Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Books: David Eddings (The Belgariad / The Elenium)

(Pre-written long ago - Away taming sharks in Cardiff)

In a severe blow against my remaining geek credibility (here, take it, it's meaningless now anyway), it's rather fun to admit not liking Tolkien very much (if at all). His famous books are undoubtedly classics and unbearably popular, but they're also just the teensiest bit dry and wallowing in the sermons of corrupting power. And where are the girl hobbits, blast it?! No, my experience with fantasy began with CS Lewis's 'The Magician's Nephew', Terry Pratchett's 'The Light Fantastic' and the fellow in the title of the post. In actuality he always co-wrote with his wife and so we should be crediting David and Leigh Eddings, but habits are hard to break.

The first Eddings fantasy novel was 'Pawn of Prophecy', which kicked off his first and best series 'The Belgariad'. I borrowed it from the school library, an awesome place, and immediately fell under its sway. At least I think I read 'Pawn of Prophecy' first, but it might have been the fourth book of the five, 'Castle Of Wizardry'. This was in direct contrast to Sir Walter Scott's 'Ivanhoe' which failed to appeal almost immediately and which is still somewhere here in the house, shamefully never having been returned. You're reading the blog of a book criminal. One day, 'Ivanhoe', one day!

Eddings could really write, encapsulating mystery into a heady set of archetypes in both the 'Belgariad' and his second excellent series the 'Elenium'. A heavy proponent of starting en media res, once you got caught up in the narrative there was no escape. Subsequent series never quite lived up to the high standards of the first, being in certain senses template sequels and forcing retcons to allow for further stories. Hence the 'Belgariad' begat the 'Malloreon', 'Belgarath the Sorceror' and 'Polgara the Sorceress' while the 'Elenium' begat the 'Tamuli'. By the time new stories came out in the forms of 'The Dreamers' and 'The Redemption of Althalus' it was really all over. None of that matters though, because those first two series are spellbinding, and 'The Malloreon' has an almost transcendental ending that makes up for some of the trundling to every country on the map. 'Belgarath the Sorceror' also takes place over about seven thousand years of history, which is no mean feat in one volume!

Returning to the beginning, the 'Belgariad' is a magnificent little series, unpretentious and uncontrived. Starting from humble beginnings, and told from the point of view of the farm boy Garion, we escalate from a bucolic childhood to a death match with a rampaging god against the backdrop of a doomed continental war. And that happens in five fairly short volumes, which also introduce ancient prophecies, epic loves and some tragedies you wouldn't even shake an extremely pointy stick at. It all works. It even works now, twenty years later, and with buckets of further experiences. As a series it is rich, richer than I had thought. Fledgeling romances, millennia-long grudges, a fascinating version of sorcery, huge swathes of unexplored backstory and a world burgeoning with untold history make for a fascinating panoply of subplots, which doesn't even include the split into parallel storylines toward the end, or the fact that Silk is a spy who can never quite shake the habit.

Eddings designed this story, according to an interview in an old issue of Dreamwatch and in 'The Rivan Codex', to be so chock full of archetypes that it would be literally impossible to stop reading. He succeeded, and made it good too. There can be no doubt that starting with the plot already in motion is as powerful a narrative tool as can be found in fiction. There is almost no television series, no film, and no book outside of 'Star Trek' and 'Ghostbusters' that can not be improved by foregoing the introduction for a hefty dose of mystery instead. A great fan of Malory, the original epic literature author, Eddings patterned the protagonist on Sir Perceval of Arthurian legend, an innocent who learns of the greater story and his place in it as the story goes on. Garion's place and to an extent Sparhawk's in the 'Elenium', apart from being surrounded by colourful and well-conceived characters with excellent dialogue, realising his potential as a sorceror and reclaiming the long vacant throne of an island kingdom, revolves around finally killing an immortal god.

The 'Belgariad' is a great series, the 'Malloreon' and prequels very good ones, the 'Elenium' fascinating and 'The Tamuli' pretty good. David (and Leigh) Eddings recreated or even invented a type of fantasy that is accessible to both the juveniles and uncynical adults out there in the world. They were sadly missed even before David died. Their books mean more to me than any other series in existence. Thank you for the words.

Oh, and I noticed you noticing. Don't deny it.


Monday, 28 April 2014

A lull in the action

And so another conference fades away, and with it goes the nausea, the insomnia, the constant hunger, and that sensation of never quite being alone. It can be rough sometimes. Actually any conference at Gregynog is a great thing in many other ways, with the elegant and stately grounds and the hand of the giant buried underneath old drive and the sticky toffee puddings. Some universities don't even have country houses to have conferences in, the poor dears. It would be nice to sleep though.

This post is one of the few that will go out live in the next few weeks, sandwiched as it is between a conference and a day trip, which will be succeeded next week by a long break in Amsterdam. Oh, the joys of not working! Amsterdam... It feels like it's far scarier in prospect than it will be in reality.

