Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A Brief Intermission

Trips always come in pairs, as is known the world over, so the Quirky Muffin will be on brief intermission until next Monday, although there is the possibility of cover posts if the stars align correctly.

It has been a heavy week of tutoring, with an assessment of a new student, and much second guessing. Notes were created to help patch up the gaps in the GCSE Mathematics course, and now a trip to Nottingham is upon this reluctant author. Oh, the perils of travelling! The long coach journey awaits, but at least it's not a journey by plane or train. Trains used to be a lot more fun, but now coaches are my favourite. How things change...

Nottingham, land of my doctorate, the home of torment and occasional pleasure trips to Sainsbury. Yes, it was a time when trips to the supermarket were the highlight of the week. In fact, making it all the way to ASDA is still the highlight of the week when I can manage it. What does that mean? All levity aside, it will be nice to see my friends and plot to teleport the university campus to the surface of the Moon. Incidentally the moon is incredible far away. Look it up, and be astounded.

Oh, such a quiet few days, apart from an extensive amount of language exchange. It's so nice to finally get Spanish practice, and give back some English. Actually, it's tilted more toward English at the moment, but things will tip back when Spanish courses kick into action. Where on Earth could I get a Spanish course, anyway?

Time to think.


Sunday, 7 February 2016

Story: The Glove, IX

( Part VIII , X )

(I could just doodle randomly here until I come up with something not-terrible. Perhaps it would be a description of Steffan's room at the inn, or motivation for the sundering of Ganymede's society into such a disjointed system. Maybe it could be an advancement of the reasoning why Steffan didn't take the job offered him? How exactly did the mountain behind the reception desk of the Rock of Augustus know why Steffan was coming, anyway?)

"Ah, it's a good thing that you arrived when you did, as I was about to shut for lunch, as Aggie is away today on college course. You wouldn't think she would need to know any more after two degrees, but it's a funny old world." The mountain was still talking, and Steffan hadn't managed to get many words into the spaces left over. "It will surely be nice to have such a linguist in the place, when she's done."

"I, uh, who's Aggie?" Enquired the young arrival rather dazedly of his impressive companion.

"Oh, my niece Agnethia. She's the brain of the family. Used to keep fish in the old casks we used for making cider. Fine girl, if a bit prone to jumping to conclusions."

There was a pause in the proceedings, as Steffan's host showed to him his room, stuffed a key into his hand, and went back downstairs for his luggage. It was a warm room, with some nice rugs and minimal decoration. The bed was bouncy enough, and by the time the innkeeper had returned, Steffan had recovered some of his wits. You may have noticed that the young piper is nonplussed rather easily. Such is the way of life.

When the man mountain returned, Steffan bounced up and thanked him politely, and then asked him his name.

"Well, that's a good question, lad. Not quite as good as 'What on Troos is going on?' but getting there, definitely." He stomped over to the most substantial looking wall and leaned back. "My name is Rook, and I run this place. For a while now it has been the Rook of Augustus, at least in my head."

"And you were expecting me because...?"

"Ah, well, a little birdie told me you might be coming along. Let's leave it at that for the moment, shall we?"

"Leave it at that?! By the moons of Troos, what is going on?" Steffan's curiosity was beginning to overflow.

"Well, it can at least wait until after dinner, don't you think?" Rook was definitely looking evasive, but the mention of a meal kicked Steffan's insides into overdrive.


"Aye, lad, I'll tell you a little bit of the status quo after eating. You did the right thing by not joining the Guild, that I'll tell you now. Let's get to the pasta and the meat!" With that, Rook the mountain led Steffan away to the banquet room, and we adjourn once again.

There shall be more...

Friday, 5 February 2016

Take Two

The previous attempt is scrunched up and shunted to the bottom of the page. It's time to go for the second take, where everything is more sincere, and the encroaching artifice is thrown away in favour of giant penguins and the march of insomnia across the land. Yes, welcome to the Quirky Muffin, where a rhythm has been difficult to find following that trip overseas.

In coming days, including the mild but hopefully invisible disruption that you won't notice, you can expect a multitude of things. Specifics are not available at this time, but continuations of 'The Glove', 'The Ninja Of Health' and 'Diary Of A Laundry Robot' could all pop up, as could some book related posts. The land of topical news is too gloomy to be mentioned, but hopefully some chatter will run about 'M*A*S*H', 'The Invaders' or 'Quantum Leap'. Actually, that last series is making a comeback in my estimation after years in the doghouse but we'll get to that in good time. I really want to get the stories back on track and hope to work on the active ones, before kicking off 'The Wheels In The Sky' and the continuing second phases of 'Wordspace' and 'Triangles'. Theoretically, the years-long story order of priority would look something like this:

'The Ninja Of Health';
'The Glove';
'Diary Of A Laundry Robot';
'Oneiromancy' (revised whole);
'The Disappearance' (revised whole);
'The Wheels In The Sky';
'Triangles, Phase II';
'Wordspace, Phase II'.

