Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXXI

( Part XXX , Ramblings , XXXII )

It was a quiet journey back home to Toddlingham. The two ninjas of health were very contemplative as the miles flowed away beneath the wheels of their little car, with occasional small talk at picturesque bends in the minor roads. The Man was wondering about the lighthouse, and whatever its meaning might have been, while the Woman drove and tried to approach a working plan. One food break next to a fully grown wheat field saw a mild discussion on crop diversity, but the two's hearts weren't in it. Neither of them seemed to notice the crop circle in the field behind them as they drove up the hill and beyond.

Nearer to Toddlingham, the view became more eccentric, as the people thinned out. It was obvious that there were far too many of the locals around, underneath the picturesque blue sky. The clouds swirled across the sky, occasionally forming pretty shapes and designs. There was one nasty chaotic patch way over to the eastern side of town, which looked like a whirlpool that had had its direction of swirl reversed repeatedly. The Man, now driving, pointed it out.

"Yes. It's almost certainly where You Know Who is." She grimaced.

"And over here, underneath the twisty centre of the rest, is our dear abode." The car crunched to a halt on the gravelly drive. "Are you ready, dear lady?"

"Yes..." The Lady stared up at the clouds, then at the rock garden around their repurposed chapel. "I think I..."


"Not yet. Ken first."

The two headed up to the door, and opened up their base. Within, two people sat on the mosaic floor, that mysterious indicator of their frames of mind. One was Ken, and one was the Oracle. The latter looked incredibly wan but intact, while the former was far paler than he had been when they left. Our protagonists looked on in wonder at their returned comrade, and at the complete absense of the coloured balls that had covered the floor previously.

The Woman turned to her companion, and pointed at their returned friend, a harbinger of hope. "He, good sir, is our lighthouse."

"Yes. Yes, he really is."

"And I have an idea." She got a kiss on the cheek for that comment.

More shall follow...

Monday, 27 March 2017

Oh, Those Nostalgia Goggles Sure Are Foggy

There's a wealth of great radio entertainment out there, if you can find it. Just digging through my rota of archive programmes is like flipping through a rolodex of legends: 'The Navy Lark', 'Sherlock Holmes', 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy', 'Richard Diamond, Private Detective', 'The Jack Benny Show' and 'The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Program'. It's a miniature hall of fame that can only be heard and never seen.

Radio is wonderful, but for a long time I drifted away from it and became engrossed in screens. Books and radio are two sides of the same coin of purity, as they both embody exactly one medium and don't mess around by introducing and mixing several. You can get away with things in text and audio that you could never get away with on screen. They didn't need to show the fantastic things in 'Dimension X' or 'X Minus One', as they knew our imaginations would provide the visuals far more effectively. There was no need to show the dangerous situations in 'Escape!', nor the horrific elements of 'Quiet, Please'. It was all in our minds from start to finish. Eventually, I made it back, losing the horrific rush of podcasts that have been acting as a disposable entertainment, and revisiting Holmes and Phil Harris, It's refreshing to listen to things that will stay.

In the current era, narrative radio is pretty much dead. Yes, Radio 4 is keeping up some drama output but its last golden era of non-'kitchen sink' productions was decades ago. I remember that complete dramatisation of the entire 'Sherlock Holmes' canon, and some 'Gideon Fell' stories with Donald Sinden, but otherwise it's over unless you like a slice of angst with your tea and crumpets. It's all in the past with some occasional mild exceptions. At least a vast pile of material from the original Golden Age Of Radio is freely available on the Internet Archive, which is nice. You used to be able to get the original 'Adventures of Superman' radio series on there...

If you get a moment, and have the capacity to insert yourself into another time period, Old Time Radio is a wonderful place to be. It's a colourful or noir-filled parallel universe, where you are as likely to bump into the Shadow as you are into Sam Spade or Jack Benny and Phil Harris. Or, if you indulge in expensive and rare BBC CDs, you could rub shoulders with the crew of the HMS Troutbridge and Arthur Dent. The world is your oyster, and with guaranteed top-rated visual effects!


