Monday, 31 March 2014

Story: 'Wordspace', VII

A person can only go on with writing about time series before losing his mind entirely and flipping out. As a result, the Quirky Muffin presents the continuation of our story 'Wordspace'. What if all the characters in a world were words, and the scenery textual in the most literal sense?


Story: 'Wordspace', VII

(Part I , VI , VIII)

Could you really be inside Space? How can you be inside a nothing?

Mystery hovered in the void and presently Space gathered herself once again. "There is something I must tell you. When I was awakening, before your friend Sorpresa emerged into our Wordspace, another came through via the point. Someone of a different nature entirely. Someone dangerous."

"Yes... We had reasoned that out. The structural damage was already there before Sorpresa landed. What happened to the visitor?"

"I know not, he has vanished to places unknown but still in the Wordspace." Mystery's awareness of his newly awakened ally stiffened a moment. "A second passage to the point could not have gone unnoticed." The long pause of reflection. "He does not leave his paths undamaged."

"There is danger."

"Yes, there is always danger. There is always peril. That is why I remain. The Silly Stone knows not always what he does."

"Tell me about the Silly Stone." Mystery was intensely curious about the oft-mentioned being, who didn't seem to be a word at all. His cousin Silly was not stoney, nor was Earth's daughter Stone silly. A Silly Stone?

"There are many Wordspaces, all alien to one another. Except for very few among us those from different lexicons are permanently incomprehensible. Whatever happened to Translation?" A digression.

"He vanished. No message, no news, gone. He would have been helpful with our friend."

"Yes, he would have been vital..." A suspicious pause. "The Silly Stone understands all, living as he does outside of time and space. He is however, quite quite silly, and erratic to the concerns of us all. Gifted with knowledge of all language and all life, but cursed to see existence through the portals of the point."

"He's a prisoner?"

"I do not know. I know only what goes on here, and what was passed on to me from the great Void which preceded us here in the Wordspace."

Mystery straightened instantly, letters clicking into place. "You know of the ancient Void?!"

"Yes, but now you ask too many questions. It is time you went back to the others. A little knowledge is beneficial but a little wisdom is vital. Be careful, dear Mystery."

Mystery reappeared on the trusty Cloud, where Club and Sorpresa had been waiting in the ever surrounding embrace of Space so vast and so rarified. "Cloud?"

"I know where to go. I was told. Do we go now?"

"Yes, there's something we need to find out, and the sooner the better."

Cloud went higher, away to the left, and the sequence of events began anew. Club looked serious, but then he always did. Sorpresa looked eager, perhaps happy to be going home. Only Mystery looked intrigued, and worried, and apprehensive. Questions would be answered, but with what results?

More to follow...

Saturday, 29 March 2014


It's coming, the disorienting time change that I have moaned about so extensively that it is now redundant to do any more but mention that British Summer Time is evil and is almost upon us. Bring on the horror of double-time for the next too many months! Bring it on! Let the nausea begin!

Oh good grief. No. I'm too sick to go on today. The sore throat is slowly climbing it's way to the brain at which point everything will turn into lime juice. The whole world into lime juice. That has got to be better than an hour's time change.

Tiredness. Sleep eluded mightily this week, both due to insomnia and the stress of marking. Marking is something that should never be done. It should be abolished. It's a nightmare. Maybe the Vice-Chancellor should do it all and gain enlightenment in what we go through. Oh never mind the Vice-Chancellor.

Too late. Too tired. Time to sleep. Placeholder alert!


Thursday, 27 March 2014

Bizarre Anecdotes

One: Once I was being chased by a Giant Cheese named Walter. Walter was angry at the horrible treatment of Giant Cheeses by society at large and searching for vengeance via the only method known to it: Mad capricious violence. Parenthetically, I will never go for a holiday in the realm of Giant Cheeselandia again, if only because the food is terrible. I only escaped Walter in the final circumstance by rolling under a brace of giraffes and then swimming the Baltic.

