Thursday, 30 January 2014


Once I tried to write here about reading and its importance through history, but it swiftly became twaddle and I abandoned it. A second time I tried to assemble something about the grand passage of knowledge and humour through time and history but that descended into a treatise on custard and its relative significance to puddings in the contemporary Western world. That never saw the light of day either and now it’s time just to flow a little on words in general.

Throughout all but the most recent part of history all progress was governed by words – and the mathematics behind projectile trajectories which we shall currently omit – instead of the numbers that govern science as we know it today. Words were what drove people on, and logicians were among the pre-eminent minds of their days. Is it possible that by losing that emphasis on words that we’ve lost something incredibly special, and that in pursuing numbers to their inevitable conclusion that we are pursuing quantity over quality in a bleak rush to survival?

You see, pretentious twaddle is never far away. I think there’s a special supply ready for bloggers and people with theses to their name; Double twaddle for the price here at the Quirky Muffin!

One of the interesting things about ‘Wordspace’ – my newest story – as a concept is that of distilling words down to their core values and then using them as the characters themselves. Even though I will never probably do that concept justice, it is in all likelihood an original one. If it’s not original then please tell me in the comments so I can give credit where credit is due. Indeed there is already credit due in part to the Bookworld of Jasper Fforde which is partly similar but also very different to what I’m trying to build in the Wordspace. An especially intriguing aspect is that of words whose meanings have changed over time, which has to have some potential!

Getting back to words in general, have you ever stopped to wonder at what must have been happening when that first primitive person scratched a symbol in the dust or on a wall to indicate the sun, or water, or poison and the incredible advancement that it represented? For the first time information could be written down and preserved, instructions for following days could be set out all at once. As much as timekeeping and counting allowed agriculture, so did written language. Great minds like Dickens, Shakespeare, Jung and Darwin all owe everything to the first few of our primitive forebears making their marks on the world. That is awesome and also frightening. In the beginning there was a word, but maybe not the one you were thinking of.

Words are powerful, great shackled realities and abstracts borrowed and translated in ink, stone and print for all to see and learn. Great assemblies of words get passed on forwards in time so that no art, no knowledge and no entertainment is truly lost. Even if our species fails, our words might yet survive and welcome travellers from far distant worlds with our follies, our lessons and all our worst jokes. Yes, even as Ziggy and his comrade Spottlab emerge from their ship, ready to look through our libraries and plumb the depths of humanity’s knowledge, there is a very good chance that the first thing they’ll stumble over is a joke book and a story about a man leading his horse to water but not being able to make it scuba dive.

So endeth the twaddle.


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Story: Wordspace, I

(Part II)

There is another world, where the words are the characters, living on a vast metatextual landscape. Some words resemble their namesakes, for cloud does indeed live in the sky, along with his more sophisticated cousins Nimbus and Stratus, and he has indeed a curious relationship with his friend Zephyr and the ever enigmatic Breeze. Water sprawls effortlessly over his old friend Ground wherever he cares to, and Ground is vast and solid, reliable to the end. Under Ground, where no words dare to go, there lies one whose name remains unknown to all but Ground and Earth.

Mystery was sitting around in a small indentation in Ground wondering about the meaning of Life. Many of the more abstract words were hard to fathom as they moved quietly around the wordspace. What was the meaning of Life, and what his role in the replacement of words when they had outlived their usefulness? Why did everyone instinctively avoid angular Death and his many tricks with Card. (Card was a crafty character.) Why did Love and Hate alternately spend so much time together and then vehemently apart?

For his part, Mystery had no confusion about what it was he was intended to do. He pondered the meanings of life as well as Life, and then when mischievous set about mystifying others with the strange things and events he observed in his existence. Sometimes he would tell the answers he found to Air, who hovered around and loved to hear all but tell little. Returning to our thread, on this day Mystery was pondering the meaning of Life, that curly abstract whose letter crinkled when he smiled, and who sauntered through the air and water and over the ground as if he owned it all. The meaning of Life vexed Mystery.

Out of the sky dropped Bird, with a message. Bird was the official messenger of the council of lesser abstracts, a small and interfering committee who liked to pester all the other words with mostly ignored rules and laws that made little difference in the reality of the wordspace. The council was headed by Regulation, a bold tyrannical bully who no one dared to challenge but Mystery. Regulation and Mystery had been at loggerheads since their time with School, the great teaching word.

The message was from Mystery's old friend Wimsy, who enjoyed vexing Regulation by being morale officer on the Council: "Come quickly, for the time may be at hand, and by the grace of Wisdom come armed. Wimsy." Mystery, always alert for entertainment, fetched his friend Club and they went across the surface of Ground - who was chuckling in the thrill of Mystery's tickling feet - to the place of the Council.

