Friday, 17 November 2017

Getting Back On Track

All of the stories here at the Quirky Muffin seem to have vanished, which is sad, but it does provide an opportunity. 'Wordspace', in particular, is now so stalled that it allows a re-read and re-assessment of what has come before. Has enough time passed to make it possible to go on? Of course, being exhausted all the time makes being creative very difficult, which is the main problem! There is no inspiration while sleepwalking around the world, nor is there energy to evaluate and re-evalute possible future directions.

So, we have an opportunity to get back on the story track, hopefully before the thousandth post hits the virtual printing press. This is good, isn't it? IT will be nice to know what on Earth is going on? It's very pleasant to now be almost finished with Christmas shopping and bookcase painting, leaving each day virtually free of ancillary projects. Thank goodness. It's nice to be able to focus on just three things instead of five, this weblog duelling with tutoring and studying for the majority of the week's useful hours.

Oh, Christmas shopping, why do you multiply so?! Why? Another idea just popped into my mind, blast it. Grumble grumble. I blame Barney Rubble.

What will happen with 'Wordspace'? I have no idea, as I don't even know what has happened so far at this point. There is just a bare shadow of events lingering in the memory, hidden behind the confusing clouds of the last few episodes of stalling, needlessly added to the end of the narrative. You wouldn't think that it would be difficult to continue, with so many things happening at once, but all those things were really just methods for not advancing the main plot. Something will have to give. The wood must be found amongst the trees. Somehow.

And now, we return you to your regular scheduled existences. Please return the curtains to their resting position and do not upset the apple carts on your ways to the exit.


Note: No apple carts featured in the making of this post. At all. Something is wrong with the world.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Neptune Affair' (1964) (Aired 1x11, Produced 1x04)

We will be up to date with the UNCLE Season 1 rewatch after this post, having skipped the oddly flat 'The Brain-Killer Affair', and so there will be space for other posts that aren't about Napoleon Solo! However, first we will chatter on about 'The Neptune Affair'. This is very much a return to basics, and a good return at that, as Solo is sent off to follow a tenuous trail in hopes of averting a horrific conflict with Ilya's home country. It seems that someone has been launching fungicidal attacks on Soviet crops, and launching them from American territory...

It was nice to see Ilya in Soviet uniform at the beginning, confirming that he is in fact a Soviet officer even while working for UNCLE (or undercover), and it was interesting to see that spilling over a little into his conference with Solo. We get very little Ilya early in the run as he was essentially a minor character until the audience warmed up to him very similarly to the way they did to Spock on 'Star Trek'. Anyway, we get more of him here, but it's still very definitely (and thankfully) the man from UNCLE and not the men from UNCLE that we're following at the moment. Robert Vaughn could easily carry episodes on his own, and with magnificent charm and swagger.

There are some very nice moments in this episode, including some nifty emergency conditioning so that Solo can resist drugged interrogation after muttering a code phrase, and a cute closing sequence on a beach after escaping from the scheme of this week's evil schemer. This time it was the ever wonderful Henry Jones, the prototypical memorable man with an unremarkable name. He had a scheme, and a team, bent on inciting a conflict and then cleaning up what was left of the world after the dust had settled. Presumably from his secret base under a marine oil rig? It's patently daft, but it does allow Robert Vaughn to get in a lot of very impressive and well-shot water work, and the introduction of the innocent's story is very natural and organic.

Hmm. Is there anything else of note? It's good to see Solo going undercover again. It shows an interesting level of deviousness to his abilities. This one will probably be remembered for all the lovely boat and water work, and some very interesting characterisation for Henry Jones' antagonist. It also looks spectacular. Some of these episodes look better than the movies of the time!


Monday, 13 November 2017

Long, Long Ago...

Practically every post of the Quirky Muffin will eventually be a rewrite of something I've written before and forgotten. It's inevitable. Does it matter? Maybe, and maybe not. Is this going to be a first? Who knows? The Great Bird Of The Galaxy? The Mighty Fruitloop?

We could waffle on forever, and even engage in imaginary persiflage (thank you, PG Wodehouse) with ourselves, or we could find some theme to bang on about for a few minutes. Or we could even just ramble on about the issues of the day. Anyone want to talk about Trump, Putin, frozen yogurt, the meaning of life or giant hamsters? No? Blast. Mutter mutter.