Two: Sitting in the cinema once, I was accosted by three older gentlemen with a shopping cart. Apparently they had bought the cinema ten minutes before, with very suspicious grey-market funding, and had begun to pillage the screening room for the nicest furniture and accessories. Unfortunately, the Mackintosh and Splott Act of 1944 had never been repealed so I spent two years as property before being released back into the general population. If only I had been still seating in my seat and not the aisle!

Three: The Blonde Menace at the Arts Centre Cafe is surely adorable. I suspect, however, that she's part of a cabal to overtake the World and spread cake and salad in victorious fashion across all the non-cake eating World! Some times I see her staring at the cakes with an inscrutable expression but somehow still with a nefarious look in her eye. It's possible that she might even have perfected that long-improbable Cake Ram which eluded the French for so long during the Napoleonic Wars and inadvertently led to the television program 'Sharky and George', which was inspired by the reaction of a local marine population after the final prototype was dumped into their local waters.

Four: It was an unfortunate day when my path connected with famous novelist Arch Shpack. The great man had just lost his wife, in the department store and not to death, and he was capering down the aisles with glee at the release from forceless browsing. Sadly his capering was to be his undoing as it led to a head-on collision with my trolley full of catalogues en route to the main entrance. The collision spun him around and forced him to the edge of the escalator, which he promptly slid down in a perfect imitation of a black and white comedy disaster. Shpack took it badly, especially his wife's laughter, and the famed author of 'The Olive of Hateful Vengeance' and 'The Harbinging Neighbours of the Apocalypse' fell apart completely. His only remaining bestseller would be 'Fluffy and the Mad Adventure'. He never ate jelly again.


Tuesday, 25 March 2014


Let's be clear, there is no real reason why my levels of excitement should be rising so at the very idea of a Bananaman film. No reason at all. It is surely going to be a small scale animated feature played for laughs and updated badly if at all. Announcing one now for 2015 surely leaves insufficient time to do something good. Yes? Right?

The rationalizations aren't working. The excitement is building. Why would they possibly be doing something as obscure as a Bananaman movie if they don't have a great idea to make it interesting? Is it live-action or animated or CGI? Who will play Fiona to sumptuous newscaster? What can they possibly be planning?!!!!!

<pauses to relax>

Bananaman has such bizarrely epic potential that the mystery surrounding it all is almost arresting in it's absolutness. And yet, the character is really only a fruit-based (or herb-based if you're being picky) British funny-strip knock-off of Captain Marvel, so why get excited? His longest previous screen instalments were five minutes long, so anything even vaguely similar in concept would have to be expanded and adapted, or badly padded out, on a structural basis. A movie? How can there be a Bananaman movie? How?

Excitement? Perhaps it's because Bananaman is a concept, whether it be for kiddies or everyone, animated or live-action, that seems invulnerable to the pathetic hamfistedness that ends up twisting films into American or British stereotypes. There is absolutely no way Bananaman can be twisted into a foul-mouthed cockney gangster flick or even a Richard Curtis cringe-worthy romcom. It will still be Bananaman, the story of Britain's greatest superhero. It is a law unto itself, so rebellious that the cartoon was voiced by the Goodies themselves.

I don't think I'm even joking, he really is Britain's greatest superhero isn't he?

The jaded cynics of the world outside my tortured head will bewail all too soon, but for now my excitement shall prevail and I shall continue to anticipate happily for the first time in years. The cynicism shall flow away, and for now childish irrational enjoyment will continue. Someone out there is mad enough to make a Bananaman movie, and then some other people were mad enough to pay for it. There's hope for silliness in the world! Rejoice! That more than the film itself pleases me enormously.

Unless it's all a hoax.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Reverse the Null Hypothesis, we're going in!

My penpal and alternate universe cellmate Elena keeps telling me to write about Pink Floyd when I have no ideas, but of course I know nothing about Pink Floyd, nor about the second choice of Edgar Allen Poe and so I am in no position whatsoever to do it. Blast, compulsive truth-telling strikes again: I have read a few Poe stories and have no desire to be depressed again by revisiting him. Alas, Elena, I can not oblige on this occasion.

