Sunday, 30 June 2013

Story: The Disappearance (V)

(Part IV , VI)

McGonagle Biscuits was a family firm, established for well over a hundred and fifty years, and the current president was Agnes McGonagle. She was also known as the fifth Duchess of Stirling, and was the sole heir to the family fortune until she deigned to produce a child. Since she was currently only nineteen years old everyone thought she had plenty of time. The untimely loss of her parents had left her thinking otherwise though.

Carter and I were waiting outside the McGonagle executive suite, somewhat impatiently. Apparently Prentiss Cakes had set up some kind of lawsuit over some mini jam sponges and the lawyers were having their say. Lawyers love to have their say, and extensively, they're working for rich corporate clients. I had locked horns with a few lawyer types while at college and knew the ropes. My ex-partner Wiggins knew how to deal with those types. She's gone now, to who knows where.

The secretary took a call on the intercom and then looked over at us. She was the maternal type and waved us through to the office of the current owner and president of McGonagle Biscuits once some boringly suited legal types had left. As we passed over the threshold the I felt the temperature drop a few degrees and then was distracted by the decor. The room was spartan in the main and thin in the business style. The desk had moved from the old-fashioned position of dominance, now being reversed to look out through the massive expanse of glass that dominated a wall opposite the door, and now being flanked by worktops and some computers with streams of numbers pouring up the screen. All the clutter was concentrated in that end of the office and the round coffee table presumably used for meetings was barren.

Agnes McGonagle was leaning on her chair as we entered and blinked when she saw Carter with me, even scowled a little. Some attractive women don't like other attractive women being around. It's a fact of life.

"Agents, it's good to meet you." Straightforward voice, nothing special. Carter took the lead and did the usual introductions. Then we resumed. "Well, what can I do for you?"

"You've taken over this company recently - we're sorry for your loss - and we'd like to know if there's anything you think would be useful for us in our line of enquiries." Subtle as a brick, just the way I liked it. "And may I have one of these biscuits?"

"Yes, of course." I took a custard cream as she thought it through.

"I don't know that there's anything we can add to the last research report we sent through to you two months ago. It's still mostly a mystery. You like custard creams, huh? Soft on the outside and soft on the inside." She winked at me. I couldn't remember the last time a woman had winked at me. Carter scowled some more. I don't know why she would; She had a lovely boyfriend called Frankie who made her spaghetti and meatballs. People are wacky. McGonagle grabbed a packed of the already mentioned biscuits from a display and lobbed them at me. "On the house."

"Thank you, ma'am. It's been three months and the activities in question seem to be escalating, and the statistical link remains. There must be something going on here."

"Nothing to my knowledge, agent. Nothing that I know of. It's a mystery." McGonagle locked eyes with mine for a moment, smiled, and then motioned for the door. "If you have nothing further..."

"Has anyone gone missing on your staff recently, Miss McGonagle?" Carter, asking the obvious questions while I munched another biscuit. I had to cut down.

"I'll ask personnel to send you a report, but for now I have to get back to work. I'm running some simulations for my Maths degree and that blasted lawsuit has already sapped a huge part of my day. Learning's a great thing, especially when it distracts from company tedium."

There was nothing more we could ask without being rude so we made our farewells and departed, custard creams firmly in hand. On the way back to the office Carter was stubbornly silent. I was sat thoughtfully and pondered everything we'd seen. Mathematics didn't seem to fit very well with biscuit making and McGonagle was an impressive young lady. Back at the office I reviewed missing people reports and wondered who to approach at the University when I coincidentally went to check in with old friends.

Two cups of tea later, and after lunch of course I finally opened the biscuits and found the note. On it there was a place, a time and a few brief instructions. I didn't tell anyone but I did leave a copy with Carter in a sealed envelope on her desk, asking her to read it the next day if I didn't come in. I didn't want to spook an informant. Then I read some more reports and narrowed down the possible identities of the missing/disappeared man. Finally I left work ten minutes early and made my way to the Rusty Bucket pub on Wend's Octangle where inside I told the owner I was for the small function room and was shown in.