How's that for an ambitious scheme? The stories have been really difficult recently, and 'The Glove' has been difficult for years now! I wonder why? It may actually have to be junked, which is a scary concept. That's right, a first scrapped story project! We've had reboots, and excised chapters before, but never an entirely scrapped project... There needs to be something novel at the heart of it, and there really isn't at the moment. Maybe having a story where the novelty is that the space colony is Scottish isn't quite enough? We shall see.


Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Movie: 'Honey, I Shrunk The Kids' (1989)

Its virtue lies in its simplicity, sincerity and innocence. Its value is enhanced by Rick Moranis in his signature role, and an excellent surrounding cast. The story is rich in character and naturally steeped in spectacle. The film is 'Honey, I Shrunk The Kids' (HISTK), and there can no impartiality in this post.

HISTK is a funny and amazingly detailed adventure movie, yes they used to make adventure films back in the day, about zany inventor Wayne Szalinski working on a miniaturization beam in his attic, his worried wife, and the adventure of both their and their neighbouring couple's children, when they're accidentally shrunk down to bug size and dumped out with the trash at the other end of the back yard. Will the kids make it through the now jungle of a backyard, and will Wayne be able to restore them to normal? Well, that's not really the crux of the movie as it's really a coming of age story about the kids, two of them about to reach their majorities, and the other two of the younger variety.

One of the keys to HISTK lies in its homespun and detailed production design, where nothing but the miniaturization laser itself would look out of place in any standard suburban home, and everything looks naturalistic to the suburban setting. The enlarged garden and interior sets are marvelous and wonderfully detailed, to the point where you realise that floorboards and flagstones must really look like that at the smaller scales, and the hard work of constructing it all shines through brightly.

On paper, it's an effects-driven film, but in reality this is about three and a bit love stories, as two sets of parents reconcile, a star-crossed pair of adolescents discover each other, and their younger siblings gain and lose a quite unexpected friend while growing up a little in the process. Oh, and there's a flight on a manic bumblebee, for the effects lovers.

A long time ago, the nominal leading young lady of the piece, Amy of the jungle, was the receptacle for quite the teenage infatuation. Now, she's the standout performer of an amazingly talented youthful cast. Meanwhile, the adult stars are the ever notable Rick Moranis and Matt Frewer, backed up by Kristine Sutherland and Marcia Strassman (Nurse Margie Cutler from the first season of 'M*A*S*H'!), and all excel.

Before we finish, without any criticism as there's not really anything to criticize, special notes of recommendation go out to James Horner's fantastically jazzy score, the excellently maintained tone of the whole film, and its beauty in being only ninety minutes long. It completely works, and there's no attempt to pad it out at all. The humour is low key and detailed as often as it is broad and zany, and there remains nothing more to be said.


Note: None of the post applies to the sequels, which were reputedly cash-ins of the first order. Watch those at your own risk.

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Literary Reflection, I

Building my book catalogue on LibraryThing, it's becoming clear that my collection is dominated by pulpy television spins-off, and length genre series, with a small number of one-off novels of undoubted excellence. There's a real absence of the heavyweight authors and worthy novels that some might find indispensable, but... It's good. It's amazing to see things afresh and really just how many 'Star Trek' novels are kicking about the place, or pick up an 'A-Team' novelization and find out it's actually well written! There was no need to avoid them for years due to fears of broken nostalgia! (That's what the 'Doctor Who: New Adventures' are for.)

While all these 'Star Trek' novels, volumes of 'Sherlock Holmes', Pratchett works, and the glorious David Eddings sagas may not be the most gloriously acclaimed texts in the history of literature, they did do a good job. I read voraciously, and then expanded. They set up everything that followed, and perhaps that's the thing to remember when compiling reading lists for students in English. The best thing is to make these introductory books interesting and exciting. So what if there aren't many contemporary books for boys? Let's feed them Willard Price, Jules Verne, and maybe even Zorro or Tarzan!

As part of the holiday cover, I wrote the inaugural 'On The Book Piles', which was a less in-depth survey of items on the reading mountains, and in a brief follow up, it's time to unleash some words on completed reads, which were maybe not interesting enough or noteworthy enough for their own posts.

'A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court' (1889) by Mark Twain: Ultimately, despite the high concept of the idea, this novels falls foul of the laboured satire of the times. It begins well, and it ends well, but the strain of being so critical weighs it down horribly. As with 'The Prince And The Pauper', 'A Connecticut Yankee' feels like it has far too little story for its length, but the ambition was bold, and it surely counts as one of the forerunners of modern science fiction, just like Jules Verne.

'Jamaica Inn' by Daphne Du Maurier (1936): Ultimately, after a promising beginning, this never quite gets above my ultimate criticism of novels, which is to be written like a bestseller. The meaning of that criticism is ambiguous, but I choose to wield it as a reflection on a lack of secondary layers or meanings. There is nothing else happening apart from the text, and it's frustrating. You can get away with that in juvenile fiction, bestsellers and tie-in novels where familiarity adds subtext, but not here. Having said all that, it's a well written thriller, accounting for its success, but not one that ever needs to be re-read. There is nothing more to be found in the text.

