Friday, 17 April 2015

Four Hundred And Ninety Nine

Yes, one last post before mighty five hundred, which is nowhere near complete at this point. Is this what we call planning? Is it? No, of course not! Welcome to the Quirky Muffin, last organised properly in late 1994, when in paper form and indescribably more boring. Oh, days gone by, somehow not seen through the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia. Somehow nostalgia never made it into my mental patterns, except possibly in television terms, where the 1960s has become a virtual 'home era'. Yes, the 60s had chauvinism and misogynism problems, but it was moving in the right direction, and they were making television that everyone could watch. If there's something to be nostalgic for then it's broad spectrum broadcasting! Yes, the best shows are probably better now, but they're also tightly targeted.

Now, putting that oft-repeated rant back into its box, what's going on with Quirky Muffin 500. Potentially, nothing at all. It's an arbitrary landmark after all. We wouldn't be having this discussion right now if weren't equipped with five digits on each of our hands and feet, and five appendages in total, prompting ancient man to jump up and down in a blissful epiphany and start counting in fives and tens. In some ways I envy the eccentric civilizations that decided to pass on that ludicrous system (see Babylonians?) and count in other bases. Yes, you wouldn't find them worrying about what to do for blog post five hundred! What is going to happen? Does it matter? Is anyone actually counting anyway? Auntie Google knows, but then she knows everything, even the things you wish she didn't.

I'm watching you, Auntie Google. You were nice when you were small but now you're a corporate behemoth you're totally untrustworthy. The beady eye is watching.

The plan is this: A long unfinished story has been stuck on hold all week, caught in the morass of waiting for supply work that never comes. Much like 'Clomp Squared', it is firmly based in the stories my sister and I used to make up about our toys. Hence, it may make very little sense, feature many anthropomorphised animals and a zeppelin. There may or may not be lakes of custard and a space journey to the great Swirly Thing underlying this part of the space-time continuum.

It's a landmark year for the Film Bin as well, since commentary one hundred is set to land, under a veil of greatest secrecy, later this year. The only hint as to the choice of film is that it features a train. Make of that what you will. How much later this year it will happen is a difficult question to answer, as we've had more delays and disruptions at Film Bin Central this year so far than anyone would have expected in two whole calendar years. Such is the way of things, but we will get to the mythical beast that is number one hundred and give it a nice bowl of milk for the anniversary. Ooh, what a cute commentary! Tickle tickle.


Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Story: Oneiromancy, XX

(Part O , XIX , XXI)

It was a timeless fall across the Dreamline. The patterns became hypnotic after a while, and it was only the touch of Helen's hand in his that kept Stanley from drifting off into a total reverie. Swirls and clouds, ribbons and storms. What strange phenomena might all the colours represent, if they represented anything at all?

Helen knew, as they plummeted, that it might go on forever. There might be no floor to eventually reach, just a huge empty void. 'Empty void': A ludicrous thing to say, she thought, as if there were any voids that weren't empty. Gripping on to Stanley, she watched the alternative world all around them, and thought about her body, as far away as it was and yet just a moment away.


They found themselves in a shallow sea of water, stretching as far as their eyes could see. Standing upright, Stanley could breathe fairly easily, while Helen had to tilt her head back just to stop from getting a mouthful of water.

"What do you think?" Stanley asked of his companion.

"It could be anything, but if I had to guess then we're far enough away from our hostile friend that we're beginning to influence it ourselves. This is our own unconscious at work." Helen tried to sound confident at her own baseless speculation.

"Or it could be her work."

"Yes, it could be her work. She's starting to remind me of my Aunt Mabel. She was barmy and collected Austrian Polka records."

Stanley smiled, while trying to not take a mouthful of water. "Sounds like my uncle Edwin. He liked jazz, but he wouldn't try to kill us or trap us in that cage."

"There's something over there in the distance. Do you fancy a swim?"

The two paddled to the 'something in the distance', which turned out to be a faintly familiar island. On the beach, scrawled in the sand, was the long ago missed message: "Help me."