So, this is a lull in a hectic schedule, and just for a few moments there is time to prepare for the coming days and fall apart a little in the privacy of a quiet university. Well, that's falling apart while doing work of course. There would be no excuse for being negligent. Foam modelling is fizzing in the background, as well as secret project 23, and some stats reading. Could it be that statistical oceanography is actually a thing? Really?! Oh, and of course there's the usual sit and wait to see how the next draft of the paper might come out.

A life on the ocean wave. If this journey goes well a whole world of sea travel opens up, to here to there and to everywhere. There's something so much more real about going places slowly and meanderingly. The world assumes its true size and the journey becomes as important as the destination. In the frenzied modern world of the sealed and stuffy cabins of all ground and air transport, a boat is perhaps the last vehicle where you can go outside and watch the world pass by and feel it too in the wind on the face and the spray all around. It's romantic. Even on a giant super-ferry it's romantic, if you ignore all the giant superstructure and being a thousand miles up in the air.

Is the romance of travel ever real? Was it ever real? Has it been fun since the days of horses? Well, we'll see.


Saturday, 26 April 2014

Books: James Blish, a.k.a. 'Mr Star Trek'

(Prepared in advance, away at a weekend conference)

In recent times I've probably written a little too much about Star Trek. It's natural as the history of my reading and media consumption is tied absolutely to that franchise, or at least to the original series first and to 'Star Trek' The Next Generation (TNG) second. That is the way of things. Before TNG, and even before the movies the original series lived on in another medium: Prose. Much like its contemporary Doctor Who, 'Star Trek' lived on in words as well as syndication. Original 'Star Trek' novels didn't boom until the movies hit but before then there were anthologies of episode novelisations and they were written (barring the Harry Mudd stories) by a man called James Blish between 1967 and his death in 1977. (JA Lawrence finished off the collection with the Mudd stories in 1978.)

The story of 'Star Trek' and myself starts in a really murky way, since I can't actually remember it. There were the episodes 'For The Earth Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky' and 'The Day Of The Dove' that we had on VHS, the James Blish adaptations, the novelisation of 'Star Trek' III, the movies, and finally TNG and then 'Star Trek' itself on BBC2. BBC2 used to show good television at one time, just so you know, and Channel 4 too. They weren't averse to paying money for reruns of scripted series instead of really cheap and horrible reality shows. Gosh, 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea' was good on Sunday mornings!

To get back on track, it was the Blish version of the series I experienced first, and those stories were fascinating. Not only were they based on early versions of the scripts, and sometimes quite different from what appeared on screen, but they were and are often the best way to experience the ill-fated final third season of the original series. I would even go so far as to suggest they be compulsory reading for anyone who professes to love the original show. A classic example is 'The Doomsday Machine', which onscreen is so slow, portentous and padded an episode that is at times almost unwatchable. In the Blish form though, it is incredibly straightforward and effective, although losing drama by eliminating much of Decker's obsessiveness. Even if there were no other merits, the novelty of seeing earlier versions of the episodes in print is a valuable one. To put it another way, any guy who can add value and coherence to 'Operation Annihilate!' is a good one! He streamlined out unnecessary complications, introduced better motivations, and made things work far better than ever they should.

While extolling the virtues of the adaptations, it would be remiss of me not to explain how they came about and their historical context. This was an era when there was no home video, no streaming, no 'Star Trek' movies. There were a few Bantam novels (including 'Spock Must Die!' by Blish again), some episodic photo books (odd concept), reruns of the original show and the Blish novelisations. Unlike other shows where the adaptations came and went ('The Man From UNCLE' had quite a few novelisations, for example), all of this conspired to keep an idea alive. 'Star Trek' became richer as writers added to it, and imaginations flared with what the lack of restriction in print meant for Star Trek in comparison to what couldn't be done on screen in the late 1960. It all should have been a glorious blip in history, but somehow it wasn't. Partly, that was down to James Blish. James Blish could write astonishingly well. In coming months 'Cities In Flight' will also be spotlighted here in all its quirky and thematic glory, as well as perhaps 'A Case Of Conscience'. He could take difficult concepts, ideas that we don't always want to accept, and make them acceptable. This will become clearer as we go into those works.

Here endeth this 'Star Trek' monologues.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Time at the beach

As mentioned previously and probably copiously, there is a balance to be maintained. The in/out dilemma has to be remembered and experiences absorbed or books read to counterbalance the massive amount of writing that takes place in any given day. Such is the way of things, especially when prewriting swathes of holiday cover material" The following was written next to the beach yesterday evening.

"Let's be descriptive. Around me is the splendour of Aberystwyth prom. The sun is setting behind one of only two cloud banks in the sky, growing more and more golden with each second. The waves rush back and forth on the surf of a nearly low tide. It is serene. A few isolated people wander along the fringe of pebbles and sand.