To be continued...

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Let loose the recalcitrant grapefruit!

Marking is over! It's done! I can now be boring on a variety of subjects, not all concerned with tabulating marks onto a spreadsheet and scowling at the trend evident in the marks. It's a worrying trend but one that mustn't be dwelled upon. You know who you are, people out there. Grumble grumble, apple pies at twenty paces, giant chocolate flakes up the nose, mutter gripe. Still, if attention must be paid to anything then it would be to preparing the next module instead of premature self-criticism and self-loathing; That can be saved for when there's ice cream available in large quantities.

Sunday, today is Sunday, and that's a really awkward day. For one thing, it is the Church and State ordained day of rest, as imposed upon a largely non-churchgoing or other-faith population. Church and State being intertwined is one of those things that is very hard to swallow if you're an impatient soul in a world of madness and hurry. When I was little Sundays were interminable, the only bright spots being the opportunity to read as much of the day away as possible once 'The Avengers' or 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' had finished on Channel 4 in the morning. There's something very potent about 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea' on a day when the government had closed down as many things as it can due to religious or maybe public health reasons. Is it possible that I've never mentioned 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea' here on the Quirky Muffin? On the other hand Sunday was always awkward as it is the day when rest and recreation is practically prescribed by all. What, you want to do something? Really? Are you sick?

Back to 'Voyage': In retrospect the pre-eminent science fiction shows of the 1960s were 'Star Trek', which liberated the genre from being manacled to horror, and 'Voyage' which degenerated over time and interminable meddling from either Irwin Allen or the network into the quintessential 'scary monsters and aliens invade the Earth' idiot show. And when I say it degenerated there is no mistake about the word: It bombed creatively from a serious black and white show into one of the fluffiest and corny monster shows to ever grace the screen. There is actual visible shock on the faces of the super-professional lead actors Richard Basehart and David Hedison with each down twist in the show - which would be terrible if each down twist didn't make it ever more hilarious! 'Voyage' was the show that went down, down and way on down to the pit of lunatic meddling and then did a conga line at the bottom just to show it had no shame!

Oh, Sundays you were so hard to get through. Looking through the television channels (all four of them!) would always put you in danger of stumbling over 'Songs Of Praise' or 'Points Of View' and not even the temporary respite of 'Ski Sunday' would guarantee more than half an hour of freedom! Why didn't we go out for more walks? I don't know. Only Sunday mornings were fun, and maybe because all the people who might be offended would supposedly be at ceremonies and worship. It's little better now, of course, except that we have the Internet and DVDs in this timeframe and worse television. I miss reruns; They were the best part of television when they still happened on the main channels. Blast you, extra channels for making everything more expensive and hard to see.

Can you imagine that anyone would pay money to show 'Voyage'? A show where literally the view wouldn't be surprised to hear the 'Let loose the recalcitrant grapefruit!'? Oh, I wish they'd done a story like that. Bring back the shlock, people, we need it!


Friday, 24 January 2014

The Man In The Chicken Suit

Hmmm... Finishing 'The Disappearance' in one go seems to have backfired. The finale was kind of underwhelming, wasn't it? I'll rewrite it to be less of a hack job. The whole story really leaked its early noir-ish sensibilities to become far more generic in its silliness, which is disappointing. It's very similar to the way that the cowboy tropes leaked out of 'Night Trials' in the end. The exception is still 'Triangles', still probably the best story to come out of the Quirky Muffin. If I could motivate myself they'd all make good short stories once re-edited. Editing still has all the appeal of an angry shark after the thesis and paper ordeals though...

Have you ever been tired for so long that you can't remember what the other state is like? It's bizarre how that can happen, much like forgetting how good cabbage is after weeks and months of someone else messing it up. Presumably the huge load of things I've forgotten or neglected to do is hovering in my subconscious and cackling evilly as it keeps threatening to break through, and it's shrieking 'Boundary Condition!', 'Foams!', 'Ecology Models!', 'Poach A Stats Lecturer!' and 'Foams!' again and stealing so much mental oxygen that it's difficult to quantify what's going on. The only things that do get done relate to the Quirky Muffin and marking at the moment. Oh, marking... I've remembered marking...

I'm feeling very dull at the moment, as if all I ever talk about is marking, and the world has shrunk down to my very slowly picking my way through this endless pile of exams. My students were very good in general, but as with all things it is hard to not just gape in horror at some of the attempts. I imagine that every exam marking is like that. I think it would be more satisfying to mark each one and write it down and then burn the script in a specially installed furnace just for the task. Then there could be mad laughing and dancing with women in chicken suits. I deny all strangeness in the previous remark. Move along now.