Stanley and Helen looked at each other apprehensively. Was it possible that they weren't the only ones loose and hunted in the Dreamline after all?

More? Of course!

Monday, 13 April 2015

On Call

It's tense. Every morning, you wake up early and get ready for a potential day somewhere unknown. You can't make plans, and you can't make appointments unless they're vital and urgent. You've got to be prepared, because you are 'on call'. Yes, you may only be a supply teaching assistant, but you've got to make a good impression, blast it! Oh, the tension as the clock ticks on until nine o'clock, when you declare the wait done and convert your notions for the day into concrete plans, and rue the loss of earning and learning opportunities. Hopefully all this stress will go to some good end, or at least a good reference. That cold tight feeling in the stomach and lack of sleep won't be entirely wasted.

Oh, it's so silly to worry, as nothing bad is going to happen. Medics on call have far worse troubles, so do public defenders and cover gladiators. You wouldn't believe how the market for supply entertainers in the coliseums has decayed in recent millennia. Back in the old days, you could make a decent living covering for busted hamstrings and lions who wouldn't get out of bed for less than ten pieces of gold and a bowl of rice pudding. Still, no-one ever expected any of this to make sense, right? All I have to worry about is being an assistant and dealing with small groups of students learning, at the very worst. That's easy. Why the terrible stomach, then? It's probably the phone aspect. Phones are terrifying things.

Away in the real world, suddenly after months of nothing, there's a possible student in the works and it's time to be on call on a whole second level. Will this be the breakthrough? Will the straw finally break the canoe's back? Will tutoring take off? Can these metaphors can get any more twisted up? It's going to be an interesting challenge if it works out, as the student has dyslexia and I'm going to have to learn a whole new bucket of tricks. Teaching language is one of the nicest things in the world, as it truly is the tool that brings us all together and enables every other topic of learning, although this is not what you say to the student at the time, as the pressure would be insurmountable. The necessary things are really interesting and arresting texts to practice with. It's always got to be the texts! Also, using verbalisation to help the flow seems to help.

What are good books and stories to begin with? How to best motivate writing and spelling? What are juvenile males interested in reading at thirteen years old? These are good questions. Obviously, this is going to be fascinating if it works out, and why wouldn't it? In a blatant display of lack of thought and resulting ignorance, my mind had never considered how a print learning disability might affect mathematics learning, which is something else to consider. For once it's lucky that my ego is larger than Manhattan Island and that this is an opportunity to help that should be taken. Now, where's the cape and the magic wand of mighty magic...? What's that? 'No capes!'?


Note: Presumably this post will curse me in the usual way, tempting fate as it does. If relevant people are out there reading this... Well, rest assured I can do it.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Movie: 'Batman Returns' (1992)

I used to dislike 'Batman Returns', but now it seems so much better than the contemporary crop of mass produced superhero movies that it might be a classic. What has changed? Was it me? It's certainly still a Tim Burton-y mess with too much of The disgusting Penguin and more style than substance, but it's also quite intricate, the sole example of diverse independent villains functioning together well in a film, and rather beautiful in its own way.

It's hard to not talk about the Catwoman when you write about 'Batman Returns'. Michelle Pfeiffer was and is the defining symbol of the film, after all, and putting the shiny costume aside she does give an awesome performance as the Selina Kyle who breaks down completely after being pushed out a window by her corrupt employer and then apparently being resurrected by a bunch of stray alley cats. Throughout the movie she very decidedly does play insane in the most entertaining and delightful manner, while at the same time being ever so slightly undermined by being black and shiny. Pfeiffer is definitely at the core of the film with Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne / Batman. Tim Burton's apathy about the title character in this and the last film seems obvious by now, but Keaton isn't as neglected as you would think. It's true that he again doesn't get a big moment to sell, a big speech to give, or even the grand triumphant moment but... Okay, he's sold short again, and I change my mind. It works in the context of the film, and makes the whole movie a superior example of its type, but the lead actor is clearly doing his best while the director farms out the best bits to the villains. It's a shame as Keaton's Bruce Wayne is the best ever to appear on screen.