Agnes McGonagle was inside and I would have seen how pretty she was this evening if my attention hadn't been grabbed by the main attraction. I'd never met myself before.

More? Of course there'll be more!

Saturday, 29 June 2013


I missed the first birthday of the Quirky Muffin. How unforgivable! Henceforth the blathering about 'Pavane' will be the birthday post and this will be the first post of the new year.

It's really quite fitting that the QM's birthday coincide with the end of my first job. It kind of ties everything together neatly. For (almost) every end there is a new beginning, and who knows what challenges and wonders will follow? Well, I don't and am really quite miserable but there must be fake positivity before true positivity kicks into action! Fake positivity for the win!

Being temporarily unemployed will have little to no negative repercussions on the Quirky Muffin. In fact it will become ever more necessary and fulfilling. Now that I've worked I can see a few things I didn't see before:

1> In research the spark of interest is essential.
2> Always eat in the Arts Centre.
3> Stick to your plan and read a lot first. Always read a lot first.
4> Don't be pressured into premature calculations.
5> Remember: Flexibility is key in brain-intensive work.

It's interesting to note that what happens to a Maths research when they're out of employment is often that they continue working if only to keep things moving and hopefully generate some publications. So you do if for free, hope you have enough papers to read and stay vaguely up to date, and look for jobs in the mean-time. I've actually worked far more effectively for free than I have while paid, which is a terrible indictment and affirmation of my contrariness, but does show some encouragement.

So, job goes and Quirky Muffin stays. There will be more Quirky Muffins, more Film Bins, and more jobs in the future. They'll have to drag me away from Aberystwyth with a steam locomotive. Come and get me, coppers!


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Book: 'Pavane' by Keith Roberts (1968)

How would the world have been different if the Armada had made it to Britain and the Catholic Church never lost its grip on these green isles? Without that frantic change in the global balance that was British Independence from the Church, would there have been a stasis in world events, a delaying of research and technology, and a ridiculous prolongation of the feudal system far beyond any reasonable duration?

What I've written above is the core idea behind the fiction 'Pavane', a sequence of connected stories set in that Church-dominated Britain in the Twentieth Century, where rebellion is beginning to brew and a prophecy is stirring and evolving through the course of the disparate narratives.

There have been many alternate history narratives, and alarmingly I've read none of them, but this does seem to be one of the earliest examples. It's a strange book, somehow dense and not dense. There are faerie-folk in the background but also mature human issues touched upon especially for the female characters.

'Pavane' is well-written and well-constructed but lacks a certain charm. It's easy to put down and then leave there for a while unless effort is exerted to finish, but the concept is novel and if there's a flaw it's in the dense writing style of the times and its nature as a fix-up novel. Fix-up novels have been mentioned before, specifically in the 'Red Harvest' review, but here we have what are clearly a number of clearly separated short stories with some added connectivity. I'm on record as being troubled by short stories, and it's true again here. Maybe they're just too dense, or it's the annoyance of stop-starting.

Perhaps it is a good book. I suspect it is. There's a clear duality going on, an underlying epic narrative based around one family and their role in the unravelling of a millennium of outside rulers, and even a role for the Old Gods and the faerie people. What there isn't is a sense of even transient fun. There's no humour, and that makes things hard to read. For me it is an axiom that there is humour even in the worst of times, as it is the most common outlet for stress and frustration. There's always a gag. So, 'good but joyless' is the ultimate verdict.

I've talked around in circles on this one. It's clearly an influential work, and well done, but it needs some effort to get beyond it's status as s fix-up. If you do though, and if you don't mind bitter-sweet endings, then it would be well worth a read.

pavane: A moderately slow, courtly processional dance in duple time/meter.


PS Retrospective 'Happy birthday to the Quirky Muffin'!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Please Don't Swing The Otter

There are a few moments in one of my favourite episode of 'Due South' - the one called 'The Deal' - where Benton refers to the incident where he got his scar from a bully swinging an otter, and they're interesting because they're subtle despite being silly. Somehow that show could do silly and subtle at the same time once it got into its stride and it was a joy to behold. I've been thinking about it because subtlety doesn't seem to appear so much in television or film any more and it's sad.