Chicken suits... There were chicken suits recently... There must have been... 'Garfield and Friends'? No, that's an actual chicken.

No, no chicken suits. That's rather a shame as the world needs more people in chicken suits. Every academic department should certainly employ someone with that provision in their contract. One of their jobs should be to sit in on doctoral viva exams and recall to people the absurdity of what's going on. Please, everyone reading for doctorates out there, remember the absurdity and try not to worry too much, although I would not recommend you go yourselves as chickens as that might be counterproductive and should really be someone else's job. And now I can't believe it isn't already.

Please world, we need more chicken suits, and as a fallback gorilla costumes. I rest my case.


PS 'The Glove' still resides in serial story purgatory, mathematics having eroded my creative faculties to folding paper and wondering about the origin of the word 'kitchen'.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Story: The Disappearance (XXI)

Story: The Disappearance (XXI)
(Part O , XX)

(A conclusion)

The abandoned David Macra airfield, once a part of the prison, which in its turn used to be a barracks still looked ridiculously abandoned. Indeed, if you looked up 'abandoned' in a picture encyclopaedia you'd see something quite like it but with tumbrels rolling along the long lost airstrip and a few decades old prop plane tyres lying in heaps.

We had pulled in the whole PCCD in an attempt to put ourselves out of business. If we were right, if Abbott the Mesopotamian super-computer were right, and if we got a share shake of fortune's hand, we would put ourselves out of business in the next few minutes. Five unmarked cars rolled in up the airfield drive and surrounded the truck. Ten of us disembarked and asked the driver to kindly leave the vehicle. Our badges were in plain sight. Those ten then scouted the facility and its grounds while the remaining ten - myself, Carter, and Swanson included - entered the hangar and set to looking for the production facility.

Within the hangar there was nothing, a surprising amount of nothing. Was it possible we'd been mistaken, that the driver had pulled in just for a break or to fool us? I didn't think so. Carter's sensor scan was kicking back all kinds of echoes and disruptions consistent with scan repulsors and my own sixth sense was screaming for attention like a banshee at an opera recital. It had to be here somewhere. Plainly the conspirators weren't smart enough to fool us for long if they had just been planning to openly send trucks in here on a regular basis.

McLellan came in with a report on the driver: She had fallen down and fainted under the smallest of pressure, and they suspected a post-hypnotic suggestion stopping us from extracting anything useful in the near future. A pro would have to be brought in to deprogram her. Plainly they weren't quite as stupid as I had thought. I scuffed the floor absently and tried not to think about what would happen if we shut down the production the way we were planning. If the precedent set by future me and future Agnes were anything to go by then the paradox wouldn't be a bad one, just a scar on the fabric of spacetime. On the other hand, if Abbott were wrong we could be triggering the time singularity we had been trying to avert, in the noble cause of stopping all those Biscuit Phenomena before they had ever occurred.

The floor was utterly normal, if now marginally scruffier than it had been. I asked McLellan to have someone drive the lorry into the hangar. It was possible the vehicle was needed to trigger an entryway. Accordingly Israf backed it in rather gingerly and we waited to see what would happen. Still nothing. Either there was hidden surveilance, an appointed time, or we were wasting our time on a red herring. McLellen's next report was on the site as a whole: Clean as far as they could tell, but with sensor disruption around the hangar. That disruption was the only thing denoting this as a site of interest.

The sensor repulsor, an invention from South America, was designed to meet the probes sent out from our scanners and cancel them out with both counter-signals as well as physically slitted concrete layers in the walls and the ground. There had to be something here! It was time for the heavy mob. Carter eventually found the key in the abandoned office, jiggling an old dartboard with a photo of Vampira above the double twenty. The whole interior of the hangar sank smoothly into the ground and after a thirty seconds a biscuit production facility came into view. An utterly deserted facility. They had run while they had the chance. Would they regroup and make the deliveries from elsewhere, or was the job done?

The facility was quite large, covering a couple of hectares of underground real estate. It was the same place we had escaped from on our time travel jaunt, that fateful escapade where adorable Agnes and I had taken out her supposedly dead uncle Rolf. Which now couldn't happen. And hadn't happened? A whole second set of memories were beginning to coexist with the existing ones.

The temporal inertia faded away and we reset onto whole new life paths. The next morning I woke up in my digs and dashed out late for a practical I was supposed to be giving for the third year archaeologists before realising what had happened. Two sets of memories... And presumably that fading shadow of a man had never happened now. People were going to be extremely confused.