'Batman Returns' is definitely a curious film. For one thing, it features three antagonists, each independently motivated, and each a few sandwiches short of their respective picnic lunches, while for another it has moments of sheer insanity you won't find anywhere else but in Tim Burton films. (I have a theory about Iim Burton being an exact negative to Sam Raimi in certain key respects, but it will have to wait, as it's almost certainly totally wrong and reminiscent of nothing even vaguely reminiscent of reality.) The Penguin drives the Batmobile via remote control on it's rocking and rolling arcade equivalent, rubber ducks abound, and penguins waddle around Gotham with satellite dishes and bombs strapped to their backs. Surely there must have been a way to make the film without the sheer grotesquerness of Danny DeVito's Penguin, though, even if that would break one of the Tim Burton tenets. The Penguin is just too icky.

It's actually very difficult to write about 'Batman Returns', it being quite fluffy and ephemeral as a film. It might be more interesting to talk about the genesis of the movie, and the break it made from being a direct sequel to its predecessor. Alternatively, the fascinating ball sequence where Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are the only ones NOT in fancy dress is pretty interesting. What about the distinctions between the Burton Batman movies and the rather grim and tedious Nolan versions? All these things can be found in other places. Let's just say that it's a picturesque and stylish Batman caper, roughly equal to the first film while losing a smidgin of the roughness one might find interesting.


Thursday, 9 April 2015

Prelude to a Time of Chaos?

Next week, things could all get a little crazy. That's the suspicion being harboured as term time looms, and the realities of being registered with three different supply agencies become closer to being fulfilled. Good grief, there's grand potential for chaos in such choices! Let's hope it doesn't all explode into a fiery massive disaster. It can't be that difficult to be a teaching assistant, surely?

Casting about for a profession is a chancy business. You can book TEFL courses, apply for teaching fellowships, sign up as supply teaching assistants, copyedit textbooks and try to drum up business as a tutor but if none of them work out you do tend to have a problem, one not easily ameliorated by anything short of a miracle. What do you do? Go to sleep and try not to think about if for a while? Put up some shelves? Practice your juggling?

Let's think about weather instead: It's a heat wave here in Carmarthenshire, still, and the peril of being pale is taking its toll. After months of being able to go out and take the constitutional midday walks that prevent a total nervous explosion, it has all become rather difficult, but evening walks do become the order of the season. Oh, to not be so pale but constantly flushed would be a lovely thing. Also, to not be a compulsive buyer of DVDs and books would be nice too, but let's not ask for miracles twice in one paragraph. It might upset the karmic wagon.

'Karmic wagon'? Karma is a fascinating thing, that idea that your actions can directly influence your own future in a metaphysical manner. It's a keystone of many Asian religion and systems of thought, intertwining with reincarnation quite elaborately in places. The God-less systems of thought and belief have been interesting for a long time, involving as they do meditation and self-exploration and sitting between faiths and psychology much like a keystone. This will all require some more writing, should I become more knowledgeable on the subject. I tried to meditate a few times, but the heart beat was so loud that it kept throwing things off...

One can only hope that if karma is real then things can only improve. That's a nice thought. Nobody will ever find out about two lives ago and the hijacking of that zeppelin to take a leisure trip to Bognor. How could they?


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Story: Oneiromancy, XIX

(Part O , XVIII , XX)

Sleep. The soporific haven for billions of people all over the world, a refuge from all the troubles of life. A potential battleground if you're the only two active Dreamwalkers in the world, and you've caught the attention of the Tweedy Lady currently stalking that abstracted place and trapping all the flies that wander intrusively into her spider's web.

Stanley and Helen hovered, holding hands, staring out into the broad swathes of colour that swirled all around them. Their long experiences together had bonded them even before the eerie attractive powers of her eyes and his sheepish disposition began to work on them. For the first time, and with surprisingly little training, they stood with some awareness in the Dreamline.

"If the professor is right, and who knows if he's even marginally sane before we even get to 'right', this should be a medium that sees all kinds of scattered fragments of dreams, unconscious chatter, and stray information popping back and forth like flotsam in unpredictable tides. There should be things happening all around us." Helen spoke fairly calmly, even while being momentarily swamped in green swirls.

