was asking questions."

"You're an impudent whelp, with too much curiosity and not enough sense."

"This much I also know. Do you know why the exchange of students between Edin and Burgh has slowed to a trickle?" Again, Steffan tried to turn the tables.

Banksy remained silent and stared at him impassively.

"Do you know what there is to rebel against on this peaceful planet?"

More silence.

"Do you know why there were secret army emplacements at Canterbury?"

"What I know, and what I don't know, are not yours for the asking. I will ask one question more, and then we'll decide what to do with you."

"You had best make it a good one, for the lie detector." Yes, impudence was definitely habit-forming.

"Are you working for anyone?"

Steffan looked Banksy in the eye and replied.

There shall be more...

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Mirror

Beware, beware, for this is being written from deep in the Pit of Depression, and may not completely make sense. Is the warning taken? Good, then we shall proceed. It's okay, you don't have to hide under the Golden Fleece. It's only for decoration, and the pagan rites aren't until Thursday. Please return the Sword of Damocles to where you found it, and we will begin.

I have a theory. It's probably not original. It's based on the question, 'If I call someone judgemental, does that judgement not reflect on me more then them?'. On a broader scope, does a habit of declaring other people to be things just reveal a highly projective person seeking to imprint their definitions on others? Does any of this make sense? It's highly theoretical and possibly nonsense since any specific case could invalidate it completely. You can tell someone that they're generally angry without being angry yourself, and the same for sadness. Perhaps it is more applicable for behavioural traits rather than emotional states? It's food for thought, especially when caught with nothing else to write about.

Judgementalism is one of the nastier things about our species. It seems as if the vast majority of people are constantly primed to launch into their opinions of others and never think about themselves. It's so easy to never think about ourselves and what we do, but clearly we have to or the world will go up in a haze of smoke or pollution. What would happen if, somehow, people actually started to think? To do things thoughtfully? Would the world's destiny improve, or would the sudden surge in brainpower push global warming to a new level? Good grief, would people actually talk to each other instead of setting bombs? It's imaginable. So many things are imaginable, and could happen, if only a few people would think instead of whatever it is that they do do now.

Oh, there's a world out there, and a solar system. The solar system is part of a grand galaxy, and the galaxy is just one of many. Encompassing it all is the universe, as we all know, and its origins will remain shrouded in mystery likely forever. If we did find the answer to the mystery, then it would prompt even more questions! The universe is the mirror, into which we look for something other than ourselves, paradoxically seeking a different truth to the one we're given and don't understand. Of course, we have to keep looking, because it's the seeking that's important. We're explorers in the great space lanes of the galaxy, and in the innerspace of the mind. Which is more important is a question we each ask of ourselves, if we ask questions at all, with the answer being 'banana'.


Saturday, 22 August 2015

Book: 'Journey to the West' Volume 1, by Wu Cheng'En (16th Century) and translated by WJF Jenner

This was going to be about a blindfolded Gonzo the Great wrestling a half-brick and losing, but that is going to have to wait until an ever more Muppet-like moment. What else? It could have been about court-martialling a monkey, but that will be for when 'The Phil Silvers Show' makes it back into the rotation. No, no, this will be about the first volume of four of 'Journey to the West' by Wu Cheng'En, as translated by WJF Jenner. The whole sixteenth century narrative tallies approximately two thousand pages, and any discourse on that entirety would be an awfully long time in the reading.

'Journey to the West' is fascinating, a miraculous melange of all kinds of Chinese mythology that was compiled by Weng'En from the lore of the time, and later converted into a Japanese television series called 'Monkey', named after the lead character of this first volume, the Stone Monkey God. It's about a monk's divinely given quest to go and fetch the Sutra from the Western Heaven with the help of his disciples Monkey, Pig and Friar Sand, fallen Immortals all.

This is a fascinating epic of a story, and one that is not afraid to meander away from the plot for side stories aplenty. There are points in the narrative when this tangentialising can seriously affect your focus on the whole, but the fascinatingly light tone mixed with occasionally serious details always keeps you on track. This is probably THE historical Chinese classic that can be read universally, and it does excel. The one drawback is the translation of the songs and/or poetry from the Chinese, which can become very tedious in the English form of this translation. This may be an unavoidable feature of translating the epic. Translation of verse seems to be something of a doomed enterprise.