I kept going, took the prac and then called Danielle Eloise Carter. Priorities were priorities after all. If we remembered then so did the profiteers, and leopards didn't change their spots.

Concluded. Probably.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Story: The Disappearance (XX)

(Part O , XIX , XXI)

The surveilance cameras were useful, more useful than a moose in a snowstorm, and we quickly settled down to looking for patterns. The unconscious Commissioner turned out to be less of a problem than I thought he would be, as my old friend Swanson was on security and upon seeing him laid out on the floor simply chuckled evilly and helped us secure him with some police 'keep out' tape. The preposterous moustache couldn't conceal his mirth as I explained everything, nor could it conceal his seriousness when I got to the commissioner hypnotizing Carter to do her dirty deed.

"I'll take care of him. What about the girl?" He looked pointedly at Agnes, who had now become about as useful in the real story as she is in my narrative.

Agnes looked steadily at Swanson. "I really have nothing to do, nothing to offer, it's as if the whole world has opened up and swallowed me whole. The family business is a lie, people have died, and there's nothing left."

"There's plenty left, Agnes. The feisty strong woman who I met a seeming eternity ago was plugging through a doctorate. Maybe you should go buckle down to that for a while."

The mercury returned with that direct strike. I didn't leave her a moment for the comeback. We didn't have many moments left right then, or so we thought. "You'll go with Swanson. He's a good man. See if you can get anything useful out of Rolf." I nodded at Swanson, who had been on penalty security duty for six months and they went out. He started chatting to Agnes about bluebottles and honeytraps as he went. Suddenly I wondered why he was on penalty duty. I settled back down to watching the patterns, but it was really Carter's speciality and I could already see the structure underlying the traces she was tracing on the computer map.

"Is it conclusive yet, Danielle?"

"Not quite, but it looks like the most suspicious trucks are all depositing at a warehouse next to the castle district. Then a private ferry service is going from the warehouse to a location near the prison. There's a fogginess to the surveilance data in that region."


"The data is being steadily corrupted, getting less complete as the search goes further back in time. I think it's a worm."

"Something else to think about in the aftermath. Leave a note for Swanson and a duplicate for Cheryl. Is there a delivery soon?"

"If they keep their pattern, there'll be one pulling out of the warehouse in forty five minutes. If the pattern holds." She sounded dubious. "Who knows, now that the temporal gap has closed?"

"We will. Get your coat."

The car ride was uneventful, as car rides usually are in the mid-afternoon in a nondescript saloon. We circled the warehouse a few times and then parked in the castle car park, munching on the sandwiches and fruit we had brought with us, looking for all the world like a couple desperately looking to get lunch away from the office.

As the camera in the rear view mirror rolled and the sandwiches - from the canteen, and not the best in the world - faded into just a memory, we sipped coffee from a thermos and chatted over old times. The events of the last few days had brought us together, not as it had been with my first partner Wiggins, but in a new and different way.

Danielle was just starting to nibble at the edges of my former life when a truck pulled out of the warehouse and my bacon was saved for another day. All she said was "Next time" in an ominous tone of voice and we were off. I always have loved being driven places by women. The truck driver was suspicious but we pulled out all the old tricks and continued on when she pulled in to an old airfield turnoff past the prison. I looked at Carter.

"Does it fit?"

"It fits."

"Then call it in, and then we go in."

To be concluded...

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Getting Into Gear

Teaching is approaching and it's time to dig on down. This semester my module is going to be interesting as it will take place entirely on the other campus of Llanbadarn - the place from whence no mortal man returns - and will be a pretty brutal and intense introduction to Statistics. There is a massive amount of material to introduce and even a fair portion of R to impart so it should be fun, and exhausting. It's all going to be happening in the wake of marking last module's exam though, which will probably also be gruelling. Exam marking is the price we pay for insisting on trying to educate people. I sigh at you theatrically.

These six months of teaching are probably going to be the nicest time in the world of work that I will have for a long long time. It's already a far better experience than five years of doctoral studies were, and in many ways a more useful one. If only research could be so good! Ah, research... No, it's still too painful... No talk about research...

You also have to dig to produce a Quirky Muffin once every two days. It used to be daily, back in the good old days when the great nonsense veins of my mind were still untouched. Things have happened in the last couple of days though. I've begun to write the new set of lecture notes, and roughed out the module plan, and Batman is announced finally for DVD release sometime this year (2014)! The Adam West Batman television show from the 1960s is possibly the last major release to make it onto home media after decades of legal wrangling, and if it happens it will make my year. Only 'Muppet Babies' is left now, and I doubt that will be released as 'The Muppet Show' didn't make money on its own release. There's something horrid about a world where 'The Muppet Show' doesn't sell enough copies to warrant putting out the last two seasons. We should all be ashamed.