It has been a good day. Students are making progress, people are happy, the pressure is off on several fronts, and Christmas is approaching. Oh, Christmas, the season of restrained gifting and Christmas card sending. Christmas cards are pretty easy to buy if you just go to Oxfam or Barnardos and pick the nicest ones. If you're going to buy Christmas cards, then it's entirely fitting to have the proceeds go to charity, isn't it? (Other charity shops are available.)

Christmas is a funny time of year for the principled agnostic. You becomes a little put off by the core Christian aspects that get pushed at you from time to time, appalled by the hideous materialism exhibited by many people, and cheered by the good cheer and charitable moments which pop out naturally as a natural byproduct of it all. Christmas can be a great time of year, if it's taken in the right spirit, and if you avoid adverts as scrupulously as we do here at the Quirky Muffin. No mood will be spoilt by advertising here, mwahahahahah!

It's too early to say if it will be a nice Christmas or not, but the early indications are good. Does that mean disaster is coming?


Saturday, 11 November 2017

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Iowa Scuba Affair' (1964) (Aired 1x02, Produced 1x02)

We won't do every episode of the first season of 'The Man From UNCLE' here at the Quirky Muffin, only the ones that are fun, interesting or just staggeringly well-made. We won't be talking about the next one made, for example, 'The Brain-Killer Affair', which was plain disappointing. Here we have something much better: 'The Iowa Scuba Affair' is a classic Napoleon episode, which begins with him facing down a motorcycle and gunning down the driver who's out to run him down, and then sees our sort-of hero posing as the driver's brother, intent on finding out the truth behind his death. It's double-dealings all the way to the bottom, including an encounter with a deadly explosive bath bomb. Yes! Another unlikely sentence printed in all innocence!

It's all go for the man from UNCLE. We also have one of the classical innocents in peril, which enlivens the proceedings, giving a very naive and pretty Katherine Crawford something to do as she gets pulled out of her backwater life into a world of danger and high adventure. The photography becomes less impressive later in the series, or so I remember, but here we get some of the best monochrome imagery, including a wonderful interlude in a grain silo. We can thank director Richard Donner for some of that. Yes, Richard 'Superman' Donner, who also gave us 'Ladyhawke', 'The Goonies', a particularly favourite episode of the 'Twilight Zone', and other works of legendary repute. He did a few for 'Gilligan's Island', to give some idea of his flexibility.

Now, you may be wondering why it's called 'The Iowa Scuba Affair'. This relates to the daft spy plot part of the episode, which involves Slim Pickens digging a tunnel to the nearby air base, using his new well as a secret entrance, which requires scuba gear to gain entry. The tunnel, in association with a deal with a rebel force looking to take over a foreign country and possible THRUSH involvement, means Solo has to get to grips with the mystery of the driver, who was not who he was claiming to be, as quickly as possible.

The genius of this original format is that the story of the 'innocent' character is often more involving than the official spy story. In this case, the lady in question is longing to get away from her lonely country life, and the consequences of being engaged to the dead man wearing the wrong name, and gets more than she bargained for from Napoleon Solo. At least she'll get to visit New York, and get the Solo tour, hopefully without a touch of heartbreak. He's a gent, that guy. The world is full of people who think they don't have choices, isn't it? Is it a happy ending? Maybe, and maybe not, but it's certainly a touching one.

Never take scuba gear to Iowa. Bad things will happen.


Thursday, 9 November 2017

Letting Things Go

Words, words, words. It's a weird week. There are still bonfires being burnt, Project Wood has finished principal painting and only requires little touches, maximum tutoring has been reached, two OU assignments have been dispatched, and two board games have been swapped. It has been remarkably busy. In fact, it has been so busy that this post has almost not happened, and may not happen now. This could be a phantom post, always hanging around in blog limbo. Limbo!

Where is blog limbo? Is it up near Jupiter, in the secret Internet archiving station being kept up by the Archons from Planet X? Or is a virtual base deep in the Internet, somewhere that no-one can ever reach except by accident? We can not know.