Upon the prom edge I sit, cross-legged, observing and absorbing and relating the surrounding events. The in/out dilemma is evaded completely in purely relating what goes on around. A boy kicks an orange ball around listlessly, and the prom becomes busier as the sun settles more and more closely to the horizon, busier with more walkers, friends and lovers hand in hand out for constitutionals, and people with cameras looking for sunset photographs. The ball is now in the surf and has been for ages, but is finally retrieved very tentatively, before ridiculously being kicked even further out. Some disturbances now, as seagulls and a loitering man on a phone conspire to break the spell of the deep yellow light. It is all of life in a sudden little microcosm.

Stepping closer to the beach the world becomes quieter, apart from the whoosh of the waves. Everything else becomes more remote and a world or possibilities reopens right there and then.


You can stand on one leg. Why not? Or do a twirl, spin until you're dizzy, sing a song, and then unsteadily retreat backwards as the waves rush in to catch you unawares. Remember the sea is always watching. It remembers every rock you've thrown in, after all.

Thwoosh. Reach. Dance out of range.

The sun emerges from cloud cover bathed in orange on the watery horizon and everything slows down for a few moments. ('Horizontal' comes from 'horizon'? Why had I never realized that before?) The orange ball moves further and further out as the wave approach closer and closer. It is lovely, impossible to do in Summer but perfect now. Perfect little moments alone with that great dissolver of worries, the grand old sea.

Sunset. Silvery shimmering waters. Repose."


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Messing about in the river

What better to do on an Easter weekend than mess about in the river? What else is there to do on a day when everything is closed but indulge in childish pasttimes? To indulge in messing about 'in' the river and not 'on' it as Kenneth Grahame wrote so eloquently in 'The Wind In The Willows'. One river dammed (the Gwendraeth Fawr) makes for one thoroughly enjoyable childish pasttime along with some general splashing.

Easter is a thoroughly confounding holiday for the non-religious; A long weekend with enough attached religious content to cause squeamishness in the taking advantage of it. It is tricky, especially as so many things close down, just like the equally awkward Christmas. It's also a religious holiday imposed universally, which is a problem all of it's own. But politics can be laid aside, as they're quite redundant next to messing about on rivers.

Oh, to mess about on rivers, splashing merrily away. There are so many ways to just be happy with a river. You can boat, just like in 'Three Men In A Boat' (2015 summer plan), you can walk merrily alongside, build dams, listen to the tinkling sound of the water, race rubber ducks and model boats, or just paddle along barefoot thinking happy thoughts. Rivers are lovely when they're small enough to be credible and not so massive as to be used industrially. The Danube, for example, gave no feeling of fun at all, as it was so massive as to be more a barrier than anything else, and an artery for shipping as well. It wasn't something you could have fun with somehow. Rivers are better small.

It would be far nicer to be mucking about on the river, instead of working stubbornly and trying to generate enough pre-planned Quirky Muffins to keep it going through the upcoming conferences and holidays as close to normal as possible. There are only so many meaningful and influential books and films in anyone's history! If a deluge of story episodes lands, you can rest assured that all else failed, and a massive serialisation session occurred ten minutes before departure. IT will all get back to normal in about a month, so rest assured, theoretical and deranged reader. There will be more stories than anyone can shake a stick at, extending infinitely into the blogging horizon. Perhaps everyone should go and mess about in rivers instead? Or at least canals?

Damming a little river is fun, when you have the rocks around to improvise. It has been done so many times on our little village river that you're always building on the remains of previous attempts in any case. You build and build, and the water rises and overflows at the sides, so you extend sideways and the water rises again to go over the top. It's a neverending process, and lovely. No matter how high you go, there is always more to do, and it will mostly topple at the next surge anyway.

These are the things life is made of,

Monday, 21 April 2014

Story: 'Wordspace', VIII

(Part I , VII , IX)

Cloud, eager and apprehensive, moved ever upwards according to the enigmatic Space's instructions, until the Wordspace below lost all detail except perhaps for the vague outline of the the ancient Frontier surrounding the great mass of curiously patterned nonsense.

After staring down over Cloud's edge for a while, Mystery realised that they must be directly over the site of Sorpresa's surprise landing, assuming that the Point was stationary relative to the point that Space had been talking about. It seemed like a logical assumption since Sorpresa and his predecessor had both landed in nearly identical locations.

"How will we know when we're there?" Mystery wondered aloud from atop their insubstantial perch, and accidentally awoke Club with the wondering. That redoubtable protector shuffled to vertical, and surveyed their current surroundings from the edge next to Mystery. He looked unsteady.

"I had a dream." was what Club eventually said, utterly out of character. "It was the first one in a long time. A dream. We were all laughing and singing, happy to the point of bursting. All around there were happy words, but then our friend the Sky darkened, and Cloud was pushed aside, and something was coming that no-one had seen before." Club looked straight ahead. "Then you woke me up." I thank you.

"Do you think it was meaningful, Club?"