So, Batman is finally coming to DVD. It's a wonderful thing. It has become pretty clear to me as my 'shortening days blues' fade ever more that television in the 60s was so much more imaginative and free back then in many ways as to make contemporary things look pedestrian in comparison. The naivete of the time allowed things to happen then that we couldn't possibly do now. This unwillingness to be sincere and sweet is the reason why a fitting Superman movie can't be made, and sincerity is what makes things go round in lots of old shows. 'Due South' practically ran on the sincerity engine that was Paul Gross with pep infusions from David Marciano. Thinking about it, Gross would have been a great Superman.


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Movie: 'Condorman' (1981)

We can be biased by what we did and experienced as little tiny children, and enjoy things that aren't that good. That may or may not be true of a lovely and daft old movie called 'Condorman'. I just showed this film to the Film Bin crew in an attempt to motivate a birthday commentary of daftness and was bemused as I always am by how different other people can be. Oh, such alternating cynicism and incredulity!

'Condorman' is a live action Disney movie from the early 80's, centred on the activities of comic book writer Woody Wilkins and his mission as a substitute CIA agent to first exchange secret papers in Budapest with a beautiful Soviet agent and then assist in the defection of said agent. And he does it with the help of all kinds of Condorman themed equipment, like cars (hidden in gypsy caravans), speedboats, and the obligatory flying wings. Cheesiness prevails, but at least it's all played seriously, with a degree of verisimilitude you won't find in many other films.

The deception of 'Condorman' is that you think it's all going to be the titular character flying about as his costumed alter-ego, whereas in fact it's an amateur spy caper and there are no alter-egos at all, only egos. The weakness of the movie - which also masquerades as its strength - is its cast. Michael Crawford is Woody, and is either playing the character as simple minded or play simple minded dialogue straight. Barbara Carrera is lovely if a bit blank as Natalia the defecting agent, James Hampton (constantly underrated performer) is Woody's CIA handler and Oliver Reed is the ruthless Krokov looking to get back one of his key agents and presumably his girlfriend. It's a bizarre mix and it works well, if a little goofily. Unfortunately Crawford is the weak link thanks to his annoying American accent and his weird energy which doesn't quite fit the film, and Reed is strongest despite being the weakest character in many ways.

The film is supported by an excellent Henry Mancini soundtrack, good special effects for 1981, and excellent production values. Everything looks excellent, except for the Condorman themed clothes, and Woody's orange skiing dungarees. We'll probably do a jumper count if we get to do the commentary; The jumpers are amazing! Blast, now I really need some more jumpers. Where are the good jumpers in these days and times?

'Condorman' is fun, silly and funny. It's also a highly ambitious film in many ways, and can easily be more credible than some of the Roger Moore 'James Bond' movies, which to be fair isn't hard. Or it's total rubbish, which I will freely admit is a possibility for the more cynical people out there, but why not dump the cynicism and join the cult following for 'Condorman'! It's got James Hampton in it!


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Tilting At Windmills

I started blogging and making those Film Bin podcasts with very few internal guidelines except to be try not to be negative; I didn't want to be writing and recording just for the sake of demolishing, critiquing and being generally negative about people who had actually gone out and tried to make and do things. On some level that positive intention feels like the noble thing to have, and in this rampant Internet-fuelled world of people being far more mean and nasty than is actually called for, it also seems like the right thing. It's also a classic case of 'tilting at windmills' like that mad old character Don Quixote. You see, tilting at windmills is one of the ways some people use to stay alive inside and awake to things that would otherwise be forgotten. We generally need to aspire to making some difference in the grander scheme of things, being humans with egos the sizes of small caravans.

The sad side of tilting at windmills is indeed a very sad side, and again falls in line with Don Quixote. That fine old story, which I still haven't read in its entirety (it's on my pile), is made up of two volumes which were in no way written contemporaneously as their publications were separated by ten years of real time. Pray, forgive my ignorance, if I get any of this factually wrong. At the end of the story the deluded old nobleman, who had been touring around the country and having adventures most wild and imaginary, is cured of his madness and dies a broken man. How is that for a brutal allegory? We have to tilt at windmills or face reality in the face and die on the inside? Oh, reality, I tilt at thee!