The story might pretend to be about the monk, but really it's all about Monkey, the cheeky and barbaric animal god whose mischief hinders and helps the quest in equal measure, and whose history entirely governs the first several chapters of the volume. Yes, this is one monkey that scandalized and looted Heaven, and whose redemption will perhaps dominate the rest of the story. With three volumes still to be read, it all remains to be seen.

How is a light tone? Well, if I said that each chapter ends with the equivalent of the wrap up to part one of a 1960s 'Batman' story, will that make it clear? There's immortality, reincarnation, a myriad of gods, Buddhas aplenty, bawdiness, humour, and a narrative that spans thousand of years before even hitting its stride. Oh, and to make it all the more unusual, it's all about a monkey.


Thursday, 20 August 2015

Let 'Em Fly

The tutoring job is done, and now all that remains is to wait. It's the hardest part. All you can do is prepare the student to the best of your ability, and then stand to one side. You're not the pilot, just the instructor, and it annoys and vexes in equal measure!

In the midst of waiting, and in the wake of losing a student, it's time to wonder what to do with all the freshly liberated time, and how to recruit new students while plugging away at research. What a wonderful opportunity it is to have time to commit to things, those projects that will make the future more secure, but at the cost of getting out into the world. On the other hand, it could be a wonderful time to finally take a dedicated plunge into the TEFL work or the accumulated DVDs just begging to be watched. 'Mission: Impossible', 'Hunter', 'The Wild Wild West' and more are waiting...

It's easy to get addicted to vintage television, especially from the golden age of the episodic format. It must be viewed judiciously, before it takes over your life. What really needs to be pushed forward over the next few weeks is language work. It's all very well to claim to be learning Spanish, French and Greek, but you do occasionally have to do the work! Greek especially is fascinating and demands large amounts of time. What a wonder it is to learn a language with a different alphabet!

So there are things to do, blogs to write, and projects to pursue. Right now, all that remains is to wait and bide the time. It's the hardest part. Blast it all.


Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Film: 'The Electric Horseman' (1979)

Well, this was an interesting one. I wasn't expecting a film that was so solid and thoughtful, although anything featuring Robert Redford has a good chance of being both of those things. He has always been the private man concerned about selling out, and in this movie he plays very close to home as the 'electric horseman' himself. This is a film about a champion rodeo cowboy who sells out and loses himself, before coming back to his senses with a bang and rescuing... Well, I won't say what or who he rescues. It's a very interesting film, and one that almost succeeds in pushing you away with the hero's unpleasant life before turning the corner to his redemption. That nastiness is often a very potent deterrent to watching a movie, and can easily be misjudged. For an example of a movie going a little to far, perhaps, check out the the beginning of my much beloved 'Joe Versus The Volcano'. I love it, but it does go too far into the land of nastiness.

So, we have a film, and it's an old fashioned directed by movie legend Sydney Pollack, which stars Redford and Jane Fonda, with a host of other memorable faces. It's thoughtful. Is it worth watching? Yes. It's a film, and one with its heart in the right place. Is it overwhelmingly original? Well, no, but it does what it does with a great deal of skill and expertise, and its success rests entirely on the uniqueness of its leads. As (mutter mutter) Ebert said, it's the equivalent of an older style star vehicle, where the quality is as much in the actors as the script, and that is true. It's a star vehicle for two stars. He also said that they didn't make movies like this anymore, and they still don't. This blog has been in danger of becoming a review of old movies and serial trasher of everything new for some time now, which would not be a completely true reflection of reality. There have been interesting newer films, but they're very difficult to find. For example, there's 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty', 'Fantastic Mr Fox', 'Moonrise Kingdom', 'Stranger Than Fiction' and 'Safety Not Guaranteed', to make a beginning. They're just unheralded, and exist as part of a substrata of mainstream cinema or superstrata of indie films. They aren't the films that make it to your cinema any more. In fact, I only saw one of those films listed in the cinema at all, and only then because an art house cinema was there during a holiday. Locally, there would be no chance at all. Nil.