Now, I've never been accused of subtlety, as anyone who's read the monumental 'Clompie sweeps Vegas' can attest, and it's not just because of the incident with the donkeys, the Gorgonzola, and the Bishop of Rome. Well, it is mainly because of that incident but who can say whether razing Vegas to the ground and replacing it with a giant plaque dedicated to Doctor Watson is really an influence in the matter?

It's nice to get the wacky back, even if it doesn't last. I was worried it was gone forever, but apparently it was merely stuck down the back of the computer table, stapled to the wall and covered in brown paper. It was very strange. Sometimes you have to wonder where the 'wacky' goes in times of stress. I certainly do. Fortunately a steady diet of 'M*A*S*H', 'Get Smart' and 'The Six Million Dollar Man' is having a restorative influence. Oh, there was such a magnificently silly sequence in the 'Six Million Dollar Man' episode 'Dr Wells Is Missing' that I almost leapt out of my stupor in one go. Oh, it's such an awesome slow motion fight sequence. Everyone should see it and be internally enthused with the silliness! It's like a cocoa of wackiness!

So, subtlety, does it still exist? If it did exist, would be able to spot it or would it be too discreet to see? Is it possible that there is a third option beyond obvious and subtle? A third option of things so subtle that they go completely unnoticed? Now wouldn't that be interesting? Or wouldn't it be simply a subset of what we already refer to as 'subliminal'? Bother, my own argument is destroyed before it launches properly, as sometimes happens.

As this blog meanders back and forth with no real theme, I realise it's time to draw to a close. But there shall be more. The 'Quirky Muffin' shall rise again. I just need to get my writing habit back and some motivation and then... BOOM!


Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Longest Day

The Longest Day has been and gone. Some time ago, in December probably, I wrote about the shortest day and its influence in seasonal depression and more specifically to me. Well, we're at the other extreme now, with yesterday having been the summer solstice and the hours of daylight imperceptibly shortening already.

Being a mildly deranged Oliver is always complicated. For more than half the year I'm mildly jet-lagged due to daylight savings time and a persistent awareness of that hours difference. There's also a second overlapping portion of the year where days are getting shorter, which also upsets me, resulting in just three remaining months of the year where there are no seasonal barriers to a settled mind. Now, of course, to blame the external forces is unfair. In reality I have a resistant body clock and hyper-awareness but it would be nice to lose that hours jetlag throughout the summer. Why is it still there?

Taking all the above into account, the longest day is actually not a wonderful occasion for me and maybe other seasonally sensitive people. It's the beginning of the declining half of the year, and the beginning of that deadly double overlap with British Summer Time. Fortunately self-awareness can be turned around so it's not all bad!

My last few posts here at the Quirky Muffin have been the required quirkiness. That's the cost of science and of a possible burnout. I spend far too much time at a computer giving out instead of taking in but that should change soon. Aberystwyth is remaining lovely predictably, despite cold cloudy weather and a storm of bizarre illnesses. Here's hoping that good things can come of these last few days, with a little hard work.

Now, if only I could this blasted thesis work reconstruction to work, blast it!


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Story: 'Triangles', VIII [Revised]

(Part VII , IX)

On top of Constitution Hill you can see a huge swathe of Aberystwyth near the Seafront, an expanse of hills to the north and distant mountains, and a glorious seascape to the west framed by Cardigan Bay. At least that's what you see in our plane of existence. As Delores topped the Hill, angular gravel crunching under her trainers, she surveyed the landscape properly for the first time.

The whirlpools didn't stretch as far to the horizon as she had thought. They were actually localised to the vicinity of the Aberystwyth seaboard. Water was visibly streaming in from the far ocean to that local sink, being replenished at location unknown. The hills were reassuring green, if a bit sparkly in places, and a mild drizzle was falling from on high. Geographically the similarities to her own Aberystwyth were overwhelming. There was even a tri-rail heading out toward Borth.

Seen at such a scale, the landscape provoked a spike of homesickness so sharp that Delores almost buckled, but she held firm.

"Excuse me, but do you have any idea what's going on?"

