Monday, 30 June 2014

Story: Oneiromancy, IX

(Part O , VIII , X)

In the shared dream, Helen and Stanley were caught up in something inexplicable to their sleep numbed minds. The shambling figure from the hut was a woman, a tweedy old-fashioned looking lady. Loose tendrils of coppery hair kept popping out in front of her ears, and being absently thrust back again.

"Prison. I've been here forever, trapped, lost and isolated from the rest of the dreamline. And it was my own fault, you see." The figure giggled a little, a little manically. "Now you're stuck here too, just because I will it."

Helen was quaking, waking, but remaining. Her mind moved up to full consciousness, paradoxically in this dream world. Her eyes goggled at the abstractions around her. "This can't be, we can't be awake in a dream world." She looked at Stanley, who was still mostly in a deep sleep state.

"Oh, it certainly is. This is barely the beginning. I've been awake in this dream land for ever and a day, long past the death of my body far, far away. There is no escape. I have imprisoned and deleted more visitors to this place than you can ever know, just for fun!"

"You're a warder or a monster."

"I am neither!"

"You've killed almost everyone else who can do what we do."

"Not so much killed, as 'deleted'!"

"Your will power is keeping us here..." Helen was thinking out loud by this point. Stanley was beginning to become agitated by her side as the reality penetrated further into his now-waking mind.

"Yes! Oh, is your boyfriend finally waking up? How lovely. He looks nice, if a bit plain."

"I'm afraid you're going to have to wait for next time before you find out how nice he is. And he's not my boyfriend."

"What are you --" The tweedy lady spun and hit the floor. Helen nursed her astral hand for a moment, and then she pushed Stanley back onto the raft and started pushing it off the beach and then kicking frantically to move it away from the shore and into the light.

Stanley looked bemused for a few more moments and then joined in with the kicking. Once they hit the broad sunlight away from the island, he managed to ask the inevitable question. "What on Earth is going on?! And what happened to your hand? And did you see the shells on the--"

Unfortunately that was when they woke up, and any more answers will have to wait until next time...

To be continued...

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The days after

It feels strange. There's no direction any more and things have to be reasoned out again from scratch. The next step is an amorphous construct in the dim unseen future and the past is a hundred miles away to the North. What next? Job applications, personal reassessment, reassuring of strangers and maddening correspondents, and much much writing of nonsense!

Being temporarily unemployed will have some effects. For one thing, the emphasis of this very blog will have to shift a little, and revert to an earlier state perhaps. There might be more posts drawn from random words of the day, or even baking! Gosh, the baking has been gone a long time! Also, there will be breaks over the summer due to holidays. No cover posts this time as I'm frankly exhausted of ideas and need replenishing. Even the stories have ground to a halt. Holidays are the thing this year, with breaks to Ireland and Spain somehow planned. Gosh, travel is so hard to organise!

One of the great ironies is that research is one of the few professions where you can still work even when without an employer of any kind. In fact you are required to, as publications are the lifeblood of your chances of getting another position. Hence not having a job is roughly equivalent to having a voluntary job with the added load of conscience for work that needs to be done for your own benefit. So, everything will change but everything will stay the same, in the grand and unsatisfactory way of things that must be done. It's all very quantum; please feel free to avert your eyes or consume a cookie.

Aimlessness and holidays, two opposite versions of the same thing, and both difficult to deal with. Aimlessness is very much like that hole that opens up when an enduring unrequited love finally gives up and fades or the grim realisation that something isn't going to be the easy escapade you were expecting. Holidays are the grand delusion that we can go somewhere or take time off and not spoil the experience with the pressure of making it all 'worthwhile', the irony being that in this instance we can't accept that something is going be easy and inflict ever increasing effort upon ourselves. Oh, holidays, where is it all going to lead to this time? Hopefully not riding pigs on the veldt again, at least.