Hang on, how did this become a tangent onto movies, Roger Ebert, and the state of modern films? That's not supposed to happen! This is supposed to be about 'The Electric Horseman', the titular character's hideous fluorescent show costume, Willie Nelson in one of his first screen roles, Jane  Fonda's stupid boots, John Saxon continuing his string of creepy villain performances, country music, and the joys of 'little and big' movies. 'The Electric Horseman' is little AND big, a quality that features in many of my favourite films. Than can mean a small story with large themes, or a large story with personal themes and implications, or many other implications. The point is that it's doing more than one thing, and operating on several scales at once, making it more than just story about a simple cowboy who turns a corner and does something rather heroic, or the redemption of a reporter who may have lost the trees for the woods. There's something very special about 'little and big' films, so seek them out wherever you may. You might start with this, one of the earlier examples, or even 'The Truman Show' or 'The African Queen'.

Good? Yes. Excellent? Depends on your taste. Eerily beautiful in places? Definitely. Is there a token police chase, involving horses, cars and motorcycles? That would be telling.


Sunday, 16 August 2015

Things Forgotten, and Things Remembered

It's easy to forget things. People do it all the time. They lose their car keys or their slippers, and they forget their anniversaries or friends' birthdays. It's a commonplace occurrence. We also all forget who we are on a fairly regular basis. This has to be true, as otherwise how could so many awful things be done, if not by people who've forgotten who they are? It may sound like a nonsensical piece of gibberish, but it has a meaning. I'm always forgetting that - please move some things to make space for the gigantic ego, please - I'm actually pretty good at maths and a nice, gentle person. This self-knowledge just leaves for no apparent reason, and with it a large portion of self-esteem wanders into the woods for a five mile hike, hopefully not to be eaten by a bear or a ravenous hermit. Good grief, on a good day, I'm even a decent writer! What might it mean for other people to forget more important things about themselves, and lose their own identities in the process?

One of the greatest perils of modern life is that no-one has any time to think any more, unless they consciously make the time. Maybe no-one ever thought in the old days, either, and this is just a modern myth, this idea that we're constantly connected and never alone. If it's a myth, it's one that feels pretty real. The Internet, for all its advantages, does have disadvantages. Everything has disadvantages. All bathroom things, for example, seem designed to fall over and be constantly unstable. Peeling oranges can make your fingernails yellow. Microwaves spit out gamma radiation. Good things come to an end. Letters take a long time to reach their destination. The Internet's great disadvantage, this week, is that under its constant bombardment of current information we lose touch with some of our constant self-knowledge. Knowledge and information are not the same things, after all. Reading a book is far better for your own stability and self-awareness than reading a forum or a terrible blog post.

(Go read books, you terrible blog readers!)

It's strange to remember that, for example, you're good at things, especially after a long period of time. Relearning large swathes of mathematics to tutor someone else is like uncovering a treasure trove of self-confidence after having it beaten out by the rigours of a doctorate. Egads, there was a time when I was top of the class, and not just a humble code jockey, punching programs into a computer. How odd it all seems. There were different times, and those experiences aren't invalidated by what happened later. Both eras are equally true. For a supposedly intelligent species, we don't seem to use our ability to hold mutually contradictory ideas simultaneously much, do we? There wouldn't be religious wars, if we could.

It's also good to remember to be happy. Tomorrow, or Tuesday, I'll write about 'The Electric Horseman', a film of which I had never heard, but which turned out to be lovely on today's viewing. It's nice to feel happy. One of the great powers of books, television, classical music and film is that ability to unleash the emotions and thoughts that remain dormant within all of us far too much of the time. Hey, who has time to be happy when there's this pile of work to be done, a commute home still to take, and a pile of laundry waiting to be folded after dinner? Who has time to feel anything? Too many people don't even have the time to sleep, let alone think or feel. It's a wonder that people don't forget their own names and addresses!

Yes, things get forgotten, and sometimes they're very important things. We can only hope that they are only mislaid and not lost forever.