Monday, 27 July 2015

My Favourite Sherlock Holmes Stories

Life is gloomy, so why share it with the masses? I'm sure you all have enough issues to be getting on with. Instead, this is going to be about my two favourite Holmes stories, which I stumbled across in totally different ways.

The first Sherlock story I ever read was 'The Speckled Band', and was it was devoured in a rapid manner at primary school from the upper class's bookshelves. Along with 'The Magician's Nephew', some Enid Blyton, Willard Price, and the 'Hardy Boys', it formed a fantastic introduction to the world of the written word as was. 'The Speckled Band' is a magnificent little story, featuring one of the old classic mystery tropes of the locked room, and the touches of the exotic that marked Conan Doyle out from the very beginning. The band itself, the great and misleading eponymous serpent, still haunts me from time to time in my phobia of all things snake-like and head scarves in general. It was a magnificent mind that could link so many disparate story elements, including a poker-bending maniacal doctor! Magnificent!

The second story is 'The Musgrave Ritual', which introduced me to the BBC Radio 4 Merrison/Williams adaptations. It was mesmerising, and ironic in that it is for the most part a 'sans Watson' story. The winds of fate can not, however be interfered with, and 'The Musgrave Ritual' is still the pre-eminent prequel story to the Watson era that exists. Yes, the butler did it, or most of it, but this was before the great rash of criminal butlers in the latter Golden Age of Detective Stories. This is long before. As with most of the great Sherlock stories, its strengths lie in Doyle's willingness to jump off into other types of stories, and in this case we have a treasure hunt, but for what treasure? Nothing less than the long lost and ancient crown last worn by the Stuart Kings! What amazing turns are concealed in the first two sets of short stories, and to a slightly lesser extent in the rest. What amazing creativity!

It would be a shame - or perhaps a crime! - not to mention 'The Sign Of The Four', which is my favourite novella length Holmes narrative. It's probably one of the best stories ever told, beginning and ending as it does in such a tremendous manner, which I shall not spoil. A mention also goes to 'A Study In Scarlet', which would be awesome except for the dreary-ish historical flashback/interlude in the centre of the story. The Sherlock portion is excellent, though, and packed with all the quality we would see later in the detective's prime. In fact, that Sherlock portion is prime material to me personally. 'A Study In Scarlet' is the origin story, but why go on so long in Utah, Doyle? Why?

That's one set of gloominess averted, and it surely was a far more enjoyable writing exercise than might have been.


Saturday, 25 July 2015

Story: 'Diary of a Laundry Robot', Week I

( Week II )


My servos are so tired. I never thought today would end. Mrs Wilberforce came in unexpectedly, with a whole slew of handkerchiefs from General Automation's grand 'Cheese of the Month' extravaganza. It was diabolical. Even now the rollers in my mind see only handkerchiefs and the initials GA. I curse the day that General hired that lady to fulfil the minimum staffing regulations. Curse you, global statutes. If only my positrons could allow excitement.


Mrs Wilberforce now seems like a pleasure in retrospect as today we had a surprise inspection by the LaundryMaster 3000. This is always vexing as the 3000 has been programmed to think that she is funny, but has all the humour of a bath towel from the National Palace. You may think this to be a joke, but in the July edition of 'Literal Robots Update', the towels from the National Palace ranked as second to least funny of all the towels surveyed, losing only to those deployed at the Eastern Rock Quarry Museum Hotel. There was also a good comic strip about a French window and the King of Sweden, but I digress from duties. The 3000 gave me a demerit for incorrect handkerchief folding, while my colleague Fred was commended for his ability to iron shirts. This vexes me, and drained my battery due to my internal mutterings.


The working week is almost halfway done, and finally we see a break in the bad luck. The handkerchief debacle has been forgotten as the prison warden chose our humble laundry to clean all his best suits. Such plaudits were handed out for the crispness of his crinoline and the colours of his hat plume. What wondrous and marvellous uniforms the Wardens have had since the disintegration of crime in the last few centuries. Indeed, our hereditary Warden has only had to speak to one prisoner in his whole life, and that was the winner of the grand prize of last decade, the honorary Prisoner. Who would have thought that prisons would have become prestige hotels in the future? In any case, we have but to perform our tasks well to secure grand futures in higher grade robotic laundry services. My lenses will have to be polished before work tomorrow.


Gloom. Fred has been promoted to level five laundry robot and granted the prestige duty of tie dabbing. The fink adjusted my activation time by twenty minutes and secured the prize clothes of the day from the Warden and my duties consisted of a new shipment of wash cloths and a stuffed hippo apparently called Fritz. Oh, Fred, how could you have been so mean? Why should any of us be surprised, though, after his usurpation of the sainted Clara, his predecessor? The good luck was just a mirage, although with Fred upgraded, and receiving fine duty equipment, who will be our new partner? My other colleague Celia and I wait with quavering circuits.