My suggestion is therefore that we all tilt at windmills; It's actually quite healthy and we could make a difference to the world. It's akin to Danny Wallace and his insane quest in 'Yes Man', his own tilt at the windmills of life. We can be happier if we try to be more positive. I will continue to try and find good things that no-one pays attention to, talk about them in podcasts and prose, and write mad stories of little to no import. Maybe it will make a difference to someone somewhere, and maybe it won't, but if there's a point then it's not a windmill to tilt at any more. In common parlance, to tilt at a windmill is to attack a misperceived enemy or engage in delusional battle, and only time will tell if any of us are truly tilting at windmills or merely strutting for the crowd and seeking out attention.

It's unlikely that my reading will ever include the second half of Don Quixote's adventures, for that ending sounds especially bleak, but that first half will be finished one day. It's supposedly the best literary work ever written in total, and that doesn't surprise me. Those literary types love a bleak ending. They like not to tilt at windmills but survey the lives of those who used to. It's probably better to re-read instead 'Yes Man', look out at the world and say yes more. That's what Danny Wallace did, and he's a good man.


Sunday, 12 January 2014

Story: The Disappearance (XIX)

(Part O , XVIII , XX)

Lily had been true to her word and consulted Abbott the Mesopotamian super-computer. Agnes was holding the transcribed response when we came in and whisked her and our doped prisoner off to McGonagle Biscuits, so many miles away.

Abbott had concluded that the temporal schism had been a consequence of all the effects of the biscuit time travel cheat catching up to our own present. We had reached the time when they had begun sending things back and so the anomalies and the so-called extra mass of the shipments and residuals atoms had begun to annihilate as they closed their own loops. At some point, if there was in truth going to be a temporal explosion, then it would the result of accumulated loop closing. We had to stop those loops from closing by stopping the initial time shipment, causing a paradox and thus forcing the whole story to terminate in a whole other way.

Carter was driving almost maniacally - as was her fashion - and we were steadily getting closer to our destination. Rolf stirred, and I wondered for a moment at the ethics board that would follow when they found out how much time the prisoner had been zonked over this case. Agnes was sitting pale faced and trying not to be sick.

The question as it appeared to me - close shave by a milk tanker - was to locate the source of the time travelled biscuits. We just had to find the real factory. A police car was following us but Carter swerved through a side street and took a parallel tack. The police car didn't make it and lost sight of us, fittingly behind a McGonagle lorry. A McGonagle lorry...

"Carter, I have it, we need to track the ingredients going to the secret plant. They must have begun production by now. That whole thing at the flat was just the beginning, the result of my catching up with the arrival of that me who came from the future. An orphan future now. We've got to get back to HQ and access the traffic camera footage, and dump Rolf in the cells. And deal with the Commissioner too."

Carter pulled a swift left and we headed to Newton's Mill, home of our branch for more than five years. Five years of tragedies instigated by biscuit smuggling from the future. We parked in front and went inside, lugging Rolf, and keeping Agnes close by. Carter got the desk man to help her with the prisoner to the cells and I went up to my office to concoct some cover story.

Unfortunately the cover story was not to be, as there waiting for me was the genial, noble, and thoroughly corrupt Commissioner. The man who had tried to manipulate Carter into causing a crisis.

The problem had come to find me instead of me the problem. As I had before, I took the excuse of there being very little time, and slugged him.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Sheckley and Vine

When I was at school I read a lot. Then when I went to college for my HND I read a lot and watched The West Wing. Then at university for my undergraduate degree I studied a lot, and read less and watched a few more DVDs, and finally during my doctorate I read almost nothing and studied to the point of madness. During all that time I read very few short stories, for the simple reason I that really don't like short stories. We had short story evenings in my house where we would read to each other though, and I had a stock of not terrible examples that served that purpose.

Short stories are difficult, because you are currently stopping and starting and switching narratives to the point of madness. To date there have been exactly two sets of short stories I can read painlessly over and over: 'Sherlock Holmes' by Doyle and the 'Star Trek' episode adaptations by James Blish. There might be a third though, someone unexpected and someone just as unknown as Blish. That author is Robert Sheckley, lord of the funny/satirical tale and a forerunner to the far less prolific Douglas Adams. Sheckley is the storyteller's storyteller, much as Stanley Ellin is in crime fiction.

Now, Sheckley is a fascinating figure and as I work through 'The Store Of The Worlds' the Quirky Muffin will surely get back to him. For now, here you will find a tenuous link to someone far more current and hopefully well known; The unifying aspect of practically everything I find interesting is humour, and there is exactly one standup comedian clean enough and silly enough to appeal to this mad old mind. Who? Tim Vine, of course, the creative mastermind behind 'Pen Behind The Ear', 'Flag Hippo' and a thousand thousand one-liners and puns.