She buckled that time, and then fainted for good measure. Upon awakening a kindly bearded face looked down at her, squinting confusedly but with gladness at her revival. Apart from being a bit pointy, the man was reassuringly human, unlike the thing in 'her' bed in town. "Umm, are you okay? What just happened?"

"I guess the food isn't agreeing with me as much as I thought. And you're impossible."

The bearded man smiled grimly and began to speak, before popping out of existence utterly.

"Oh great. I've gone totally insane." Suddenly it all made sense. Triangles, faintness, crazy videos and bizarre things in beds. "And if I'm not insane then I'm trapped in a world that's going to kill me eventually if the food isn't working out."

Delores stumbled over to the visitor centre, and for the first time in this bizarre encounter she found some hope. Hope takes unexpected forms sometimes, whether it looks like a giant cosmic whirlpool or the last bottle of water in the fridge or even an expected domino of an event waiting to be pushed. In this case, hope looked like a circle floating in the air above one of the cafe tables. And through the circle could be seen events and people in a whole different world.

Delores moved toward the circle. She could escape, maybe even get home. But... should she...?
To be continued...

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Notes from the Seafront

In my last fortnight of work here in Aberystwyth I have set myself a challenge to appreciate the environment and get out a lot more. To that end, and with good intentions, I spent a few hours reading near the lighthouse this evening and have plans for the rest of the week. Not only did I read I also thought about the upcoming first year anniversary of the Quirky Muffin a little too.

Reading at the seafront is really a lovely thing, especially when it's 'The Song of the Quarkbeast' by Jasper Fforde. I did note a few events going on around me though. For one thing a coxed four person boat rowed out of the marina and into the open sea before vanishing over the horizon. That was very mysterious and I wonder where those ladies went. Also, I had an interesting conversation with a retired university guy, who seemed perplexed by my reading instead of angling. He seemed a bit lonely, which was sad, but also kind of contented. It seems that the seafront is a very busy place, judging by all the people who passed my comfy bench!

Incidentally, 'Song of the Quarkbeast' is very good, as was the first book in the series 'The Last Dragonslayer'. Well done, Mr Fforde, there's much anticipation for book three, which is due sometime this year.

The hours on the seafront seem to have been inordinately inspirational as I've spent part of this evening coating brazil nuts and almonds in dark chocolate and cackling maniacally. The only hard part in making chocolate coated things is getting even layers on everything and no flat surfaces in the cooling. As first times go this is one of the more interesting types, involving as it does chocolate and nuts and home making.

With the first birthday of the Quirky Muffin coming up on the 27th June I'm wondering whether to do anything special... and drawing blanks. If anyone has any ideas then leave them on the comments section now happily reinstated below (Google+ tried to take it over but I thrust them back with a well-aimed chocolate coated pineapple). Now, there's a thought... chocolate coated pineapple...

Good night.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Television: 'M*A*S*H: The Interview' (Episode 4x25)

It has been a long weekend, with visiting family and many many things to do and games to play. If any of you need recommendations for board games, try 'Takenoko' or 'Navegador', with 'Fluxx' and 'Citadels' being very solid card games to tie up any time left over.

While entertaining I set to thinking about various things and about the commentary we had just recorded for the pilot episode of 'Lois and Clark' for Film Bin, and then after that I got to thinking about how shows are affected by their creators leaving and major cast changes, as that initially wonderful show was between the first and second seasons. One good example of a creator's voluntary departure is from 'M*A*S*H', and is the fourth season closer 'The Interview'. The showrunner Larry Gelbart was leaving and the whole season had been about change, both with some replacement cast and with experiments in one-off format changes and the finale would prove to be a doozie and a natural end to his era as showrunner.

After 'The Interview', M*A*S*H would never be the same but would still scale greater heights of popularity and indeed morph into an entirely different kind of show, a 'dramedy' of the first order. While I have far less appreciation for that incarnation than the first few seasons it has a lot of merit, but not the sheer dexterity of wit that Gelbart pushed into it every week with the help of that first primal set of characters.