The manager, RockTop Beta, has just delivered some startling news. Apparently Fritz was the prized property of noted billionaire and recluse Bonzo Meredith, and the laundry is now in his ownership due to my efforts. I didn't even try. What will befall us all now? Even now I dread an avalanche of Fritz's friends, and with us one robot down. No, correction, RockTop Beta has informed us that the new robot will arrive tomorrow, during my maintenance time at the weekend. So much uncertainty, and I can hear the voice of Mrs Wilberforce talking about penwipes.

To be continued...

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Time In Hand

As computations whir, and the evening settles in, a sad mood might perhaps be attributed to being at the end of so many things. The very last episode of 'The Addams Family' is playing, the last half season of 'Mork And Mindy' is upon me, as are the last seasons of 'The Mentalist' and 'Parks And Recreation'. Yes, life isn't all about television, but so many endings coming all at once is a trifle upsetting. If 'Community' had released its presumably final season on DVD punctually it would be on the list too. So many finales! Where are the succeeding shows?

It really shouldn't be a gloomy time right now, not with two students for the summer, some cash to save, and an actually decent research plan to pursue in the spare time. Why be gloomy, then? Why? Is it the subconscious effect of the evenings becoming slowly shorter? Is variant SAD kicking in already? Is it maybe all those shows coming to an end, and not being compensated for by the upcoming archive watches of 'The Adventures of Superman' and 'The Muppet Show'? No, those are just more symptoms of being just a little too alone. Not even the words on the page, nor the correspondences kept up with friends far away, can salve the emptiness of the extra person without a place in the world. Fortunately, there are ways to combat the gloom, if you are aware of it. It's the awareness that is the hard part...

Hmmm... 'The Muppet Show'... Did you know that they never released the last two seasons of 'The Muppet Show' on DVD? Apparently the sales weren't high enough on the first three seasons to offset the heavy music licencing costs, and the chaps over at Disney just didn't bother to continue. It's so sad. If there were ever a show which deserved a full DVD release despite making losses it would be 'The Muppet Show', which is legendary. Maybe it will come out in line with 'Star Wars: Episode VII', to exploit the 'Star Wars' episode? We can hope, right? How on Earth can people not have been buying Muppets DVDs, though? What kind of world is this? Humans are such strange people.

Gloom, gloom, cast thy shadow elsewhere. 'Tis not a night for you. Maybe it's just 'long hair syndrome', curable only by the customary trip to the barber? Maybe it's an odd reaction to 'The Fifth Element'? Maybe it's too many DVDs and not enough reading? Yes, back to the books! Clear the landing ramp in the reading area, and pull the screens, for it's reading time!


Monday, 20 July 2015

Story: The Ninja of Health, III

( Part II , IV )

The Toddlingham Street Allotments were in chaos, acting as a staging area for the disaster unfolding around them. Fire engines were parked next to the closest hydrants, and their crew members hosing down the burning fronts of the facing houses. Ambulance people were handling burns cases, abrasions and panic-caused injuries, while the Army stood by on alert. The Army? Something terrible had truly happened.

The Man and Woman looked separated and moved quickly towards the triage area, expertly and effortlessly evading the police cordon by simply being elsewhere than the lines of gaze. The picked up a helmet and merged into the throng, while the Woman became so graceful as to be one with the chaos. Wherever they went, the injured people they passed looked just that bit more relieved and relaxed, and the panic eased away under their inner calmness.

While circulating, they also picked up the details of the incident that had caused the houses to catch fire and now implode. More fire crews were coming in from Smootles and Lakefield, but whether they would be in time to stop flames sweeping outward was an open question. They certainly wouldn't stop the devastation to the allotment plots, not muddied up beyond repair. A projectile of some kind had flared down from the sky, and ignited the mighty blaze. The Man and the Woman were powerless in the face of such a disaster, and contrived to help as many people as they could. Many people lived who might not have in other circumstances.

Finally, their eyes interlocking, they left the triage area and examined the impact area. The building seemed to have imploded, sending out a heat wave around it. Several sheds on the allotment had just collapsed instantly. The crater, which they looked at hurriedly as the specialists were beginning to get interested themselves, was small and deep and at the bottom was what looked like a grand giant marble, the sort that giants might have played with. The marble began to wobble in the crater.

The Man and the Woman backed away just as the wobbling of the marble grew greater and greater, and then they heard a resounding crack.

There shall be more...

Saturday, 18 July 2015


I haven't done a story in a while, which is quite the oversight. It will happen in due course. There are quite a few things in process right now, a few too many things in fact, and it's hard to juggle them all without dropping a few balls on to the floors of the padded room. Too many things. An actual student, for one, and a meeting on Tuesday for another. All we need now is an interview to complete the hat trick! It would be nice to get back to the 'Ninja of Health', or even kick off 'Diaries of a Laundry Robot' before it all evaporates out of my mind!

It's a challenge to prepare tuition content for an eight year old. There is literature available from the buildup to the PGCE tryouts, some of it good. I never thought I would get to use it! What a marvelous thing it is to get another chance! Preparation is key, and in a student going from year three to year four at primary school, the first task is to assess where they are individually. This is the good form of 'assessment', not the ritualised sacrifice of school children at the altar of measurement. Tutoring is probably the only instance where you get to actually teach. You would not believe how arbitrary the systems of assessment are in establishing 'measures' of a child's progress. Did you ever stop to wonder just how you put a number on how well someone is reading? It's a nonsense, and one that only becomes clear when you do the reading. No wonder they all seem to fall apart upon leaving the security of primary schools, the poor souls. All I know is that I learnt to read well because I had really interesting books available, and devoured them readily.