Tim Vine is a fascinating performer, clearly motivated to avoid innuendo and smut and thus almost unique amongst the comedians of today, but also still driven by whatever primal forces puts those people on a stage. Those forces are almost diametrically opposed in this cynical age, and one day you wonder if he'll just expire holding a brain on the end of a fishing line while telling you to cast your mind back. Tim Vine is just funny, silly as he may be, and in ways his silliness is a very telling subtlety. You can overlay a level of imagined satire of the world as it is, in the furious attempts to be different by simply being innocent. In a grand world of cynicism he is naive, although that naivete does come with a sense of pathos at times, especially in the bonus features on his DVDs. Oh, cat fishing is so lovely.

Tim Vine is a reaction to the world of comedy, much as Sheckley was a reaction to the world of science fiction and sometimes literature in general. They're both worthy of study, if you have the time.


Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Story: The Disappearance (XVIII)

(Part O , XVII , XIX)

"An Interlude In The Pub"

"Long day?"

I stared morosely into my glass of frankly inferior beer and responded with the epitome of a vacuum. The barmaid moved on and I nursed my beer until it was duly drunk. Then a soda water and lemon appeared and slowly followed the beer into the great abyss of drunk drinks. I was never a big drinker but life for non-imbibers always seemed to consist of an endless battle between sugary water and glasses of milk in pubs.

Carter, my long-time partner, sat down next to me. "When I woke up this morning, I definitely didn't expect any of this." She ordered a beer, drank some, and then grimaced. "Especially THAT." She peered at me curiously, putting a crocodile grin back into its cage where it would live to grin another day. "Thanks for the note."

"No problem. It must have been pretty confusing. I know it was for me." I chuckled like a man with a migraine who had been up for a thousand years.

"Some day I'll find out your name and then I'll hold it over your head every time I get dragged into one of these ridiculous interludes." She punctuated with slightly anguished sips of her beer. "I could have done it already, I suppose, having been in your digs. Maybe I already did."

"Keep talking. I've had the kind of day that no-one else would ever believe, or believe three times in parts." I plucked out a napkin a napkin and a pencil and literally sketched out my subjective sequence of events as Carter talked about hypnosis, our formerly unimpeachable commissioner, and how long we had until the event of the supposed implosion at McGonagle Biscuits. "Twenty hours to go and, not withstanding a trap, we're going to have to deal with it."

"And then the commissioner."

"Yes, and then our dear lovely crooked commissioner. Let's put him in the same place as our lovely prisoner and see what happens."

Carter patted me on the shoulder. "Best get back and put the prisoner back to sleep. And get a hire car. Don't be long. There are things to do."

"Thank you, Danielle. I'll be along in a moment. There's one more thing I need to do here." A steadiness had seized me, dispelling a queasiness I hadn't even known was there. No more overlap, no more multiple mes out there in the world. Just one self again. One splash of water in the restroom was all that was needed and then it was time to get on.

Outside in the bar I tipped the barmaid a drink and walked out into the sunshine. It was a lovely day, the sun was out, and all reality was going to have to be saved. All because of a few cheap biscuits.

Next: We go into the final straight!

Monday, 6 January 2014

On the challenge of changing a single digit

A long time ago, getting into the habit of writing the new year wherever it appears would have been a lot simpler. Or perhaps it wasn't. Perhaps this is all a hoax, designed to lead you down the garden path, and trapped into something far more complicated. Look, numbers...

Changing a single digit is easy, but remembering why we have to is not. We live in a world which runs on various utterly arbitrary calendar systems, designed by various learned ancient people in order that farming can happen reliably. Farming is the only reason why we ever developed the things. The ancients noted that a year took about three hundred and fifty days, and then science identified the exact figure. That figure becomes imperceptibly larger every day as the Earth slows in its rotation, just as the core of the Earth slowly cools, and the Sun grows ever so slightly bigger. However, ignoring all that, we get about 365 days in each year before the whole seasonal scheme gets back to where it began.

Now, our modern calendar system has two bizarre and incongruous facets built in to it: One, there never was a year zero, and two, the very strange number of months and the different numbers of days in each. The first forms the basis of a new story (with an awesome first line), while the second has puzzled me for ages. Calendar months are different to sidereal months, that latter being the time it takes for the moon to return to the same point in the sky as we observe it. A sidereal month is slightly less than twenty eight days. Incidentally 'moon' and 'month' come from the same linguistic roots. Simple arithmetic reveals that the year divides into a simple multiple of twenty eight days with one day left over, so why don't we have a load of twenty eight day months and one of twenty nine, which would then quite nicely track the moon and fit well into the calendar? We'll get to that in a moment, because it's silly.