Saturday, 25 March 2017

'Star Trek: The Cage' (Episode 0x00) (1965)

'The Cage' is a curious product of the mid-1960s. It is both quintessential 'Star Trek' and its antithesis. 'The Cage' (TC) adheres to the humourless dramatic pattern of the time, while breaking other television rules at every turn. It has also got the iconic Orion slave girl, but that is something best left until later.

Is TC good? Yes. Is it good Trek? It depends on the definition of Trek that you use. The original cast material falls broadly into two categories: A - 'The Cage', the beginning of season one, most of the third season, and 'The Motion Picture'; B - The bulk of the first season, the entirety of the second, and the remainder of the movies. Category A has no character based humour at all, and B is where Trek made its name via intelligent naturalism characterisation on almost all levels. 'The Cage' is classical A material: Solid, durable, intelligent and ever so slightly dull. The lessons imparted by the latter producer Gene Coon had yet to come in and so we deal with the Roddenberry-ness of it all. (Note: There is also category C, which is the epically strange animated series and only the animated series.)

The interesting things about TC are the things that would change, and the iconic aspects that would shine through when it was re-edited into the two-part episode 'The Menagerie'. Yes, it's the Orion slave girl again, but also the unprecedented woman first officer who is only referred to as Number One. She would later be blackballed by skittish/cowardly network people and her characteristics smooshed into those of the already-present but far too shouty Mr Spock. A woman first officer? Unthinkable to the powers that were of the time, but a brave piece of universe building for 'Star Trek'. The third iconic aspect of the show is the starship itself, and the fourth the ubiquitous production budget saving transporter. It's a beautiful ship already, in this earliest incarnation, one of the best to ever be seen in film and television until its even more ludicrously beautiful replacement in 'The Motion Picture'.

Ultimately, even though it reflects poorly on me, the writer of the Quirky Muffin, once I had seen this the first time it was only ever going to be about the Green Girl. It is ironic that the Kirk cliche of romancing 'green alien space babes' only happened once for him, and that this more famous example was for an entirely different captain. A captain with a brown soul of durable cardboard, and who spends more time being angry than he does anything else. I wonder what kind of series would have sprung from this attempt at a pilot?

It's a really expensive show, with stellar production values. The story is smart and well written, although it is more of a B movie style production than a tv show. The cast is solid, everything is solid. It's all structurally sound. What it lacks is the energy that the infamous Shatner brought in massive amounts, from the next episode onwards... All I can say is this: Bring on the double fisted hammer blow and flying leg kick!


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Eight Hundred And Fifty Two?

This is one of those posts where I blather on about nothing in particular, spinning random threads of consciousness and hoping they all come together at the end to make something whole. If that doesn't happen, then of course the Quirky Muffin will be deducted five points by the judges, if they're not on holiday in Istanbul or guzzling chocolates in their secret mountaintop headquarters, that is. You can never really trust judges to be where you want them to be, especially if they take their inspiration from Baron Greenback.

You weren't expecting sense, were you? Really?

It has been a silly few days, with a multiplicity, or even a plenitude, of free days that could be used to catch up on Open University work and recharge the batteries. In fact, it has been a week with four days off, which hasn't happened in a very long time. You might think being a private tutor is an easy job, but those accumulated hours of talking steadily, explaining and breaking down concepts, and maintaining concentration and attention throughout, do wear on you after a while. It's nice to be able to be quiet and introspective, and get beaten by 'Thunderbirds' repeatedly. I must be playing it wrong, or be terrible at logistics, or be terribly unlucky. A review will be forthcoming, once some non-solitaire playthroughs have been done. It may just be that the fun of being able to move around Thunderbird 4 has gone to the head.

A plan has now been hatched for the conclusion of 'The Ninja Of Health', Hurrah! It can take ages to come up with even unimaginative ways to end stories, so it's a relief to have some idea of what to aim for. Yes, you might rightly say that it would be the better idea to know what you're aiming for from the very beginning, but that's never really been the point of the Quirky Muffin. This weblog is, above all, an experiment. It's not meant to be super-readable, or maybe even read at all. If you do read, then thank you kindly. The main objective is to work out if this cranky writer can do anything interesting with the words that clutter up his head. Hmm. Head clutter words fish banana spoon hockey.