When the swirls passed they were standing on a paved purple lane that cut through the abstractions all around them, a new gravity acting to keep them on the path.

"Perhaps there are. No-one said we would be able to understand it. It's just like standing in a river, except instead of water we have all these swirls and colours. And textures. Ouch!" He waved a hand in pain. A bunch of the abstractions darted at his hand again, but he and Helen backed off down the road a ways and the swirls hovered there confusedly.

"That could be her", Helen observed, "in her natural state in this place." The swirls began to move toward them down the lane, colours shifting furiously.

"If it's not her, than what is it? There's not supposed to be anything here. Whether it was truthful or not, she said she eliminated everything else. I'll try something." Stanley closed his eyes for a moment, the dream version of his eyes, and a shimmering translucent dome appeared over them before winking back out of existence.

Helen screamed as the swirls began plucking at her. Stanley pulled her further down the lane, the swirls never overtaking them, but neither falling far behind. Stanley's mind jumped to a nasty suspicion as something began to loom out of the colours. Gravity and a path, a purple path at that, and a persistent but not merciless predator. "We're being herded."

"What?" Helen gasped.

The structure was becoming clearer now, a solid silver prison, complete with platinum bars. She stopped. Stanley stumbled to a halt too, and then looked at her boldly."It's either the cell or we try sky diving. What do you think?"

She squeezed his hand as the storm of colours approached. "If we weren't already asleep this would be terrifying. One..."

"You're not wrong. Two..."

"You shouldn't hunch so much. Three..."

"It's part of the teacher training. Jump!"

Stanley Simonson and Helen Ostrander jumped off the purple lane, and plummeted, while the swirls contracted into an angry ball increasingly high above them and seethed.

To be continued...

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Piles and Piles...

On my computer there are dozens of unfinished stories from back when I was doing my HND, which incidentally was remarkably easy. They just sit there, lurking and muttering and waiting to be completed. Why do they remain unfinished? It's a tricky question, especially when there's no lack of opportunity. Some people are just afraid of finishing things, of succeeding or not, of making the last few steps across the finishing line. IT's crippling, paralysing and demoralising. Also, a lot of those stories were begun by a much happier and crazier person, so finishing them requires a mass of revisions both written and personal before new content even hits the page. However, with Quirky Muffin 500 approaching, maybe it's time to dust off another one and finish it, just as occurred with 'Clomp Squared'. Oh, 'Clomp Squared', you will eventually have a lot to answer for...

Piles and piles of unfinished stories, a fear of finishing, a fear of having become less crazy, and a habit for procrastination. It's hardly a recipe for success, especially when you add consistent interview failures and a dodgy spell of lecturing into recent work history. Plainly, any sensible person would go hide in a hole and become spelean, not book a TEFL course and try to build his way out with only misguided optimism and a radical plan to make 'Secret Of Monkey Island' jokes at every opportunity. Yes, you too can call me Bobbin Threadbare!

spelean: cave-dwelling

Back to stories, maybe it won't just be one that gets finished. Perhaps it's time to really dig into the backlog against the backdrop of supply work after the holidays, and whatever else is in the pipeline. It can be part of Operation Elimination, details of which will remain undisclosed until the last Quirky Muffin reader is carted off to a funny farm and the blog is converted into an encyclopedic webpage for all you want to know about white sand. Is that obscure enough? No? Mutter mutter. People are hard to please. I would call them 'children's stories', but we're really talking about tales that go here, there and everywhere, and fit in no box whatsoever.

What kind of different life must all you people out there who like finishing things lead? Is it fun? Are you still terrified of success, with all the changes and responsibilities that it entails, or is that all part of the fun? Oh, humans! We're an intractably confusing bunch, aren't we? Enough of all this mock introspection and pretend contemplation of the weirdness of the species, for it is time to get back to text polishing and passive absorption of 'The Mentalist' and 'The Six Million Dollar Man'. Ah, classic shows...