On a fictional anecdote level, I'm reminded of the great Rodney Silverspoon MBE. Silverspoon was a great aficionado of swizzlesticks, and wanted to visit some of the ancient rum plantations to fully appreciate the history of this grand implement. Unfortunately, Silverspoon fell foul of one his great phobias and was mesmerised by a hula hoop outside of a newsagent on Fleet Street on the way to the opening train journey. So consumed was he with terror that he was eventually picked up, statue-like, and kept in a place for the bewildered. Upon recovery from stasis, the only words he muttered for a week were "The hoop, the hoop, it bears down upon us!" The poor man.

And now back to holiday planning. There must be a cheaper way to not fly to Spain, surely? Surely?!


Friday, 27 June 2014

Things to do, or not, on last days at work

The last day of work is here, and suddenly 'diminishing consequences' becomes 'no consequences'. Anything could be done, with only the tangential and cloudy options of possible returns in the future to think about! Potentials can be safely neglected! So, what are the things to do, and not do, for people on their last days at work?

One: Have you ever wondered what of the mysterious buttons and switches positioned all over your place of work do? Or what is behind the door marked 'Dubious Supplies and Personnel'? Well, now you can open the door, secure in the confidence that they'd sooner just have you leave a few hours early than file the paperwork! And if you have a pipe with a wheel attached? Well, it's 'Joe Versus The Volcano' time, no doubt.

Two: That person that you don't like, you know the one, is no longer quite as safe as they were. While violence and abuse is still utterly unacceptable, the potential for pranks has now expanded to the brink of madness. But beware, for you are now a prime target yourself. Watch out for tripwires, buckets full of whitewash, and explosive banana peels in addition to planning your own. You must get in first, and early, and then run for the hills! So, come prepared with some lobsters, a helper called Boris, and all the blu-tak you can find. It's going to be interesting!

Three: Paperwork is the bane of everyone's lives. Today is the day to shred everything you possibly can and then use it to makes bird bedding. Enough said. Or use it for ironic confetti at some point in the future. Is there an acceptable use of confetti apart from weddings?

Four: Starting a rooftop garden in your soon-to-be-former supervisor or department head's office by removing the walls and or ceiling is not advised. You need specialist existence for projects on this level.

Five: You must do no work. No other option or action is allowed in this instance. Write a redundant blog entry if you have to. Spend the whole day in the tea room. Read 'Doctor Who' rumours, or think about 'Star Trek' or the books you've been reading in the evening. Puzzles are a good option too. I've been stuck on a particularly tough kakuro for about a week now. It may never end. Send help.

Six: Finally, bring a cake and say goodbye to the people if you're a nice person. Or, if you're a hermit like myself, pop in on a couple of people and then nip out the back door quietly without anyone noticing. A full set of camouflage gear is required for the full clean escape, and a giant zeppelin for use as a decoy is not a bad idea in the more extreme cases. In fact, a zeppelin is recommended for use as a decoy even when not in the dying minutes of a contract. Or even just for travel around town...

Zeppelins, ahoy! A new career lies ahead in zeppelin driving! (Actually zeppelins are marking a bit of a comeback for freight. Look it up.)


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Book: 'The Prince and the Pauper' by Mark Twain (1881)

There's a big big Mark Twain shaped hole in my reading experiences. For some reason, despite trying to get into 'Huckleberry Finn' and 'Tom Sawyer' a couple of times, they never really gelled into unmissable experiences. Perhaps it was all a half-hearted attempt to begin with, or maybe the books smelled a bit pungent (my senses are generally heightened), or they weren't the books for me but it didn't work out. 'The Prince And The Pauper', many years later, worked out a little better despite several lengthy interruptions, and that puzzles me.

Mark Twain was not inventing something entirely new when he devised the plot of a pauper doppelganger accidentally swapping places with the young Edward VI of England. There had already been 'The Man In The Iron Mask' from Dumas about a duplicate pretender to the French throne, and later there would be 'The Prisoner Of Zenda' by Hope. (Don't ask me about them, I haven't read them yet.). There were probably many others too, just as 'Robinson Crusoe' acquired hordes of clones and ripoffs in the years following its release. 'The Prince And The Pauper' was, however, a first foray into historical tales for Twain, and not even the historical tales of his own country! Of course with the War Of Independence barely a hundred years into the past, and the Civil War in living memory, there wasn't that much recorded history to acceptably dig into and meddle with in the Americas. He certainly would have been lynched if he had suggested George Washington doubles being swapped in accidentally before he assumed the presidency, or taken away and mildly talked to by people with prototypical sunglasses.