Oh, it really has been a too hectic day. We may have to let this go quickly. In the coming weeks, you hypothetical readers can expect more 'Man From UNCLE', more 'Wordspace', and more random gibberings. For now, after too much painting, shopping and teaching of graph sketching, it's time to go and think about nicer things in repose, and possibly even reach the end of volume two of 'Journey To The West'! Yes, progress! It has been a very odd journey so far, but enjoyable...

Oh, local humans, stop it with the bonfires!


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Television: 'The Man From UNCLE: The Vulcan Affair' (1964) (Aired 1x01, Produced 1x01)

Original Airdate: 22/09/1964

Napoleon Solo is a wise man. He seems to hold some of the secrets of the universe, which power his coolness and poise. Yes, he's definitely the man, and he seems to be a far better agent than that Bond bloke, and a better man.

This is a remade version of the original pilot for UNCLE, which was mysteriously in colour, and featured a different actor as the equivalent to Mr Waverley, the supervisor of our favourite international agents.

'The Vulcan Affair' introduces many of the things which are deeply important to the series as it moves onward, and also pulls off an absolutely brilliant hour of cinematic television. It's excellent. Sam Rolfe truly knew what he was doing when he developed this show. It's a shame that it was run into the ground after he left, but it's all part of history now.

'The Vulcan Affair' has the archetypal example of the 'involved innocent', that was used to some extent in every episode. Patricia Crowley is great as the housewife who gets dragged into action to help entrap a THRUSH industrialist who was an old flame at college, and who becomes confused by her new glamorous life. It's actually more feminist than it sounds! Fritz Weaver is good as the half-sympathetic villain, and William Marshall plays an African villain. Yes, a sophisticated person of colour in 1964! The actual plot is typically corny, but we can't have everything.

The interactions between Robert Vaughn (Solo) and Crowley are especially well judged, and there's a great suspense sequence involving a pipe, some steam, and a lot of futile bashing with a shoe. She and Vaughn really work well together, and their hysteria is a great moment. The music by Jerry Goldsmith works entirely to the show's credit, and the whole thing reeks of potential. Is it going to be a good season? Is it? Yes, with great patches.


Sunday, 5 November 2017

Perfectionists Must Never Use Brushes...

The last phase of Project Wood is nearing its end, but its an end that keeps moving further and further away. First you paint the white, then you make the shelves orange, then you make the trim blue, and then you go back and go over the splashes made by each of the distinct steps, and then over the splashes from the corrections, and so on, and so on, before you eventually go mad from all that and the hours of applying masking tape. Oh, the masking tape! It's madness! Absolute madness! Sticky, icky, relentless madness!

On an unrelated tangent: Fireworks are popping, or were until a few moments ago. It's fitting, as it's November the Fifth. It's the anniversary of that attempted explosive change of government yet again, and the world outside is reeking once again of smoke, while a very bright full-ish Moon is peering down in perplexity upon the smokey landscape. It's not an exaggeration, for once there is no rain on Fireworks Night, and it reeks out there. It reeks in here. It reeks everywhere! Smoke is permeating the country from all the revolting bonfires. Bleuch! I never could understand the appeal of this rotten cold and smelly event. Perhaps it's yet another aspect of innate human masochism peeking through the veil of civilization? Perhaps it's just that people like burning things and making loud noises? Why do people like to burn things anyway? It's such a malodorous waste of material.

Painting and burning are actually two examples of just how primitive our methods can be at times. How do we change the colour of something? We slop appropriately coloured slime all over the object and then wait for it to dry. How do we make heat? We burn something to a crisp and wave our hands over it. It really is just like being in the old days all over again. Maybe it's good to have primitive aspects to our lives, but I really wish that painting and burning weren't amongst them them. Music is pretty primitive and not hideous, after all. Let's keep music. And frisbees.

At some point in the process of painting something with several colours, you really need to throw away any slant for perfectionism that you have and say that it's good enough. As a perfectionist, it hurts to say that, but no matter what you do, there will always be a problem caused by the last thing you did, or the storage conditions, or sheer random luck. Perfection is practically impossible. Instead of going mad, it becomes time to stop, and think of fountains, weirs, forests and mountains. Ah, the real world of the old Greek elements... Earth, Wind, Fire, Water and the other one. Yes, yes, I know the fifth one was really Aether. It was a joke! Sheesh...