"There is no telling. My dreams have never been predictable in that respect." Cloud made a sudden course alteration and they stumbled briefly. "Simple things are more in my line."

"I've only dreamed once since Dream's departure." admitted Mystery. "It came true, of course, despite all our efforts." Dream had been a close friend, and colleague on the Council of Lesser Abstracts. Now she was one of the few words who had vanished but not without trace. Now all the words dreamed on occasion, just as Dream had. If only they could have kept her around. "I miss her."

Cloud rolled and tumbled to a halt, and Mystery realised that the trip was over. Before he and Club could wonder what to do, Sorpresa surprised them both and reached out to something he along could see. He twisted a particle of air and then the world vanished and was replaced by something entirely new. And the Silly Stone, who was unmistakeable.

There will be more...

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Disruption Plans

The next few weeks will be patchy for the Quirky Muffin, as conferences and holidays conspire to make it all very difficult. As a result I, the culprit, am making some plans to avoid a total cessation of Muffineering, both as a challenge to myself and as a form of torture for anyone who might actually be reading this nonsense. Go away! Eat a real muffin! Get a turtle!

In any case very very soon you will be faced with a succession of posts labelled 'Pre-planned for holiday cover' or something similar. They will for the most part be reviews and stories and non-typical pieces which don't require continuity or topicality with the ongoing travails of life. The stories won't be fully equipped with the links, sadly, but they will go up. There won't be any shortage of material after the disruption at least, even if it's only moaning about hitting the awful thirty-five years of age and the accompanying panic. (Many many nights now without panicky tremors and little sleep.)

"What holiday?!" you might ask, if you're permanently removed from other more worthwhile distractions and rather out of your mind. "Where could YOU possibly be going?! YOU?!!!!" Well, if we pass over the customary response of a raspberry and a blindfold the answer would be to conferences and to Amsterdam to cycle like a maniac while the parents have their anniversary holiday there. As co-sponsor I have to go and make sure they don't trash the place or hold up too many banks. Also, and note this well, Amsterdam forms part of the 'Beiderbecke Trilogy' sequence of trips begun by Edinburgh, continued by this trip to Amsterdam and ultimately to be concluded by a visit to Leeds. Sadly, when I went to Leeds for a conference previously I did not even consider making the Beiderbecke connections!

The Amsterdam trip is preceded by a mini-conference and a day visit to Cardiff, and succeeded by a theoretical trip to Nottingham so lets hope that the disruption is kept to a minimum. Chaos must not be allowed to dribble into a vacuum left by a lack of Quirky Muffins. The world could shudder to a halt. Film Bin could descend into chaos. Orcas could start wearing bucket hats and whistling. None of this can be allowed to occur, even if the blasted Clomp is smiling at the prospect.

Blasted Clomps. Mutter mutter. I should really do a reminder on who exactly the Clomp is. Hmmm... an idea occurs...


Thursday, 17 April 2014


There is a magazine missing from the tea room. The sanctity of the 'preparation area' has been violated and even now furtive looks are breaking out on all sides as distrust billows out upon the academic waters like flower petals on the surface of a pond in Spring. Of course most of that is normal for a Wednesday, excepting the disappearance.

The magazine in question, which title I have forgotten, featured a story on a footballer, whose name I have also forgotten. The owner, a manic football fan, mutters about this being the second time it has happened. It's all very suspicious. Chocolates have been offered as a reward, but will chocolates be enough? Especially when we consider the suspects?

But who are the suspects?

-- The faculty: A bunch of dissolute rogues with little better to do than chatter about Google Now, felines in high heels and commit petty larcenies. They might teach or commit research (eat biscuits) in the intermittent interregna, fighting through the brain altering effects of long term exposure to 'hospital yellow' paint. Suspicion always falls on The Badger first, but we must be even-handed.

-- The postgraduates, a.k.a. 'Those who aspire to the faculty': Their aspiration alone renders these lunatics as suspect beyond all belief, but the destitution of higher study and pressures of fantasy football have shattered many minds before and will shatter many more hence. The magazine owner is watching them fiercely from her place deep amongst them.

-- The undergraduates, a.k.a. 'The day players': They dare not enter the tearoom, but could exam pressures and the promise of swag (old newspapers, icky sponges, a bottle of milk) put them in the path of temptation? Do any of them have the imagination?

-- Everyone else: The institute director (long suspected of vegetable fraud), cleaners and porters (escaped cheese smugglers), administrative staff (closet closet lovers), librarians (hedge fanciers), and anyone else who might wander in.

Be warned, possible magazine purloiners, we are watching. And we have chocolates.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Just keep on keeping on!

Words stretching words into magnificent vistas of language. Words, little syllables joined together into grand or mundane meanings. If only those words could stream out more naturally...