Looking to the right I see a massive textbook full of the material I'm pumping into lecture notes, and to the left a stack of inexplicable mugs. Behind me... long long pause... Well, it's best not to comment in case people realise my actual madness as opposed to presumed madness. Masses of things lie behind me. Meep meep! There might be a shark called Vera, but who can say what's real?

The week ahead is my last significant time in Aberystwyth for the foreseeable future, and that's sad. It has been lovely, even in the stress and loneliness, but it is now almost over again and the mysteries of fate alone will reveal whether I can go back in the future, apart from that one Tuesday where I have to go in and finish off the lectures and pretend to not be an unemployed loon who walked in to teach them for free. Why pretend? It's actually just to confuse them because I've looked like an employed loon who walked in to teach them for no reason for the last three months.

Being employed means you are mad, but being mad does not mean you are employed. It's a pretty good indicator that you were employed at some point though, otherwise why would you be mad? Without being specific, all but one or two of the whole department seem to be raving mad, and that's including Gretchen the Tea Room Ghost. Poor Gretchen, she should never have tampered with sugar bowl...

It will be strange to not be in Aberystwyth again, that rain-soaked jewel of the mid-Ceredigion coast. It's lovely. It's a scenic blunder that is yet to be fully spoilt by the modern world, mostly because it's two hours away from the rest of civilization. It's remote, and wonderful, and just the right kind of ludicrous. In the summer the tourists wreck the place but up until then it's gorgeous. And again, it's ludicrous, oh so wonderfully ludicrous.

Oh, grog, got to keep lecture writing going...


Friday, 21 March 2014

The Conduit

What can be written about today? A movie, a podcast, a book? A random event or the news of the week? The giant flailing hammer of weather that squeezed the world on a daily basis?

Not so long ago, or longer than you might think, I stumbled across a podcast called 'The Tobolowsky Files'. It's a sequence of stories told by the noted character actor Stephen Tobolowsky ("Ned... Ryerson!"). Despite the rather mawkish sounding topics it was a podcast, and now is again, that serves as a guiding light somehow. A podcast that forms part of the conduit to the emotions that are buried most of the time.

The conduit to the heart is a tricky thing; It gets blocked so easily for one thing, but is then unblocked consistently with certain learned triggers. For example, I know that the 'Due South' season one finale called 'Letting Go' will open me up every time, 'Star Trek II' too, and 'The Tobolowsky Files'. Other things work but there's no predictability. The conduit is tricky. 'Mary Poppins' is unreliable in this respect, despite being practically perfect in every way. Oh, Mary Poppins, you smudger!

'The Tobolowsky Files' is a great podcast, a rare gem unafraid to go to personal places without becoming intrusive, unafraid to be free of swearing while still tackling adult material on many levels. It is hard to overstate just how rare podcasts free of swearing are on the Grand Old Internet. So far there's Tobolowsky, 'The Thrilling Adventure Hour' and 'How Stuff Works' that I have found in my ponderings. Obviously there are many more out there and they remain to be discovered. Oh, I forgot 'Filmspotting': A show that freewheels frequently off the cliff into the ravine of pretention but manages to come back to be interesting anyway. None of them really competes with Tobolowsky though; that show serves as a surrogate source of experience for someone who hasn't lived the fullest of social lives, and also more significantly illustrates explicitly at times the differences between an American lifestyle and mindset to our own. They can be so strange sometimes across the Atlantic!

Back to the conduit, the mystic cranky beast of a waterway for the emotions. A crooked canal that goes nowhere and everywhere. Human sentiment crashing through scientific mindset and for a moment re-establishing that elusive balance that vanishes so easily. Music can unleash its power, movies and television and radio too, but never books. The intellectualisation of reading is perhaps too much of an effort and forms a block of its own? This will take some extra thought.

Here endeth the ramblings for this week.


The Quirky Muffin: Confused, unstable, annoyed and annoying, but persisting still. Never give up, never surrender!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Story: Oneiromancy, V

I write this entry in the wake of the Bananaman movie revelation. 'Bananaman' and 'Peanuts' both with movies in 2015! That is potentially going to be a fascinating year. My excitement is almost irrational in its intensity, revealing perhaps the lack of excitement in my regular day to day events and lack of interest in most films. And 'Kung Fu Pands 3' too. Amazing. Until then it's time to get deep into Hitchcock and check out some of the less frequented films. And now for the story...