Let's refer to the story as 'Prince' from now on, and examine it for the children's adventure and satire that it is. The two strands to the story are very interestingly handled, a clear preference being shown to the adventures of the Prince in pauper form being pursued and victimised across the country, as opposed to the pauper's experiences as a decreasingly reluctant new royal, already versed in courtly manners from his youthful readings. In retrospect this is the obvious storytelling decision to make, a ragged adventure in the world being more entertaining than a boy succumbing to the luxury of royalty. In fact, the succumbing or corruption of something is a deeply upsetting kind of story to me personally, I don't know why, and Tom the pauper's redemption at the end is quite the hurrah after his almost fading into the establishment. Anyway, I digress badly, and should get back on track.

As adventures go this is fairly mild, encounters with mad monks and roving gangs of criminals notwithstanding, the main goal being to explore the world as it was and to contrast the lot of the common men with that of the priviliged class. Even though the United States had it's affluence-linked class structure - and still does - the contemporary and historical British structure was an incredibly obvious target for satire merged with adventure. Parenthetically I've never had a clear idea of what satire actually is. Satirical cartoons seem to be complete garbage, satire on television seems to be sarcasm and pointing, and in this is commentary on a ridiculous situation. Are they all satire? Is 'The Prince And The Pauper' satire at all? Is it 'educational satire'? This will doubtless resurface as I march through 'A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court' and 'Personal Recollections Of Joan Of Arc', the other two historical romances in my handsome Library of America edition. <Plug plug, send me books!>

'Prince' is a fascinating and odd little made-up story, set in a fascinating and tiny period in British history. The youthful king discovers the truth about life with the commons and friendship, while the pauper almost loses himself to his new life before being shocked back by an unfortunate maternal encounter on the way to the coronation. However, I must admit that the side story of the prince's rescuer Miles Hendon is at times far more interesting! And with that, and a mild recommendation, it is time to close the book on this tangential and fragmented post on Twain until the Connecticut Yankee has done his work. That should feed into Poul Anderson's 'Three Hearts and Three Lions'. Intrigued?


Monday, 23 June 2014

In the hills and valleys

There's really only one way for an antisocial (and ambulatory) weirdo to relax, and that's to go out into the hills, into the high country, and walk for forever. Out there you can simply be yourself, explore the limits of who that is, and enjoy the sights. The deepest thoughts can come from the most ridiculous pursuits and it's not uncommon for a long hike to simplify all the problems in your life, even if the bug bites do cascade so swiftly.

These last few weeks in Aberystwyth, perhaps sadly the last ever, have really prompted a desire to explore the area as never before and so Saturdays have been spent in many a mostly random walk into the outback of Ceredigion, with only a map and a battered bucket of hope for companionship. The wild, wild trails and sedate bridleways have been lovely, replete with scenic splendour and the fear that only emerges when the paranoid part of the brain remembers the term 'grass snake'. Treks through tall fields can become so unnecessarily fraught at times! Apart from the snakes, it's lovely to pick a direction and walk.

The greatest aspect of a long ramble or hike in the country is the freedom of the solitude. You can literally do anything, except possibly in the highest of summer when other walkers could be around every corner! That freedom is the greatest missing liberty of modern life, a fascinating and thrilling glimpse of what must have been commonplace hundreds of years ago. Or would it have been? Could it be that in times gone by people were far more closely welded in identity to their jobs? Held in their place by fear of employer/family persecution or dissatisfaction just as many people are now? Or was it a commonplace never to even be mentioned, such a liberty literally being the only common recreational pursuit to be had?

Liberty in the purest sense is something very few people have experienced. In many ways the very concept contradicts the idea of the society, which demands that every individual plays its part and takes a share of the responsibility. Hence the people most at liberty are the ones most out of line with society, the most nonconformist and the most exasperated the conventions of regular life. We can taste liberty though, take a walk into the wild along the nearest road and discover what lies across yonder hill (rights of way permitting). For a few hours you can sing, and twirl and think the happiest and silliest thoughts of all. It's the opportunity we all have if we only choose to use it.