'The Interview' is really the ultimate format breaker, a black and white episode of a 1970s colour comedy series composed of segments of the interviews conducted by a journalist visiting the 4077th mobile army surgical hospital. And there are very few jokes. It's an essential summing up of the whole series to date, the quirks of the characters, and the realities of the situation they are all trapped in. For the record, it's still very funny, drawing from the deep wells of character-based comedy made possible by a spectacular cast, the pinnacle of the 'M*A*S*H' comedy iceberg.

Every character gets a moment in 'The Interview' except for Houlihan, the chief nurse. The actress was away so we only get the menfolk, but what a lot we get from them. First we get the last bravura performance of the second Larry (Linville) as the moronic and lunatic Frank Burns, whose character wouldn't survive well without Gelbart. We get the core honesty of BJ Hunnicut and the reasons why Hawkeye often behaves the way he does. We see the fundamental dignity and honesty at the core of Colonel Potter and the homespun gentle natures of the wonderful enlisted men Radar and Klinger. In the writing and the audacity of the format change the real impression is of a poignant signoff for Larry Gelbart, whose pen made it all possible and whose imprint made the show great. That man could write, and perhaps the only equivalent influence I can think of right now is Aaron Sorkin's tenure at 'The West Wing'.

There was another reason this kind of blog post came to mind: There has been a short season of watching Ron Howard movies for Film Bin in the hopes of doing a summing up podcast, and the striking thing about his films is that the influence of Ron Howard is almost entirely absent. He's the most invisible director you can find, seemingly adding or taking nothing away from the movies he makes. Ron Howard movies live and die by the stories and casts; He himself will always be competent, workmanlike, self-effacing and predictable. It's almost sickening. I would much rather a creative presence you can feel, one that adds a distinctive flavour all of his own, even if it's not a flavour I favour. Larry Gelbart did that, and helped make a television legend. He is sadly missed, more so now than ever as he has passed away in the last few years.

'M*A*S*H' is an awesome show. Everyone should try to see it, just be aware that it was many things over its 11 year run, and that it's early comedic glory was down in no small part to a man called Larry.


Friday, 14 June 2013

Story: 'Triangles', VII

(Part VI , VIII)

Delores was seated in what was the equivalent to her kitchen in this angled mirror to her own world. She had come down the hill in a haze, looking at everything in a dulled manner and finally stumbling into her house, which was in keeping with the rest of the town in its unlocked state. She'd gone to the bedroom first but the sight waiting there pushed her back out into the kitchen, shaking like a leaf.

There was tea of a kind and Delores was drinking it. The world was a little fuzzy as she adjusted slowly back down to the reality of what was going on. The door to the bedroom was closed and would stay that way, the three triangular sections locked into place by a complicated latch mechanism. If this were all happening, and there was no reason to think it wasn't, then Delores Grey had to work out the big picture and then get out quick and make it home somehow.

The scientist had discovered portals but none were to be seen anywhere. Massive whirlpools were sucking away the ocean but the levels never went down, there was a... thing in what would have been her bed in another plane of existence, and the tea was all finished. She made some more and ate a biscuit. The thing in the other room wouldn't mind; She was reasonably certain it was dead, unless every living thing had gone into some kind of bizarre siesta.

Whirlpools had been nagging at her the whole time, whirlpools and water. Somehow the portals were all submarine in this area, with some of them maybe being subterranean too. The water was flowing away but being replaced elsewhere, perhaps with water from the square dimension of the kumquat plane, or the Klein Bottle Universe. The scope for alternate dimensions with bizarre topologies, or topographies, or whatever was boundless as she knew from her mathematics.

Was the only way out to ride down a whirlpool and hope not to be crushed or die at the other side? Surely there would be a better option? Researches at the National Library had proven to be of mixed usefulness. There were more videos that she'd watched. The loopy scientist had worked on, examining the repercussions of his act, showing bizarre new weather phenomena and plotting sites on a large map. The map had been attached to the video, as she'd found out when playing with the touch symbols. It had imprinted itself into the memory of her eBook reader in some display of otherworldly advanced technology.