Story: Oneiromancy, V

(Part O , IV , VI)

Helen had not dreamed like that before. The surreality, if that was the word, had been frightening. Somehow she had been huge, for a moment in union with the land itself. Up above a figure had been floating, transfixed and staring down at her. The figure had seemed real, a fixed point in the shifting narrative which jostled her from the welcome and regular repose of sleep.

The figure had seemed real.

Work reasserted its importance in her mind as the lunch rush began and the tide of customers into the Blue Monkey escalated into a torrent. It was only much later, when the torrent returned to a more stately ebb and flow, that the dream popped into her mind again. All her life she had never really remembered her dreams at all and now... this.

The afternoon wore on, the regulars came and went, and then the teachers came in at the end of the school day. In they came, bedraggled and tired and sometimes triumphant but mostly defeated. They carried cases fulls of papers and bottles of water and ate together, slowly moving up the energy scale back to normality and preparing for piles and piles of marking later in the evening.

One of the teachers approached her, looking a bit dishevelled and sleep-deprived. He looked at her, and then boggled, which amused Helen in its incongruity. No-one ever boggled at her even on the most photogenic days. But then the world stopped and for just a moment the man seemed so real as to eclipse everything else in the restaurant. Everything faded to be as surreal as the Blue Monkey logo itself. And she fainted, just the man in front of her seemed to waver and open his mouth to speak.

This time, while unconscious, Helen didn't dream. After all, who was asleep to hear her?

Monday, 17 March 2014


I've been thinking a lot about individuality, that facet of consciousness that thoroughly separates us from the other animals. We are the ones blessed with a deep knowledge of being unique and cursed with the compulsion and societal pressure to be the same as everyone else. We're the ones who know we're going to cease at some point.

Note: This is actually a fairly personal subject as it has affected me badly in the past. Enough said.

We are mad mad human beings, working away to raise money in order to eat and live and make more human beings who will then do exactly the same things. We stuff all our resources into savings for the future and end up doing very little in the present, and all the while time grinds on and the great washing machine of the Universe continues its endless cycle of rinse and repeat.

Where does the balance lie? Where is the line to walk that manages to preserve our own quirks but also satisfies every other responsibility that we accept from societal norms and madnesses? The answer is simple, really, in that the line is different for every single person. Some people, obviously just from looking around the world, can quite happily balance a family and work and whatever interests they have and not go mad. Other people, myself included, have trouble even managing one of those things individually. What, work and have some kind of social life?! Impossible! Give me my keyboard, and I'll just spout rubbish at people on the Internet instead of having to talk about the weather and whatever someone did that day. And no, I will not talk about how good this soup is at length, thank you very much. Take the hint, soup-maker.

That got oddly personal, and may even me a mild violation of the Quirky Muffin editorial code. I think soup-hatred is proscribed also.

On the other hand, people concerned with their individuality and maintaining their own identities can badly tend to self-absorption, much like couples and parents preoccupied with their own internal life over old external acquaintances. That would be just as bad a loss of identity as that experienced by those who get too submerged in their own families and work. Where is the truth in this? How can people know what to do? How can I even know what to do?

This blog really doesn't make any sense. Expect revisions soon.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Notes on a hectic week

Saturday: Returned from Aberystwyth laden with menacing emergency marking. Forced to not play games and instead WORK. There shall be vengeance. I must train a mutant turtle to do my bidding and make pizza. No, I don't like pizza. Mood swings.

Sunday: Went swimming. Finished the hectic emergency marking and then leaped straight into writing lecture for the following Tuesday. No sharks. Shaky mental stability evidenced by lack of appetite and excessive tweeting. Oiled bike and then went nowhere. Blasted hills!

Monday: Wrote more lectures and didn't see daylight. There may not have been a day. Dog barked a lot, but not at the sharks which weren't there. There are never any sharks inland. Didn't finish lecture but did finish 'The Reverse Of The Medal'.