To the high country!


PS Tim Burton's 'Batman' is 25 years old today. Yes, we've had twenty five years of Alex Knox to date! Oh, whatever happened to Knox anyway? Was he killed by an explosive penguin or clubbed to death by a feminist photographer? We'll never know. Good movie, apart from all the bits with the Joker, and of course it's Michael Keaton for the win!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Story: 'Wordspace, XI'

(Part I , X , XII)

Mystery sat on Cloud and watched the ground roll across underneath as they flew toward home. He sat quietly, staring intently as his brain swirled in place, trying to reason around the implications of a foreign word seeking to throw devastation upon his world. It was a symmetry, almost identical to their journey to the top of the world. Club looked on just as he had on the way out, vigilant and concealing whatever nerves he might have had.

"Armageddon..." A word of undoubted power and one unheard of in the Wordspace for many many years. One of the great Destructives imprisoned in the Zone of Gibberish after almost eradicating all civilization as they knew it. And now, a fresh Armageddon from a whole other world could be loose in the world as they knew it. It was worse that he could ever have thought.

Club broke the silence, most uncharacteristically, again as he had during the outward journey. "It's something bad, isn't it, Boss?"

"Yes, much like the syllables of Air herself falling from the sky. A doom is upon us perhaps, and perhaps not. The Silly Stone was not at all consistent in his ideas."

"Personally, I think the term 'perfectly potty' is the best one, Boss, but I didn't talk to him. You did." Was Club being reproachful? Surely not.

"He made little sense." Mystery rose up, unfolding his letters to the upright position. "Apparently his place is to understand everyone who might visit. Did you see how he was only like us in part? Quite possibly he could only exist in that place without disintegrating completely."

"And the problem is something he told you? Out of all that nonsense?"

"Sorpresa, as we know, was not the only one to come through the Point. The Stone told me the name of this 'tourist' and that is the problem." Mystery paused, before giving in finally, "He said it translated roughly as 'War' or 'Armageddon' or even 'Apocalypse'."

Club was quiet a long time as they watched the Wordspace crawl by beneath them. Cloud rumbled from below, with one of his rare comments, the first since Club and Mystery had reappeared suddenly from the Point that hung between the different worlds. "We dealt with our own Armageddon, we can do so again."

"Yes, but what will we have to do this time?" Mystery wondered out loud. "What this time? And what if we're not in time?"

The main settlement area of the Wordspace came into view ahead of them, and destruction was apparent everywhere. They were too late.

To be continued...

Friday, 20 June 2014


The people are waiting to hear. News is expected. The decision has been made, but what was it? How will we know? Will it be white smoke puffing up in smoke signals from Penbryn? Will white flags erupt over the visualisation chamber or will we have to wait for the runners to get here from the Old College? When did we revert back to the eighteenth century, in any case?

Even now, people are slightly nervous, waiting for the utterly predictable news. It should be a foregone conclusion but who knows what might happen? 'What if?' lurks in the minds of many, to the right and back and a little from the baguette choices at the cafe and 'what is wrong with the tea this week?'. The recurring theft of football related printed materials from the tea room is forgotten - except by the committed few - and other distractions kick in.

What happened at the Council? Was there a last minute intervention by the Prime Minister? Did anything else disturb the rubber stamping? Good grief, were the legendary Flying Gerbils of Ceredigion sighted, forcing everyone into the Gerbil Shelters deep under the Council Chamber? Are the Shelters still effective after all these years? Anything could have happened! Where are the signals? How should we know? How should YOU know what I'm talking about?

The administration and organisation of universities is always a very perplexing thing. Executives, Senates and Councils all befuddled and confusing. Vice-Chancellors running things while Chancellors are honorary and do nothing. Institutes and Schools and Departments, nested within each other like elaborate structures made of ice. Periodic rearrangements and reorganisations, labels twisting in the wind like confetti, changing nothing but piles of paper none of us will ever see. It's madness.