As the word drought continues, becoming ever more and more serious, the mind drifts back to the previous droughts. Concentration meanders on, and then slowly sinks into wondering what finally broke the word jam that followed the Great Schism of 2001, or the defining event that re-enabled writing after submitting the thesis to end all theses (Even now the thought of that thesis wipes a thousand words off any post in preparation). What causes the wordjam, and what ends it? And is the jam the same as a writer's block? Is a writer's block real or merely made of phantasmic cabbage? Cancel the last thought, though, as that was silly.

A writer's block, as understood by this mad person, is the utter inability to write anything at all. A massive transparent block between the talented and their talent. A word jam on the other hand seems to be a cessation of meaningful content, a stutter in the ease of communication, or in the worst case a total lack of anything to write! Fortunately, after a lifetime of blithering inwardly, it's not too hard to overcome the final option...

<notes second use of ellipsis and declares them off limits. puts an alert next to parentheses.>

My own favourite - or least loathed jam - followed the traumatic events of the Summer of 2012. The details are irrelevant, except to the poor giraffe, but the Quirky Muffin was formed from the mess left behind. The essence of the Muffin, trivial and silly as it may be, has enforced a discipline in getting on with things that could have drifted away permanently. You've just got to keep on going, and that's what this post is really all about, plugging away until the good things run again. In fact, the very process of writing has again worked its wonders, and the inanity will trundle on into the coming months, interrupted though it may be the horrible effects of holidays, conferences and ponderings about penguins. Penguins and giraffes: The great essentials of modern philosophy.

The drought is over, and a pointless but coherent mass of words is accumulating. The word muscle is working again, and the world continues to spin. Note: If the world is not spinning wherever and whenever you might be, please disregard this passage. Not even a visit to the tea room taken moments before this very sentence could dim the vigour of suddenly flowing pointless prose. Behold, the hippo of silliness is roaring and spluttering! (They were just talking about football up there and being dull.) Not even writing past exam solutions can dim the wonder!

To the curry house, and don't spare the horses or that seat thing people used to carry dignitaries about in in medieval times. Oh, blast, a word has eluded the new Golden Age, albeit an utterly inconsequential one. And parentheses have to be off limits now, as well as colons. Blast and double blast.

Ha! Take that, believers in terminal word drought! Beware the Quirky Muffin!


Service Announcement: For reasons of propriety, do not feed the author; He is very dangerous and not to be encouraged. Thank you.

PS The Quirky Muffin, flouter of colon restrictions since 2014.

Monday, 14 April 2014


Words. Scattered. Whirls of thought. The classic movie 'Bringing Up Baby' is accompanying me as I write, and proving to be utterly delightful. In fact it's so impressive that 'His Girl Friday' is on its way now to make up the pair. Cary Grant has leapfrogged up dramatically on my personal popularity chart!

It's confusing to be temporarily back in research. Today, my day was spent in trying to devise a suitable set of boundary conditions for slipping Stokes flow in a constriction geometry, which is nowhere near as complicated as it sounds. What it is is really really tricky to pull off without material spilling all over and across the physical boundaries. Sigh and double sigh. Finite elements are not useful. All this and a set of solutions for a past paper still to do!

Coverage on the Quirky Muffin is going to becomes erratic over the next few weeks, as holidays and conferences intrude on the regular pattern. If there are regular readers, the author humbly requests you be patient until the disruptions lighten up toward the end of May. Hopefully the rest will reinvigorate the atrophied creative muscles, and allow time for some story ideas to be roughed out properly.

<Watches climax to the film>

What a lovely little film! Howard Hawks is one of those mysterious directors I refuse to learn more about. In truth learning too much about anyone out there in the entertainment land really lessens their likeability. Let Grace Kelly be ethereal on the screen, but I refuse to find out more about her starlet behaviour, especially as the little I know I wish I didn't. Oh, humans, we can't be trusted anywhere! Who wants to know that Scarlet Johansson smokes (ick) or anything about Tom Cruise at all?


Saturday, 12 April 2014

Television: 'The Incredible Hulk' (1978 to 1982)

'The Incredible Hulk' ran from 1978 to 1982 (with two pilot tv movies in 1977) and is a classic example (the first, in fact) of how to translate a ridiculous comic book character to television. The secret, as show creator Kenneth Johnson knew, was to make it psychological and to strip out as much of the extraneous material as possible. The only surviving aspects were the surname Banner, the angry version of the Hulk creature itself, and the term 'gamma radiation'. Those concepts were merged with the lonely running man formula coined by 'The Fugitive' and formed the basis of an incredibly and briefly popular phenomenon.

The Hulk was a fascinating - and melancholy - exercise in formula, a grand psychological exercise in portraying the monsters in everyone and not just David Bruce Banner. That was why Bill Bixby signed up to play Banner, a coup in what should have been a silly comic book show. That was the arena that the show excelled in, but it was also the curse that ultimately broke the show's own back. As with most formula shows, the formula either has to change over time or cripple the show fatally. On this occasion the formula stayed exactly the same and doomed the whole enterprise, if running for four seasons can be called a failure.