Almost without knowing it, the student collapsed forward onto the table and began to fade. It had been a long time since the last sleep. Such a long time. Hours ticked away, the bizarre time pieces whirring on in what appeared to be a ternary timekeeping system before she awakened and checked her watch. Sixteen hours had passed and she felt... well fuzzy still. Probably it was the different physics making her brain work harder to understand. The other Delores in the bed wouldn't have had any problems, she thought, admitting that that whatever it is was the closest thing she had to family in this twisted world. How similar had they been at heart, if at all?

Maybe things would look better from a freshened point of view, and with some breakfast, and if both those things failed then reconnaissance was in order. To do that required a view, and there were plenty of views around.

It was time to climb a hill.

More shall follow...

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

'Excuse me, sir, that is not my gnu'

In my rather unsettled life I have only been forced to the extremity of disowning my gnu on three occasions. Let us gloss over the Calais and Vancouver incidents and instead expound on the peculiar and perhaps even eldritch circumstances of that one evening in Claxton.

As any gnu owner knows, and there are many in my acquaintance who claim that distinction, you must migrate your gnu on a regular rota or face stagnation on the part of that mighty animal. I once knew a gnu owner - although he was also a dabbler in silly parrots - who failed to migrate properly, and he ended up making barrels in Luxembourg. The lesson was learnt.

So, to return to the tale, it was an evening in Claxton, and I had gone shopping at the local market when suddenly a hand tugged at my elbow. I looked to the left, for the tug came from that direction, and then I looked down at the little girl stood there.

"Excuse me, sir, but there's a gnu following you. It looks WEIRD."

I thought to myself, and looked behind me. It was my gnu, and it did indeed look strange. Somehow, while I had been shopping at the market, the gnu had been following me around and wreaking havoc. The animal was wearing a fedora hat and had acquired humorous purple lipstick. On it's back there was a fairly hideous leisure blanket and a world of fruit baskets was being dragged behind. There was a peculiar green nimbus about my friendly gnu, drifting with the breeze.

I looked the animal in the eye and saw my comrade in arms with the friendly attitude, but still did something forgivable, which I would mend a little later. I looked at the girl, and lied like a fiend.

'No, that's not my gnu.'

And of course that was when I started to laugh like a maniac and turned around to go back to the market. The girl scowled and threw an exotic fruit. She had a right. Halloween paint goes everywhere in the festive season.


Monday, 10 June 2013


Write a little. Then write a little more. It's a dopey way to do things, isn't it? The content here at QM has shifted over time to be much more about story than reviews and thoughts, as it was at the beginning. Is that a good idea? I don't know, but this has never been about anyone over than what I want to write. If it's good for any of you readers, that's a bonus! Selfish, isn't it?

So, we've shifted onto story, and that's a natural outgrowth of my consuming far fewer movies and television shows than I did previously. It feels as if a lever has shifted and that passive enjoyment is somehow an unworthy activity, and that's kind of an unhealthy attitude. It's all to do with ageing and time and not wasting anything but actually it is completely okay to watch a movie or television. Work pressure should never stop relaxation. We all work so hard that we shorten our lives ridiculously, or at least our useful working time. And yet I still don't relax well. It's hard. Tick tock.

Changing tack, there's a big movie coming out this week, and it's called 'Man of Steel'. To be honest, there is nothing about modern day cinema that leads me to believe a good Superman movie can now be made which isn't a hollow action movie. Almost everything gets hollowed out for action or dumb comedies, with real inventiveness and heart being out in the indie move land that made 'Safety Not Guaranteed'. Even 'Premium Rush' - the other movie of 2012 - was really pushed out under the wire and treated like an indie movie and perhaps that's why I liked it. Superman movies need a hefty injection of soul and heart to make them worthwhile, and it's hard to see that happening somehow, especially with the Nolans and Goyer lurking in the margins. Those chaps are much better at grim and miserable. On the other side of the equation, there still hasn't been that definitive, unflawed movie for either of Batman or Superman. There's still potential.

When you get down to tacks, you can't really make an action movie out of either of DC's Big Two. They're both predicated on the idea of not fighting as much as possible. Superman has so many powers that getting into a fight means he's monumentally failed on numerous levels or has met his match. If he's met his match then that's bad news; When would Superman ever get into a fight after all? He doesn't know about people fighting dirty or brawling. Batman again should base his own career on countermeasures so that he almost never has to fight, for every fight uses up his body and shortens his career, or even ends it with one bad moment. The definitive Batman movie really is a detective film, and we haven't seen it yet, although Batman 1989 was closest.