It has been a great experiment so far. Yes, a lot of the reviews end up being qualified into almost complete banality, and the stories go through long and awkward stalling patterns sometimes, but it's still fun to write. Sometimes there's a fascinating word of the day, and sometimes a touch of philosophy will creep in. Politics is banned once again, if only because we are now in the decline of civilization as we know it, and the corporate barbarians are now well past the gate and eating our ice cream. More will follow in the same vein as this and the previous eight hundred and fifty one (!) posts, in the coming days. For now, it is time to bed down and read something comforting.

Welcome to the Quirky Muffin, and good night.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Scenes From The Fictitious Genesis Of A Planned Resolution By People Who Don't Write This Stuff To Begin With

A.K.A. Ideas On How To Finish 'The Ninja Of Health'

(Part XXX , XXXI )

<fade in from lime>

Dennis: We've got to do something about this story that is endlessly going on and on, Evelyn.

Evelyn: My, this ravioli is delicious. I've never even had good ravioli, and suddenly we get miraculous ravioli!

Dennis: <sigh>

Evelyn: The story? I know. It's going on forever, and we still have to resolve a ridiculous meditation scene in a crater.

Dennis: This guy seems to be a bringer of bad events, doesn't he? A chaos merchant?

Evelyn: Yes, but at the same time, he has NOT hurt either of our protagonists. <eyes Dennis's fruit salad>

Dennis: Get back, fruit fiend! Here, you shall never get through this frontier of condiments!

Waiter: Sir, madam, would you like anything else to eat or drink.

Dennis: Yes, could you get this diet-monster a fruit salad please. Without melon.

Waiter: Of course. We do not serve -- <shudder> -- melon here.Is that all?

Evelyn: Two of those tiny post-meal coffees please.

Waiter: Thank you, madam, sir.

Dennis: He seemed overly formal, didn't he?

Evelyn: He's just trying to make up for last week, when he accidentally tipped that mushy avocado all over your head.

Dennis: Hmm. Story. At the same time, our villain has been making people sick and rendered a vital deus ex machine comatose. He has been affecting people.

Evelyn: But not lethally. He has only been messing things about, although people would die eventually, or have already, in the margins.

Dennis: A chaos merchant?

Evelyn: Yes, but we do play that awfully often, don't we? We seem to have a chaotic evil counterpoint in every single thing we write!

Dennis: I blame Moriarty.

Evelyn: Well, you would. We'll probably be sued just for using his name.

Dennis: Nope! Definitely in the public domain. Hurrah!

Waiter: Voila.

Dennis: Is that a whole pineapple?

Waiter: With the compliments of the house. <departs>

Evelyn: The wall of condiments stands. Keep your eyes off this pineapple.

Dennis: Well, we could defeat the bad guy, and then have him not be so bad, right?

Evelyn: I suppose so... But how?

Dennis: Well, if it's order versus chaos, then there are some pretty standard things we could pull out. I have this idea about the sky and a hot air balloon teathered to a tower...

Evelyn: Oh. Good grief...

Dennis: You want to hear all about it, don't you? Admit it.

Evelyn: If I give you some pineapple, will you not tell me?

Dennis: Too late! Mwahahahaha!

Evelyn: Hang on! Did you just say 'balloon'?

Dennis: Yes, 'hot air balloon', to be precise.

Evelyn: I have a related idea. We'll compare notes at pillows time. There's just one more thing to talk about now, though.

Dennis: What?

Evelyn: We seriously need to stop writing comedic dialogue scenes in Italian restaurants. It's fast becoming a crutch.

Dennis: Never. Pasta names are funny. You'll just have to live with it.

<fade to purple>

The end of the 'Ninja of Health' is planned...

Sunday, 19 March 2017

No, No, Not The Bagpipes Of Orpheus!

Greetings and salutations from a remarkable buoyant Quirky Muffin headquarters, currently floating out into the middle of the Irish Sea thanks to positive mental energy and a healthy dose of imagination. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! Or non-alcoholic rum substitute, at least. It was made within sight of molasses, if nothing else. It's really scary that rum is literally made of fermented sugar things, isn't it? That is a fact that needs to be forgotten.