Instead of a lovely sensible calendar system, we have what we have, which is nice in its own way. We have a system where there are seven months of thirty one days, four of thirty and one of twenty eight which acquires an extra day once every four years to compensate for the unaccounted for quarter of a day we get each year. The only way to remember which months have however many days is to learn a rhyme - which is personally extremely forgettable - or the sequence of numbers. And why do we do this? The reason is simple, for as like all superstitious peoples we do not like the number thirteen, and thirteen months we would have if we used lunar months.

Getting back to the first point: Why don't we have a year zero anyway, it messes things up and means that any new century begins a year later than we think. I'm reasonably sure it also stops me getting pie when I need it but that causal relationship is yet to be proved. Blast it all. If I'm writing slightly strangely it's because I just watched 'Sherlock: The Sign Of Three' and it was awesome. It was also fundamentally connected to 'Doctor Who: The Green Death' and the sheer nerdery in knowing that and all the canon references in the 'The Sign Of Three' is rather scary. Also, it was sad to see Sherlock walk away alone at the end. I've done that at parties and nights out far too many times myself. Still, not about me. Look, a three headed monkey!


PS It was all about changing a single digit after all, just not the one you thought.
PPS Blast you, heartless Molly Hooper!

Saturday, 4 January 2014


Being sick for a week can have a disastrous effect on writing (such as a tendency to talk about being sick!). Suddenly your radius of experience shrinks down to a room or two, mealtimes, and battles to get your sleep instead of spending whole nights reading to battle off insomnia. Oh, and also you become subject to the disjointed thoughts of the truly deranged and dehydrated, those pseudo ramblings of someone rendered creatively inspired but incoherent.

I wonder how many masterpieces have been wrought by people with glazed expressions and fevered brows, holding their minds together solely with the power of a furiously burning idea? Or, similarly, how many people been been held captive by storms and natural phenomena - and there are storms right now in the United Kingdom - and turned to something new and exceptional in the flickering candlelight.

Being sick is also a perfect excuse to get pulpy and read and watch all the things you want to read instead of all the worthy and serious things that should consume your attention. It's a perfect excuse to get pulpy! On this occasion, it was lovely to break out into a massive run of movie marathons and pump through a sequence of Patrick O'Brian's maritime novels. You may argue about whether those books are pulpy but they're certainly easily enough read, simple and marvellous in their detail. They resemble Dashiell Hammett far more than they do Dickens and so they are pulpy. If my stories are good at all, they're good in a pulpy way, the blog being the logical current equivalent to the old pulp magazines.

Now, it's time to dedicate myself to Orpheus once again, and wonder what to pack into next few days. Unfortunately Aberystwyth is in a state of crisis right now so my return to work might be a bit disrupted. I hope everyone I know there is okay and wish them well.


Thursday, 2 January 2014


Positivity is a really hard thing. Scores of people might be presented to illustrate the fact that my tendency is to cynicism and pessimism, based on the fact that nothing ever works! However, it is the New Year and perhaps positivity is in order. The PhD paper will find its resolution, meaningful progress will be made toward a Statistics project, and there will be lots more diversification. There will be a way; It is assured. Once the brain muscle has been exercised back to effectiveness there shall be marvellous things done, including a mild refit on the readability of the Quirky Muffin.

Positivity is an attitude, the ability to think well and constructively about events and experiences. It is also a general attitude, a plausible happiness that becomes harder when faced with the vagaries and unfairnesses of life, but one that is never impossible. So, let's embrace positivity for a time and be the happy-go-lucky types that started the Quirky Muffin in the first place. A whole New Year of the Muffin awaits... But what will it contain? Will we have the first guest authored piece? Will a story finally finish? Will muffins finally rear their actual heads?

The nature of the Quirky Muffin in the New Year... a quandary in five parts...

This is a blog currently very much in search of a destiny. Experimental, unnecessary, story-laden and self-indulgent, a review of books and media that worked and didn't work but passed my door. An exercise in articulation that's uncaring of its audience. What will come? And how I rue the day I lost that excellent random word generator! There will be stories but one at a time. Currently that means that the current phases of 'The Disappearance', 'The Glove' and 'Oneiromancy' will be knocked off before 'Wordspace' and 'Year Zero' can come into play for the first time and the second phase of 'Triangles' finally debuts. It's a loaded schedule, dependent entirely on finally finishing the glory that is 'The Disappearance', which began with a cosmic mystery on the power of plain chocolate digestive biscuits!

Oh, positivity, you are the dough that great loaves of future rise from like ecstatic birthday cakes. And you make just as much sense!