And so we wait. And wait. Bottles wait to be popped and corks to fly, because if all things go as they should there will be a Mathematics department at Aberystwyth for the first time in many years, and that would be lovely. If we ever find out.


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Movie: 'Gunga Din' (1939)

Fascinating. Intriguing. Wonderfully physical. Daft as a brush. Politically incorrect. A pleasure. Three Musketeers. Not a Cary Grant movie.

Even if the movie weren't good, it would have you with the wonderful early battle seqeuence in the Indian town. As it is, 'Gunga Din' is excellent, and in all likelihood the pre-eminent adventure romp of all the films I've seen to date. That's right, it is an 'adventure', which of course is a genre they don't make anymore. (John Dickson Carr declared adventure stories to be impossible post-WWII, and he was mostly right).

So, 'Gunga Din', a legend amongst historical romps and one of the more unusual Cary Grant movies, and one which also features Douglas Fairbanks junior (never seen him in a film before) and Victor McLaglen (ditto) as well as Sam Jaffe as the eponymous water carrier (double ditto). If I haven't already mentioned political incorrectness, then now is the only time to do so, as we get to the casting of Indian characters by actors presumably in blackface makeup and the usual stereotypes in their characterisation. This wasn't unusual and is best noted as a historical artefact. Far worse things have happened in films historically than a bit of makeup after all, and at least in this case Gunga Din is ultimately the hero of the piece. Right, back down to business!

'Gunga Din' is a 'Three Musketeers' movie by any other name, set in colonial India against the backdrop of a Thuggee cult outbreak. Happily this sets the movie up as an effective prequel to 'Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom', a film I consider to be grossly underrated in comparison to the other Indy movies. In this case, our Musketeers are three sergeants (Grant, McLaglen, Fairbanks) in the British army who become embroiled in a Thuggee plot to lure in an army column to a trap and so start a new war. Before, when I said this was a Cary Grant movie, I was being slightly inaccurate; It's actually an ensemble piece and a classic boys own adventure. It's also one of the classic tales of camaraderie, and of heroes almost being sucked away from their vocation by love and marriage. (It's an unfortunate pattern of fiction that heroes have to stop being heroes and leading characters if they want to find love and marriage.)

I could go on and on, perhaps touching on the cheesiness of the Gunga Din closing portions, or the deliciously evil 'guru' leader of the Thuggees, but that's not really my intention not do those aspects represent the most loveable parts of the film. No, the most wonderful part of the film is the interplay between our three leads, bickering and squabbling, and their first massive fight sequence which occurs in the first half hour of the movie. This fight sequence is one of the most fun, beautifully orchestrated and hammy examples of a battle you will ever see on film. It's wonderful, and actually sets an impossibly high precedent for the rest of the movie which pales somewhat in comparison, especially as the three leads are divided against each other after this battle. There is a palpable hunger for another such sequence but it never arrives, substituted for by the siege of the Golden Temple of Kali, and the machinations of the guru. Oh, for more deliciously evil villains in films!

Overall, this is a wonderful adventure, and unparallelled in its physicality and streamlined storytelling. Also, Victor McLaglen is so loveably goofy that you can't help but love the film and his machinations to keep the three together as Fairbanks is almost stolen away by the tea company and Grant by his mania for treasure hunting. Aren't films wonderful sometimes, especially from back when there were still stories to be done? And isn't improvisation wonderful when it pops up in movies? And there we go, another dose of meaningless nonsense here at the Quirky Muffin! Informative? No, but I liked it.


Monday, 16 June 2014

Is it good or is it down to the girl?

Motivations are tricky things. As humans we are all subject to the occasional wobble, and if we think about why we do things too much... Well it can get a bit weird. And things can get ruined. Examples, you want examples? Mutter mutter. Fine, some cases in point Oh, the perils of thinking too much about things best left unthought of!