When the formula worked, though, 'The Incredible Hulk' was a majestic cheesy mass of excellence. Normally we would join the story en media res, with a new job for Banner and a seemingly acceptable standard of life. Then the problem would develop, an abusive person or criminal or domestic conflict, before finally Banner would become involved and the Hulk emerged. After that either inflamed or resolved the situation, Banner / Hulk would reappear and fix the situation before fleeing the scene with down-on-his-luck reporter Jack McGee on his tail. And that would be it. For four and a bit seasons. Banner never stops hating the Hulk, and fearing his actions, and in fact McGee gets more character development than the lead! Viewed in isolation any sequence of episodes is awesome, but as a whole it becomes problematic. Having said that I love the show, even in the campness of Lou Ferrigno busting out of his clothes and roaring madly. Never were so many bad people thrown over so many things, even when you include Mr T in 'The A-Team'.

Oh, if only there could have been development over the series. If only David Banner could have come to partly accept that the Hulk wasn't a killer or to be feared. If only he could have considered that curing himself would be akin to murder? If only he could have taken solace from the incredible list of women he romanced over the course of four years, the player that he was. Formula can't run forever. And if only not every episode hadn't finished on a down-note.

It was a great cheesy show, hammy to the fifth level, and silly beyond belief. Still, I liked it.


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Think it through

You can't really just be a lecturer at a university; That's one of the sad things about life in academia. You really need a research career too, which is far far harder. Research is the life blood of funding and maintaining university standards, but it is also a job which demands genuine interest in the researcher, lest their mind be lost due to the insane traumas of pursuing a path into the unknown.

Why talk about this? The short answer is that I need new projects, topics which spark some genuine interest and which aren't linked to the tortuous five year doctoral project that almost ended what remained of my sanity. It is not a joke, you really do have to be interested madly in what you're studying in a PhD, otherwise it doesn't work. Fortunately I was interested enough, unfortunately it was still just a little wrong even after viva. C'est la vie, Clompie.

There are fascinating fields to try and work into. Think about growing plants for a moment, and the dynamics involved in how stems, leaves and petals develop so quickly. Imagine coral reefs and the rich ecosystems of life that exist and depend on each other. What happens when you clap your hands underwater? Are there underlying patterns to species diversity in forests and groves and farmland? Are there mathematical patterns underpinning narrative forms? Can we link mathematics to primal language and form our own Rosetta Stones?

It's hard to break into a new field, especially when you're still rather jaded from a doctorate and tough life experiences, and concerned about whether you're even suited for research at all. It's a tough job, one which requires long long hours, flexibility, and rigid self-control in taking care of yourself. If you work too hard you can go mad - mad! maaaaaaaaa! - and end up walking around Llanbadarn campus in your pyjamas, asking people where the ice cream van is, in December. And you have to read a lot, many many articles that you might not understand at first or second readings, but which could point towards the idea or article that inspires you to do the thing that might lead to interesting things.

Research. It's fun. If you can just get there...

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Story: Oneiromancy, VI

(Part O , V , VII)

The scene: A back room at the Blue Monkey cafe.

The time: Six minutes and twenty seconds after the stately faint of waitress Helen Ostrander to the floor in the main cafe.

The cast: Helen (stirring), a nurse patron called Jeremy, and teacher Stanley Simonson.

The prose:

Jeremy sat nervously in the small room, as Jeremy wiped the blood away from the wound that the waitress had incurred while collapsing in the cafe proper. How he had managed to get into the back room he had no idea, but dimly he was aware of having offered to help the man move her away from the customers. Then he had sat down and stared blankly at the corner of the room. Jeremy had assumed and moved on.

The blood was cleaned away from the pretty eyes and the handsome mouth and Stanley came back down to the terrestrial world with a start.

"You know the lady?"

"No and yes. Yes and no. Just before she fainted we saw each other and something... happened."

Jeremy squinted and continued. "She took a bad bump. You don't look so good either."

Helen's eyes fluttered and she came back to the world of the conscious. The nurse man held her for a moment so she wouldn't get up until she was safe and the gently checked her eyes and pulse. Stanley went back to staring at the corner.

"What's that man doing here?" Asked the waitress, who could only see part of Stanley's profile from where she was. He glanced at her and her eyes widened. He still seemed so real compared to everything else. A big block of solidity in a watercolour world.

"This guy helped me bring you in here and then he hung around looking faint. I guess he didn't think you should be left alone with me." Jeremy winked.

"I... Ow!"

"Yes, I wouldn't talk very loud as you took a bit of a blow to the head. I want you to be careful for the rest of the day and if anything unusual at all happens please go get help." Jeremy collected himself up. "I would go see a doctor anyway just in case they want to give you stitches. They like to give people the Bride of Frankenstein look! And concussions scare us constantly."