Tuesday: To Aberystwyth! Weekend disruption meant lectures unfinished and coursework postponed. Approached to undertake secret mission but refused as not offered coffee cremes. Fluffed the lecture by being out of shape and collapsing. Pie shortage. Long calculations finished. Huzzah!

Wednesday: Aha! The long-awaited careers event I volunteered to organize! Barely ten final years turn up with refreshments for fifty laid on! Academics did not descend like vultures to scoop up remains. Madness! Went swimming and waited for miraculous coincidences. None. Can't shake 'Dignity' by 'Deacon Blue'.

Thursday: Two practicals and a lecture. Finished practical briefing in the first practical itself. Then finished lecture notes minutes before the slot. Ate lots of crisps. Organized mysterious Scrabble game for following day.

Friday: Two tutorials and a meeting. Minus signs monstrously mutating behind my back. Students mostly asleep. It's possible that whiteboard marker fumes are affecting me, but the pink elephants say it's okay. Two weeks until the contract finishes. Late night Scrabble goes well but chips rebel. Sleep doesn't happen. Blast you, salt deprivation!

Today: Away from Aberystwyth once again. Wrote some coursework. Realised that more than a week has passed since last break. What a lot of water there is in 'Thunderball'! Recalled the existence of 'The Beautiful South' and 'The Communards'. This day must end, and soon.


Thursday, 13 March 2014

Film: 'Joe Versus The Volcano' (1990) - v2

My last review of 'Joe Versus The Volcano' was somehow unsatisfying. It's a phenomenally difficult movie to talk about, not only because of its legend as a massive box office failure but also because it is a widely misunderstood film. This is probably because the movie misunderstands itself, just as we get confused as to the nature of the film. Despite all that, I have the quaintest kind of love for 'Joe' and its progress from a bleak and grimy grey beginning through the normally toned mid-section of discovery to the bright and vivid island landscape of deliverance and acceptance. The whole film is a metaphor, and should be viewed as one instead of a narrative. People get hung up on narratives, myself included, but sometimes they get in the way of things. That doesn't mean you just eliminate the story completely though, modern movies!

So once again we begin with a story: Former firefighter Joe Banks (Tom Hanks) is living a bleak life in a grimy grey factory in a grimy grey industrial world and going slowly mad from hypochondria and his own fear. One day he is diagnosed with a terminal 'brain cloud' and recruited by a billionaire to jump into a volcano and appease some natives looking for a good mineral rights deal. He does it in exchange for a marvelous journey which will finish out his days in wealthy leisure and provide some closure to it all. The beginning, the journey, and the destination comprise three distinct acts in the film, and Meg Ryan plays three different love interests in succession at her cutest. This is the first Hanks/Ryan movie after all and definitely my favourite. Her characters seem to symbolize Joe's temperament in each phase of the film, down the long and crooked road of destiny.

A viewer's reception for 'Joe' really depends on the level to which you adhere to the modern movie formula of 'laughs and explosions mixed to exact ratios', and 'Joe Versus The Volcano' certainly isn't one of those. It's a spiritual journey writ large but made imperfectly, with some extremely odd choices and some extremely well done moments. One of my favourite moments in all of film is in this movie, where Meg Ryan's final character Patricia shows him to his cabin on her yacht the Tweedle Dee and just talks to him. The words 'soulsick' will never be the same again, as now they really encompass what it feels like to be out of place, out of time, and out of love with yourself. She's soul sick, having compromised a promise to herself in order to gain the boat, and he's slowly recovering as his mistakes and fears ebb away with the tides. And before you start to think that this is a sad movie, it really isn't, and of course all ends well utterly implausibly.

The ending to such a movie as 'Joe' is always going to be difficult. If he jumps into the movie and dies then it's a triumph of the human spirit but a downer, and if he and Patricia jump in and get blown out to sea instead, where she reveals the possible fraud behind his diagnosis, then it's a potential letdown. They chose the latter and I don't mind that choice but some do. Letdowns aren't the worst things in the world. On to other things, the music is well placed, chosen and suited to the film being unpretentious and eclectic. The visuals are often sumptuous and also often bizarre, and the thematic symbol of the long and crooked road permeates the whole movie perfectly. The only problem is that the beginning is so grey and in parts unpleasant as to make it too hard to watch and derail the movie, while the end is similarly so silly as to minorly ruin the momentum of what came before. The structure arguably defeats the purpose. Arguably.