What a strange diversion this was today! More tomorrow, here on the Quirky Muffin!


Saturday, 8 June 2013

Weighty Matters

Weighty and controversial topics time. A long time ago, when communication was much more primitive, churches provided a basis for unification and community building. People could feel good because their differences were made smaller. Now, in the world of mass communication, the opposite is true. In the pre-literate society a codification of faith was helpful, but now in a world where people struggle for identity in a mass of interconnectedness that codification actually stifles faith, solidifies religious blocs and fortifies the differences and frictions between between different faiths.

Codification actually stifles what we really need, a continuous spectrum of ideas and beliefs. I don't mind faith, despite being an atheist/agnostic, but the organisation of faith and churches is more of a hindrance to tolerance than anything else. As long as we all get behind tolerance and being good to people do we need to compromise on our personal beliefs just so we can go in and believe a standard 'approved' set of principles together? 'Love and tolerance', that's all we need. Everything else is detail. Perhaps in the future, and I rather hope it ends up like this, churches will be replaced by contemplation areas where everyone can go to believe whatever it is they believe and have a cup of tea afterwards? I imagine human scepticism and prejudice would rule this out but it wouldn't it be nice. What if we could get to that point?

The only we could get to that future, that world of people not minding others and having their own beliefs, is if evangelism dies away. That stubborn impulse to imprint other people with our beliefs is one of the scourges on society, a negative facet of belief that spreads disrepute on the whole concept of faith. It's fascinating to me that people, atheists included, simply can't handle the fact that other people don't believe the same things as them. Perhaps it's a deeply ingrained and natural issue of the human ego, but is it really hard to accept that you believe A truth rather than THE truth. I'll happily get on with many people and not make a fuss, and still people will attempt to save my soul from tarnation and torment. Yes, they think they're doing the right thing, but if a good and true person can go to the hot place only for not believing in a God then is that a God worth believing in? Oh, doctrine, you are too simple.

I do have one belief, and it's a simple one: We will never demonstrably know for certain the veracity or validity of any one person or group's faith or beliefs. As a result the only reasonable point of view, as it seems to me (perhaps naively) is to believe what we believe but not hit each other over the head about it. Some people would view that as a scientific point of view, but any exposure to scientists would destroy that opinion. Some scientists can be so deeply ingrained in their own doctrine as to be indistinguishable from fanatics. Well, that's a little strong.

Hereth end the tract on open mindedness and utopian futures. Next time more silly stories about triangles and the endless routine of a man going slowly insane.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

Story: 'Triangles', VI [Revised]

(Part V , VII)

What do you do if you've stood outside of time and space for all of eternity, watching the universes live their lives over and over with no respite, occasionally nudging them into the paddock at the end of days and releasing them into fresh life once again as the cosmic harmonies dictated, and are suddenly not alone?

The evidence was unmistakable. Bridges and tunnels had been carved between the most congruent areas of the various dimensions and passage was being made. This could not happen without outside assistance; It was simply impossible. The Other hadn't tended that assistance and so some other entity had; and that too was impossible. The existence of a second Being outside all of space and time?

There had to have been a beginning for him once, the Other knew, as he too existed in his own sort of timeline, forever witnessing and never changing. Every instant of interest - and there were many - was inscribed on the infallible and incorruptible leaves of his recollection. Everything. Even now he could see a tiny traveller stranded in a world not her own and new tunnels being forged by an agency unknown.

The Entity concentrated its attention on the new tunnels and for a while became a Probe, intent on finding all that was knowable. There were traces about the tunnels of something familiar but unknown, and definitely scary. For the first time the Entity knew fear, and then quickly felt for the first time also determination. It unleashed its power and actively sought out the true nature of this other force. It found something new, something equal but opposite, a symmetry where before there had been none.