Ah, 'tis a good day, after time enough to think at last, and catch up on some of the more minor things of existence. Coursework is being picked up and may actually get finished, and a couple of days worth of (involuntary) holiday means that a whole week of preparation can get done too. The serial stories here in Muffin-land might even get pushed along. We will have to see, but some serious recharging is in progress here. Things may happen.

In random news, which has already bored many people in e-mail in the last few days, the 'Thunderbirds' co-operative game (plus 'Tracy Island' expansion) is pretty neat and tight. It may be the only good licenced game in existence for me, mainly because so many others are war games. It seems as if there will never be a good 'Star Trek' board game, which is disappointing but understandable. The strengths of 'Trek' are diverse and difficult to capture, and deeply tied in to the solidity and aspirational nature of the original show. 'YINSH' and 'Africana' remain to be played, but high hopes are being held! YINSH! Gesundheit.

Now, moving along, the good thing about teaching English as well as Mathematics is that you get to dig into magazines for articles to use as comprehension fodder. Personally, I prefer rummaging through 'The Atlantic' and 'The Smithsonian'. Today, in a big hit for promoting literacy, the former furnished this lovely article about practical archaeology and the nature of humanity now as compared to our more 'primitive' forebears. Guess who comes off the worse in the comparison? I will leave you, the imaginary reader of this fine weblog, to draw your own conclusions.

Ah, Orpheus, come forth and blow your dream pipes. Please, please, let your recent bagpipes experiment have come to an end...


Friday, 17 March 2017

On The Book Piles V - March 2017

Since story writing is on hiatus until some energy recovery has been occurred, it's time to have a focus on books. This time, the book piles have a few new entries, and a few that have been there forever and several days...

'The Illustrated And Complete Brigadier Gerard' by Arthur Conan Doyle

Now, having made it several stories into the Brigadier Gerard collection, it is obvious that these are classically great stories. Conan Doyle seems to have sunk everything into this, including a lot of his passion for historical tales and sly humour. Recommended, and not the satire of France that I was unfairly expecting. Very good, so far.

'Journey To The West' (Volume 2) by Wu Cheng'en

Now also begun, volume two is more of the same, in this grandly epic story of ancient China. The translation is funny, and the pacing good, but the overarching story is thousands of pages long over four volumes. These books may outlast me! However, you really need to know about that irascible Monkey, one of the great characters in stories.

'The Voyage Of The Beagle' by Charles Darwin

This, along with Herodotus, Jung, and the Freud below, are likely to remain on these book piles forever. 'Voyage' is an extremely dry chronicle of the legendary voyage on which Darwin began to take his notes on naturalism and his experiences, and form some of the ideas which would overthrow how we think about the world and Nature. Sadly, I'm struggling to get into it, but whenever I do it is interesting. It's just so dry that you can smell the tumbleweeds when you open the volume.

'Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious' by Sigmund Freud

An awesomely well written book, and one that dribbles on in spurts due to my compulsive reading of fiction. The translation is great, and Freud had a once in a generation mind. This has to be dug into or I'll go nutty. Bring in the complexes, it's time to dig in!

'Ishmael' (Star Trek) by Barbara Hambly

A new entry, and it's one of my favourite Star Trek novels, which is ironic as a large portion of it is spent with an amnesiac Spock washed up in historical America, in the continuity of an entirely different television series. I never would have guessed that it was a crossover! Only last year did I realise that the whole setting was that of a sixties show called 'Here Come The Brides', which starred Star Trek actor Mark Lenard. It's very well done, but has been shamefully put on the backburner by...

'Dragon' (Dirk Pitt) by Clive Cussler

It's a Cussler, which is embarrassing. The exposition is painful, and nothing is left unsaid. No cliche is left unturned, and yet it somehow works, which is infuriating. Being read because it's one half of the surrounding bracket for a Cussler I wanted to re-read: 'Sahara'. Please, keep this one under your hat.

'The Complete Father Brown' by GK Chesterton

Finally, from deep in the box of unread, or partially unread, books, comes the complete 'Father Brown' which was halfway read many years ago and then put down due to exhaustion. It's a very thick tome! However, the stories were excellent to date, and the time is right to pick it up again in the off minutes. More to come.

Also malingering on the piles: 'Histories' by Herodotus, and 'Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious' by Jung. The piles are high at the moment. I may disappear behind them...