'Joe Versus The Volcano': A metaphor or a fairy tale or a spiritual journey? A work of sweet madness or of mad sweetness? A starry debut for Hanks/Ryan or a miserable flop? At the end of the day, only you can answer. Have fun, folks.


PS That was much more satisfying than the first go-around.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Back and Forth

The curse of Llanbadarn struck and all hope of a creative piece of writing went with the advent of that curse. Now all time out of mind is full of wrath and tiredness and pink elephants called Leroy who like to play jazz guitar. For the record, never ever turn back from Llanbadarn to get anything once more than halfway to that remote and barren location. Whiteboard markers are no excuse for turning up at your lecture in a hurried sweaty mess. Still, on the plus side, there is now a precedent for giving a precedent in Bermuda shorts and that is one of the most welcome things in the world. Shorts season! I just wish they wouldn't chatter on and on while I do my best to impart semi-interesting information while on the edge of a nervous collapse.


Problems just go back and forth as if they're attached to a rubber band of fate. Emergency marking - don't ask - gets returned after a huge mass of corrections and faulty marking schemes and then the Tuesday lecture gets completed as well as it can be but gets destroyed by a sunny day and faulty memory. However, optimism must be obtained so lets bring on the positivity!


Right, this is a tough one but the most positive thing is really the weekend to come, with its mass of writing and preparation for the end of my contract and, more importantly, the commentary for 'Cat Ballou'! Oh, this should be fun, as we see Lee Marvin steal a film so magnificently that you almost forget what everyone is even there for... Film Bin is generally getting tougher but it's still fun.

It's sunny here in Aberystwyth, horribly sunny. It's almost time to break out the sunscreen and hide in shadows all day in case of massive sunburn and giant carnivorous daffodils. Hmmm. I never did write about St Davids Day. Maybe next time, when not so horribly dehydrated and incoherent.


Sunday, 9 March 2014

Story: Wordspace, VI

(Part I , V , VII)

Cloud had never been so high, so high that down below he could see Sky looking anxiously up and hoping for his safe return. Upon his broad syllables rode Mystery, Club and the surprising Sorpresa. Sorpresa was grinning and pointing up, while the other two merely looked excited and concerned. Ever higher, did he go, until finally the loneliness made him shudder and roil and his letters quaked.

Above, a vast forgotten memory was stirring, the word they had all but forgotten. The great Space looked down at them and into them and through them, immaterial and absolute. The outlines of massive letters flitted in and out of vision. Sorpresa looked in awe, quite shocked and Space rallied her senses after a sleep of solitude so long that she had passed out of the ken of most words.

"Space..." Mystery was dumbfounded as the knowledge of Space filtered down into his mind. "Do you know how our visitor came to us, Space? How have you been alone up here for so long?"

"Sorpresa?" Space chuckled. "He came from another space, a world of his own lexicon. They discovered a method to cross the boundary between this world and theirs, and all others that exist in the greater multi-space." Space flexed her nothingness for a moment. "As for me... people find it hard to remember an absence... especially one who must of necessity stay apart." A pause. "I will make more of an effort."

"Sorpresa is from another place entirely?"

"Yes... there is a point at which the places interpose upon each other. A point where only the Silly Stone abides. Once you go to the point, and make your choice, what is up becomes down, and you fall to the new world you have transferred into. This I gathered while asleep, living in the small gaps all around down on the world below."

"We must go, Space. Where is this point?"

"Not yet, inquisitive Mystery. First we shall go aside, for there is one thing I must tell you alone." And with that Mystery vanished into the void that was Space, and Cloud jumped in shock.

To be continued...