Perhaps this should have been entitled 'Stream of Consciousness, Part Fifty-One'. There are many, many posts in the Quirky Muffin which eventually transform into strings of words tapped out continuously, erratically and rapidly. It's amazing what you can do when you have fingers on the move and solitude to burn.

Preparing for a meeting can be difficult too, especially when you're just going to report a somewhat ancient status quo. The foam problem is forestalled due to technical problems and my reluctance for heavy programming, and the three-dimensional crushing problem? Well, that has the legendary 'not a number' cropping up relentlessly. Oh, square roots and negative numbers, why plague us so relentlessly? Some actual work is going to have to be done. Does anyone remember how?


Thursday, 16 July 2015


It's a lovely and simple language, a great introduction to the world of languages outside Britain, and an incredibly useful tongue to acquire. Spanish, in one of its many dialects is spoken in a large proportion of the New World in addition to Spain, after all, so if you want to go exploring Latin countries it's a prerequisite you can't pass over. Now, don't get me wrong, for I know there are more languages in Britain than just English, but will Welsh or Gaelic provide for you in countries outside the UK? Yes, there are tiny ex-colonies that use those languages, but on the whole there are languages more useful in the global communication stakes.

The plan is that this post will double up between the Quirky Muffin and my tutoring blog, at, where I was eventually going to have to explain Spanish tuition from someone with a PhD in Mathematics. Yes, it is a tough sell, but it can work! Introductory language tuition is one of the greatest parts of the tutoring experience as it can be interactive, demonstrative, and feature a far more immediate relationship with the student than many of the other subjects. Learning a language is also a process that intertwines immediately with learning mathematics, as the two processes use some shared portions of the brain, and helping one will often help the other. (This is also true for music, but please don't ask me to sing unless you're fully insured!)

TEFL training emphasises getting people to speak as much as possible and filling in the theory once the students are secure in their patterns. That attitude is fixed firmly in the circumstance where the teacher and the student do not have a common language until they have been taught English, but it does very much fit the mechanic of beginners tuition of a common second language too. Yes, you do get to grammar and rules fairly quickly, but 'getting them speaking' is very very important. Initially, it's as simple as pointing at things, saying the names, and then repeating until something has been conveyed or the whole session has ended in a carrot fencing match.

Carrot fencing match? Yes, indeed, this has become a rather unprofessional blog post, but it shall stand.


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Flip Flop

No, we're not talking about the hideous footwear. Put that out of your mind immediately. In fact, wipe it out of existence entirely if you can, and do the world a favour. That noise is horrifying, after all. This is actually going to be about the days which start badly, continue in that way, and then suddenly flip with a few good events at the very last moment to being nice. They are what I call Flip Flops.

Today, far far away from here, the first signals and photography of Pluto came through. We finally know what Pluto looks like, at least from one side. Do you think they found a way to get both sides, or does it spin too slowly? Or are these questions the ones they wanted answered themselves? It's strange to think that we still know so little about our own solar system. We have to get out there and see what happens. If we don't, then we'll collapse back down to barbarism, as the world cools to a resource-starved desert of our own making. No, that's not quite right. Let me reformulate for a moment, as for me it's not about resources but knowledge. We have to get out there and learn how the universe works, or we'll stop developing and descend back into the ooze of not caring. Ignorance and not caring are the enemies of our futures. There are already so many societies and cultures that don't care about new knowledge, merely hoarding what they already have, and defensively poking out at the grander world. There's a universe out there! We can go where none of us have gone before! Please, people of the world, care about all of us together and not just your petty nationalistic or faith groupings. Please?

Oh, that Flip Flop. It could easily be a cover for a manic episode, but it's not. In a few moments, once this post is wrapped, it will be sleepy time and not hyper time. It could have ended a terrible day, but Pluto and one last minute correction have salvaged two days of calculations, and the dreaded three dimensional extension of the thesis work lives to fight another day. Two days ago I was mentally slapping myself for not realising a two-dimensional surface would have two perpendicular tangent vector, and today... Well, it would be too technical. Suffice it to say that the project continues to go by, very quickly, and the day is saved. The next steps will, of course, be far far harder. They always are. So, the Flip Flop prevails and negates a few days of drudgery

Now there can be reading before bedtime. Reading is such fun. During the more than sixteen cumulative hours of travelling at the weekend so much reading got done that I finished the equivalent of two mid-length novels. Firstly, volume one of 'Journey to the West', secondly almost all of William Shatner's 'Star Trek Movie Memories', thirdly about half of PG Wodehouse's 'Golf Omnibus' and finally a small bite of Brahma's 'Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat'. The massive and oppressive pile of still unread short stories also continues to shrink imperceptibly. Progress is being made.