Instantly the Entity knew nothing would be the same again. Before, in the long vigil of watching over the dimensions of time and space, it had been alone and defined by its solitude and watching. Now it was defined in part by an opponent, a meddler, maybe even a dangerous insanity running wild. Danger lurked, and it lurked with a plan all unknown and deeply dubious.

The problem was that in an eternity of solitude, the Other had gained no experience in dealing beings outside of itself. It was incapacitated by doubt. Would it even be able to recognise this new dweller in the void when it saw it? How did those specks of fragile life manage this all the time?

The Entity reached down into ever smaller dimensions, seized hold of a reality, and attached...

There shall be more...

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Book: 'Shades of Grey' by Jasper Fforde (2009)

I re-read this book two months ago and decided to write a blog about it, but then it never happened. Things got busy and 'Shades of Grey' fell through the gaps, as the series itself has fallen through the gaps. It has been years since this first book of the three-part series! Years!

I like Jasper Fforde books, especially his early ones. They're inventive, creative and witty. Unfortunately my two favourite sequences of books were interrupted, the sublime 'Nursery Crimes' stories and this fun only barely begun saga. They both seem to have far more potential than his main series, the erratic adventures of 'Thursday Next', which has wallowed a little in its second cycle. I still love all the books though, just some more than others. (Haven't read the 'Last Dragonslayer' sequence yet though.)

Now, on to 'Shades of Grey' specifically. It's an interesting new type of book from Fforde, a story set in the future, after a mysterious Something That Happened. What happened we do not yet know, but the consequences are deeply felt in that people generally can't see colours anymore, and not at all at night. The class system is based on the fact that some people can see a single part of the spectrum colour, and that some colours are more important than others (ROYGBIV). It's all very strange and indeed the book takes a long time to get going but when it does you're in permanently. Something did this to humanity, and it's almost certainly connected to the killer swans and the authorities performing technological LeapBacks, permanently removing gadgets and equipment from use. Is it like this everywhere or just in the area that is presumably Britain? And why is no-one allowed to make spoons anymore?

The novel is biased heavily toward the concept of the dystopia rather than rich characterisation, and that is the primary problem when reading it. The emotional interest builds over time while the intellectualism is heavily front loaded. In many ways it's the slowest building of the Fforde books I've read, but it's ultimately worth it as the whole novel serves as an intriguing mystery as well as the setup for a much larger scale story into how the world ended up the way it has.

Ultimately I recommend 'Shades of Grey'. The weakness in it is that we've waited so long for the next book and still have longer to wait now. Hopefully it will be worth it. If you like a slow build and some intriguing ideas, and some wit then this book is for you. Oh, and there's extended chromatic arranged marriage plotting. And it all begins with someone being eaten by a tree.

Enough said?


PS I rate 'The Big Over Easy' and 'The Fourth Bear' even higher due to the shear audacity of that world. Go read those too if you can!

Sunday, 2 June 2013


Have you ever truly been in the dark? Literally, I mean, and not figuratively. I have once, in what almost seems to be a past lifetime. While in Hungary with my last girlfriend we visited a dark house, an attraction on the outskirts of Budapest. The place was pitch black, with blind guides to help people around, and exhibits to listen to and feel.

Being literally in the dark was a scary experience, in many ways quite similarly to being figuratively in the dark. There's a feeling of helplessness and cluelessness that's hard to shake. In the Dark House I had to close my eyes and make it dark by choice and still the panic built.

Why panic? The truth is that once the light goes you forget pretty quickly what it was ever like to see, and that's truly scary. I wasn't used to it and presumably no-one is any more. In the modern world there never is darkness unless you actively seek it out, and even then it's difficult to find. The figurative analogy is that we forget what it was ever like to understand. That latter idea is almost worse, don't you think?

Touring a dark house with your girlfriend and a blind guide has some advantages, not the least interesting is that you build some teamwork and empathy. Leading one another around can be fun when it's not scary, as well as illuminate character features you've missed in other more conventional situations. Still, it happened what seems to be a lifetime ago. If we finishing the analogy, teamwork and empathy can help you survive the other kind of darkness too.

Maybe we should practice being in the dark sometimes? Just so we know how to get out?