Friday, 7 March 2014


Marking is one of those funny experiences where idealism clashes jarringly with pragmatism, leading to a hastily arranged vacation where they both go scuba diving and leave you utterly rudderless. As the hours wear on a strange haze descends over your vision and you start getting 'out of pie' errors, your toy giraffe starts talking back and your attendants start getting that funny look in their eyes. Enough of the wonderful beastliness of marking though. That can only be boring for the un-initiated, those who don't know the horror of looking down at a complete mess and knowing they'll have to at least try to understand it before just whooshing through it all with a vague ambition to do good and a dread of what is to come.

It can be all too easily to feel rudderless. Sudden changes and unfortunate events can overload our abilities to be in control of our directions as we struggle to reorient. My time is spent almost entirely on trying to set a direction as the whirlpool of duties spins around and around, wreaking havoc wherever it goes. I've had a new duty for a few weeks: The organising of a careers event for final year undergraduates in the department, and that organisation has been perverse in its progress. I think careers events are a means of atoning for past sins. I meant to do something on the word atonement but never got to it. And still my spin continues, a tumble from job to job to job...

Atonement: the act of atoning for sin or wrongdoing

Atonement seems to be something that has fallen out of fashion, except in the strictest religious sense of the word. When was the last time you atoned for something you did wrong? As someone who isn't functionally perfect my actions comprise numerous and often quite funny mistakes, but sometimes they do hurt people and so one has to atone. For the most part that just means saying sorry but sometimes it means more. Last week I did upset someone with a flippant, glib and stupid remark and then went away cursing myself. And then I cursed even more as I realised I was cursing my own imperfection rather than the effect on the student. Isn't that selfish? No, let's not be angry at letting ourselves down rather than causing hurt to someone else, but go the more humanistic way. And let's say sorry and that we were wrong and do the right thing.

'The West Wing' - excellent series in its first four seasons - had a major problem in its third season. President Bartlet's multiple sclerosis was revealed to the nation. Its concealment had been an awkward character moment whenever it was raised as it essentially didn't work with Bartlet's persona at all. It was an artificially imposed 'feet of clay' and the third season had a massive problem as the concealment and lack of subsequent repentance made his character essentially unlikeable, until he finally said 'sorry' and took the consequences. The show's fabric snapped back into place as if it hadn't ever been perturbed to begin with, and continued until another more organic tension was put into place with the good president. The point? Well, things feel better when you make up for your mistakes rather than make them over to look like successes.


PS Patronising? It has crossed my mind, yes.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


I sit surrounded by clutter, forever disproving any notion of my being obsessed with purest tidiness. It's almost impossible to work as a university lecturer or researcher without clutter. Random scraps of paper, flotsam and jetsam sail around some offices at smallest breezes and rumours of monsters in professorial offices long abandoned to masses of paper persist. Whole tribes of ants, inspired partly by the Discworld, have evolved into ink-consumers and build nests out of mouldering printouts. Academic owls of inspired mental acuity have been known to collate article discards and form cogent arguments that stump the otherwise untouchable biggest bigwigs.

'What kind of clutter can really accumulate?', you may wonder, and so I will provide examples that I have seen in recent times: A mass of Rubiks cubes of various sizes, a departmental flying disc, a giant die, piles of empty water bottles, a giraffe, books printed in the antediluvian era, and some string. And yes, it's really mostly my own clutter. Clutter accumulates, gets swept away, and then accumulates again. It's one of the great survivors of any institutional rearrangement or restructuring. In my office alone there is left over tat from at least three different versions of a nearby laboratory and packaging that may well have been used to pad luggage in the Titanic.

Clutter attracts clutter. The act of clearing clutter leads to a clutter of clearing. A cluttering clucker clearly clashes cleverly. Clutter can only be dealt with severely, so severely in fact that the result is an environment so spartan that it becomes inimicable to work or life or sanity.

Harmless clutter is good. Long live clutter! And my giraffe agrees. He's called Gerald, and is not clutter at all.