"Ha ha. Okay, I'll listen to you, whoever you are. I'll go home too, just to be safe. After talking to this man outside." Jeremy and Stanley helped her up and then backed off as she scowled at them. They went outside, Jeremy made his farewells and then Helen and Stanley sat at the counter for a while.

Stanley broke finally. "I don't know what to say. Do you?"

"Not a clue."

"We may be thinking completely different things. Missing the point completely."

"You could be an obsessive waitress murderer, and I could be wondering why you look exactly like my Uncle Ernie."

"You have an Uncle Ernie?"

"I did, but he vanished one day while hunting teachers in the woods. You want to hear my idea?"

"Yes, I'm all ears."

"Unfortunately that's true, yes. Write down what you think is going on, in as much detail as you can. I'll do the same. If the accounts match then at least we'll be mutually insane."

"We compare notes tomorrow?"

"Yes, tomorrow. I think I need to go sleep some more. It's been a disturbed week."

"Yes. Yes, it has. My name's Stanley. Simonson."

"Helen Ostrander. I'm sorry, I have to go and make an excuse for the boss and then go. Five o'clock here tomorrow evening?"

"Yes. I have to go too. Tomorrow, Miss Ostrander. Helen."

"This is weird. Very weird. Bye." Helen bustled her way - with an exaggerated dizzy sway - into the kitchen and Stanley wandered out. Nothing to do but write and wait until the next day. What kind of day would it be?

To be continued...

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Way out there

Once again the golden spike has been driven through the heart of an exam and it's time to move on. This was a particularly hard one, in my unhumble opinion, probably comprising fifty percent more material than a regular Maths exam. And it took forever!

<The stars look lovely, so charming and sedate>

Teaching, relearning, and preparing assessment for a module at the same time can be a daunting affair. At times almost overwhelming in fact but it is now for all intents done, barring a bit more coursework marking. The marking shall be done using 'Marking Gambit C'. Nothing works quite like old option C, the 'lying on the floor and listening to movies and music as you work' tactic. Option A was discredited long ago due to the problems associated with burning heretics on a stake driven into piles of burning coursework, and option B was dismissed many years ago when the notion of sending people on expenses paid cruises to get marking done was sadly not time-effective. Now all that are left are floors and the ineffectual option (X) of last resort: Doing it in the office. Bleuch!

<We spin around the sun, our planet so serene>

At some point I will go mad in an office. Stark raving mad at being trapped in function-specific space and battling every perverse and evasive muscle in the mind. Offices... What places of horror and lunacy! They'll find me one day waving a washing up sponge, talking to it as if were an old friend called Mickey, and jumping whenever anyone says 'staff meeting'. Still, apart from the offices, it's quite a good job. Apart from the barbarian seagulls of course, which are descended from the Hun seagulls of many many centuries ago.

<Time, that insubstantial thing, so vital but translucent>

It can probably be deduced that there's little to write on this occasion in the Quirky Muffin. A week of exam proofing has been rather draining, as has having been just a little bit sick, and confused at a sudden extension of the old work contract. It's lovely of course, but only knowing three months at a time is rather wearing.

<The universe, so quiet, so damaged and yet so, so complete>

Exam proofing was accelerated by finally getting up to date with 'The Mentalist' DVDs, where I am now only two episodes away from finishing the fifth season. Huzzah! Once again my instinct is that the show is better than people think it is. A lot better than 'Elementary', for example. However, there is some vibe out there in critical land that seems to forbid people from talking about it. How strange. It's above average and occasionally excellent, and occasionally dreadful.

And with that, the close.
<Clouds over stars, nebulae far above, gaseous wombs of celestial love>


PS If this seems strange, be thankful you never saw the original version!
PPS If you're one of my students, be afraid. Very afraid. Nyahahahahahah!
PPPS No, not really, it will be fine.
PPPPS Liquorice.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Movie: Some thoughts on 'The Muppets: Most Wanted' (2014)

Two things spring to mind immediately upon starting this post: Postman Pat and fast cutting. After that Tarzan and low expectations. This was a rough one. Lets proceed with three things in mind, once Pat has been exhausted:

1) Did you like the movie?
2) Was it a good movie?
3) Was it a good Muppet movie?

'Muppets Most Wanted' has been getting decidedly mixed reviews, and I can certainly see why. Once the trauma of adverts and trailers and the preceding short had faded away it was rather hard to settle down as there was nothing to settle down into. In my mind this movie is actually called 'Muppets Non-Stop' due to the fact that there was never time to relax and love it! It was non-stop, in a way that none of the previous films have been. There was no time just to like the characters, no time to appreciate Animal being cuddly or Gonzo's collaboration with Salma Hayek, no time just to smell the flowers and love having a new Muppet movie in itself. That was a problem for me, as it relates directly to my current film phobia: Fast cutting. Fast cutting is a ubiquitous phenomenon at the moment, and loathsome in the extreme. Want to know why I didn't write about or love 'The Lego Movie'? Blasted fast cutting! Mutter mutter. At least the 'Lego Movie' didn't have a demonic cyborg Postman Pat movie trailer preceding it though. That was seriously disturbing. They have done something bad in Postman Pat land. Beware, little children, beware.