'Dead Man's Cove' by Lauren St John (2011): This almost manages to get a post of its own, and may still. The first novel of the 'Laura Marlin' mysteries is an impressive one, and finally provides a youthful detective for girls. Yes, there was Nancy Drew before, but I never read a 'Nancy Drew'. Well conceived, and well written, the reason why it gets mentioned here instead of in its own post is the number of references to 'Jamaica Inn', rendering it thematically tied to the rest of the post. For me, the mystery stories were provided by 'The Hardy Boys', 'The Famous Five' and 'The Secret Seven', and it's nice to see some additions being made to the genre. Where will Laura Marlin's series go? There are still three novels to go. I just hope it doesn't get horrid with adolescent nonsense! It's nice to see a narrative based in St Ives.

There will be more literary reflections...


Saturday, 30 January 2016

Ramblings Of A Returned Traveller, II

Before getting back to the regular pattern of drivel alternating with reviews and stories, it might be nice to think about those travels once again. Standing outside the personal experience of it all, isn't it amazing that we can cross a distance that would take a ship a week in just the span of ten hours? It's true that you have to strap yourself into a flying metal death tube, be pressurised to an atmosphere near that experienced near the summit of Mount Everest, lose all sense of reality due to enforced dimming of the windows (thank you very much, Norwegian Air), and have all your allergies triggered by the air conditioning simultaneously, but... No, I can't do it. It's horrible to fly. Take the boat, you crazies, take the boat!

It's fun to travel, and see the world. America is one of the more strange places, though, with its curiosities such as firearms in large supermarkets, the absences of public conveniences, and the apparent inability to provide public transport systems that people will depend on. Yes, those car-developed cities are not the easiest to get around without some significant driving assistance. Oh, and sugar is in absolutely everything. Everything! Is that enough moaning? Yes? Finally!

It was good to experience Miami, especially when unleashed to wander myself, stumbling over marathons and toddling over the immense 'Venetian Causeway' that links the Miami Beach island to the rest of the city, and enjoying the great lifeguard huts on South Beach. In less well trodden fun things, it was also good to espy all three of the Dice Tower top ten videocast hosts at a board game shop in the Hollywood area, taking part in a monthly local gaming event. Yes, these things do happen and they can be very impressive. I must be a nerd to have gone out of my way to see those guys...

The Quirky Muffin will now return to its normal service. In the next few weeks, expect some chatter about 'Honey, I Shrunk The Kids', some stories, and perhaps a thoughtful piece about Mark Twain's 'A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court'. I'm also building my LibraryThing book catalogue up a bit. It's something to do...


Thursday, 28 January 2016

Ramblings Of A Returned Traveller, I

How lovely it was to meet my longtime penpal Diaslen, and her esteemed spousal analogue. How nice it was to get the chance to explore a new city on a whole new continent. How awful, on the dark side, to be sick once again and have an awful plane journey. Such is the way of life. This must begin with a great thank you to my wonderful hosts, who drove me around, fed me, organised activities, and were generally far too nice! How wonderful it is to have such friends, and great wishes for their future are attached herewith.

Miami is a lovely city, but one not suited for the pedestrians! If I had travelled to all the places I saw by foot, the trip would have to have been twice as long, with ever more plane trauma added in for karmic retribution! Not only was there the traditional Gatwick rock and roll landing, but on the outgoing trip the lady next to me collapsed and had to be taken away by paramedics on landing. I hope she was okay after all that. Flying is a nasty business. I may never do it again, if it can be avoided.

Points of interest around and about Miami include Vizcaya House, a mansion built by a wealthy resident who wanted a picturesque house to live in and entertain in. The breakfast room is nice at Vizcaya, but the rest seems stuffy. The Cuban restaurant called Versailles is rather awesome, and has some wonderful fish. The Loewe Museum of International Art is also well worth a visit, as is the long long walk across the Venetian Causeway that links the island of Miami Beach to the mainland. Dania Beach is lovely and quiet in comparison to the famous South Beach, with its wonderful artist-designed lifeguard stations, and if you're lucky you might stumble across a marathon as I did. How bizarre it is to be wandering around at dawn in Miami South Beach, and stumble over a major marathon. Things like that don't normally happen, do they?

Sadly, the Venetian Pool was closed for refurbishment, as was the Bass Museum of Art, while the Science Museum was closed due to moving to a whole new building. The old building looked pretty nice, though, as did the sea whenever the beach was visited. You can't beat a green-blue sea, with rushing surf. One day, I'll get into that snorkelling experience on the Keys, or fail in my so far successful attempts to avoid the alligator swamps. Oh, next time, given the momentary insanity that will get me onto a plane or the decadence required for the sea journey, there will be snorkelling and oblivion to the mosquitoes. Actually, getting mosquito bites is pretty scary in these days of the Zika virus.

How's that for a start?