PS Beware the tidy academic; 'tis unnatural and indecent. I have access to an angry mob for such people. Not only do they have forks and burning torches but also forklifts full of old receipts, expenses and Christmas cards from 1993.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Story: Wordspace, V

(Part I , IV , VI)

A few days later, after extensive and arduous interviews with Sorpresa, the Council of Lesser Abstracts had reached the conclusion that firstly their visitor was mostly harmless, and that secondly full communication would eventually be possible. No conclusions as to the cause of the first hole had been reached, predictably, although there were worries that the first visitor might be much less friendly than the second.

The Wordspace had not seen open conflict in many eons, not since the destructives had been imprisoned in the Zone of Accumulated Meaningless Jargon, a region impenetrable to all but the most concisely and flexibly minded. Locked up there for time almost uncounted were War, Chaos, Violence and all the most unbending destructives known to the wordspace; Words as predictable in their behaviour as Order and Bureaucracy but with the most disruptive of intentions.

Our protagonist Mystery had been staring up at Sky for ages now. Sky occasionally winked back a massive syllable but otherwise was silent as ever: She only ever talked to Earth and Air, or other words as massive in their importance. Ideas were sparking within our ambiguous abstract, ideas that he could never fully follow through himself without violating his own nature. Sorpresa had fallen from on high, from on very high, and that meant that the lessons he alone had received from wise old School and Education had some truths behind them after all. There was something up there... something no-one else could even conceive of, dedicated as they were to their own meanings. Mystery had always been one of the exceptions and now his role was to seek out a truth previously unsuspected.

Mystery set out for the island of Truth, the great sage, who spent his time surrounded by his friend Water, whose fluidity comforted him in his quest for all that was knowable. Walking on Water, he approached Truth for the first time since Lies had been put in the Zone and their triangle had been broken.

"Saged Truth, I have news of others from on high. A word fell from elsewhere, outside our Wordspace, causing damage to the land and surprise for the Council."

"From on high?"

"Yes, a word called Sorpresa, although a prior is also at large with intentions unknown."

"Then you too must go up, or send an agent."

"But how to come back?"

"We must ascertain how they came here, or how to go there, before we know how to make the return."

"I understand, sage."

"Go now, and be careful, words from abroad can be unpredictable in their unknown natures."

Mystery departed, and crossed Water once again before summoning Cloud and Club for a journey. A very long journey.


Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Imbalance

There's an imbalance. The total given out has far exceeded the amount absorbed, and now a correction must take place. Five hours of teaching in one week may not sound like much but it actually is enormous once you consider the amount of preparation that goes into two lectures, a practical and a tutorial. That is a massive amount of writing if you haven't taught your course before! Tiredness springs eternal.

Funny events of the week: On Wednesday evening (or perhaps Tuesday) there was an Irish blokey student with a gaggle of five French female students in tow touring parts of Wales in my hotel. Five French accents and one Irish being blokey as they prepared to go out on the town. It was strange and funny and odd. The practicals were very strange too, as it seems that typing the commands one at a time into R is infinitely more understandable than writing a list of commands in a text file. What alien madnesses! Also there were bird migrations and a massive amount of walking.

Away from the copious work there was a bit of reading, a bit of listening and a lot of staring at the sea from the promenade. The high tides continue seemingly endlessly whenever my feet turn toward the sea, and there's never a chance to go down to semi-solitude near the waterline and sing a little or talk to oneself with the correct abandon. What a nuisance it is to not have that vital avenue of unusual self-expression! Correspondence and communication have largely dropped by the wayside too, with the consequence that some blues may be in the offing. The blues must be averted, for no good can come of them, but whether now is a good time to steer into the curve or not is questionable.

Continuing to read Patrick O'Brian's naval series the idea of reaching the bitter dregs at the end is becoming very worrying. Obviously it must happen but the approaching cataclysm of the last few books is scaring, especially for an author with such a clear sense of time and age built into his characters. What will Aubrey and Maturin go through before that final ordeal in 'Blue at the Mizzen' in eight novels' time? At least Sayers apparently ended the Lord Peter Wimsey novels gracefully. Such drivelly thought on my part is negative though; There are still eight novels to go and they're bound to be awesome! Positivity, positivity, positivity.

Pessimism shall be cast out.

"Press the button, Max."