In any case, back to the Muppets, and the questions above. The first question is the most conflicting. This whole blog could end up reading as if the movie is bad or that I hated it. Neither of those is true; I just didn't love it, which is a crime for a Muppets movie. Again, pacing is a massive issue here. So many jokes, and good ones, didn't get to land as they went by so quickly. There were very few moments which were allowed to linger for their full effect. My whole being wants to love Muppet movies, but this one didn't stick around long enough to be loved.

The second question is easier, as it probably is a pretty good movie by modern standards. It's not as good as 'The Muppets' but then that had five years of preparatory work spent on it, whereas this did not. On the other hand, the pacing is a monumental problem personally so who am I to say? Who can be the fair arbiters of these things? My suspicion is that it's good movie for people who aren't me. It was even a good movie for me, just one that could have been great.

Finally, the third and most vital question. This is the most conflicting and confusing question of them all. At an instinctive level, this is a not a good Muppet movie. How that is true when it is packed full of so many authentic Muppet moments, homages, and even has Sam the Eagle's only significant role in a film is beyond me. Every Muppet appears that I can think of, every single one, and yet it's not quite a good Muppet movie. 'The Muppets' was, despite some tonal issues, but this somehow now. How was it now? I have no idea. None. The Muppet voices were worse than last time, but that's not enough to kill Muppetiness. Perhaps it was the explosions and frog martial arts? It could be that, as non-silly violence and Muppets do not mix. Animal and Sam both had big parts but still it didn't quite work. What was up with it?! This might be a personal problem again, but it was just a little bit off. Maybe it was Postman Pat putting off the whole thing again.

Blasted Postman Pat and his laser-powered cat. I shudder. Ignore the whole post; Postman Pat and a science fiction Tarzan ruined it all.


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Three Hundred

Three hundred Quirky Muffins will have been displayed for all the world to see with the advent of this post. Every one hundred posts it becomes time to stop and think about what the meaning of this silly project is. Or even if it really needs to have a meaning. Not everything needs a meaning or a purpose.

What began as a regular blog became a bizarre challenge. How could it be possible to keep on writing when in essence everything is rather boring? Could it be possible to lift whole posts and structure them around random word definitions? Would a mostly impersonal and non-biographical blog be maintained through occasional bouts of authorial apathy and mania? Would the occasional impingement of actual readers cancel some of the undoubtedly therapeutic effect of writing the Muffin?

Over time new challenges crept in, as books and movies and other media were dissected, but not for critical worth but rather for their enjoyability. (Critical worth is often one of the most tedious things to be found anywhere.) We should aspire to be more positive about things ("Say yes more!"), not negative, and that is the target that is occasionally hit with the full force of a meringue falling from ten thousand metres here. Stories crept in too, of dubious merit, but occasionally with what I would like to think of as originality and novelty value. 'Wordspace' must surely be one of a kind, if only in its original conceit!

So, three hundred posts in, where next? It's undoubtedly harder than it used to be, overloaded as the author is with Mathematical nonsense most of the time, which clogs up the wells of creativity just as creativity negates research. The Quirky Muffin will go on, picking up foibles along the way, and then casting them about for none to see. At the top of the page the Muffin retains its original mandate: "The mental meanderings of a maths researcher with far too little to do, and a penchant for baking." Apart from the baking that has always been true, although time for meandering has been short of late, and those meanderings are the lifeblood of remaining sane. Baking went away a long time ago, alas.

Boggle and blarney, the word `sane' reared its ugly head! There can be no sanity as long as Kirk lives! The Quirky Muffin is undoubtedly one more thing: Genre-based. From Star Trek to Doctor Who, from Superman to the Sensational She-Hulk, and from Roger Zelazny to Patrick O'Brian this is a place to be special. We don't wallow in conventional dramas or the random vicissitudes of domestic life. This is a place and a time that was forged in the final emergence of the 'Eternal Man resplendent in the aura of his full power', the feel of the cobbles under Sam Vimes' cheap boots, and the 'long banked fires visibly reigniting in Kirk's eyes'. The origins lie with Mother's Winnebago with its big waterbed and kitchen, Bond watching Dr No slip into the superheated water and Claude Rains cracking up as Jimmy Stewart's filibuster crumples into its traumatic and overwrought conclusion. New things (to me) and old all mixed together as William straps a lance to his arm to charge his nemesis and Atom the Sparring Robot steps up one last time, while Alex Rogan takes a trip to the stars. Everything comes from somewhere and it's not all nostalgic reverie.

The Quirky Muffin comes from me, Oliver Bain, Doctorate at Large. There are still a few things left to write about, so be ready, and expect the totally expected.


PS Points available for every reference.