My first example is the first season of 'Lois and Clark', the only season that wasn't network meddled to destruction. It was a lovely, funny, and quirky season of television that deserves to be remembered on its merits and not just because Teri Hatcher was in it at the peak of her attractiveness. However, the two are coincidental and it becomes impossible to separate the two. It doesn't help that she plays the most independent and sparky Lois Lane on screen to date! The problem with being a modern man and hopefully self-aware, is that once you become aware of such clashes of motivations it becomes almost impossible to ever watch the show again. Is it spoilt forever? Is it even a good idea to talk about such things? Is any of this making sense? Is it good enough to not get redrafted ad infinitum?

The second example of two is the legendary 'Addams Family' show from the 1960s. It was a madcap, frenetic and witty comedy based on the more macabre Charles Addams comic strips and illustrations. Amidst the perfect casting and adaptation, and the frivolity of the most perfectly adjusted family on television to date being the kooky Addams clan, they truly hit the jackpot with John Astin and Carolyn Jones as the parents Gomez and Morticia. In fact they hit the jackpot so much with Morticia that the bell ended up in a different state! And so a legend was born, and the confusion arrives. Do I love the Addams Family because of all the other things or is it all down to Morticia shuffling around in 'that dress'? And what does it all mean in the greater and grander scheme of things?

Humans are the luckiest and the unluckiest of the animal species. Unlike all the other species we have developed intelligence and tools, but also the knowledge of our mortality and vices. Other species don't worry about why they do things, but only do them, comfortable in their own spaces and functions in the ecosystem. Only we the humans know to worry and fret about our reasons and the future, all of us from the smallest cog to the biggest wheels and success stories. It is possible and common to think about things a bit too much, and then grind to a halt as analysis paralysis crawls in. Yes, it's important to do things for the right reasons, and so we just have to trust ourselves to know if we ever go wrong. The first season of 'Lois and Clark' is good and we will be doing fan commentaries on Film Bin for it soon. 'The Addams Family' is wonderfully scripted and produced, and far more than Carolyn Jones in her shuffle dress. Similarly, 'Get Smart' is more than just Barbara Feldon as Agent 99, and 'The Avengers' more than Diana Rigg. We live and learn to not beat ourselves up so much.

However, this doesn't mean that any of you now have dispensation to go watch 'Baywatch' on an infinite loop. Be gone with any who would do so! There are limits on my tolerance! Banish the heathens! Go watch 'Knight Rider' and be glad I don't report you to the taste police!


Saturday, 14 June 2014

Book: 'The Eye Of Zoltar' by Jasper Fforde (2014)

Okay, here we go, and once again it's time to squeeze out a meaningful passage in a comparatively short period of time! Fortunately I've finally belatedly read the latest Jasper Fforde so there's an easy barrel to roll down the hill. What has my favourite living author been up to this time?

When last I wrote on things Ffordean, it was for the opening salvo of the 'Shades of Grey' series, which sadly sold a bit badly so the following books haven't quite materialised yet. That is a shame, as it was a pretty intriguing premise. Instead, he launched the 'Last Dragonslayer' or 'Jennifer Strange' series for younger adults, of which 'The Eye of Zoltar' is the third. Don't take that 'young adult' tag as a discouragement though as these books are teeming with as much imagination and wit as the other books, perhaps in spite of the slender limitations that exist, which are mostly gotten around with euphemisms in any case. Jasper is so funny.

This third novel, which is hugely chunky in comparison to the other two, is quite the mix of ideas. The arching plot of the evil and elaborate scheme of the mysterious Mighty Shandar continues in a very dark machination, while Jennifer is decoyed away with a small party to find the mysterious Eye Of Zoltar. Within the story's universe, Great Britain is the UnUnited Kingdoms, composed of myriad smaller countries which unite sporadically to engage in a Troll War or two. Despite the whole series being in some sense a joke, it is all intricately assembled and delivered, despite quite probably being mostly improvised on the run. That's one of the great things about Fforde books, that they move quickly in reading just as they probably did in writing. That's not including the horror of editing, of course!

The tome-like nature of 'The Eye Of Zoltar' was discouraging to begin, knowing as I did that the history of inflation in Pratchett and Rowling novels was rarely a good thing. However in this case it is surely a side effect of the original idea being so huge that it ended up being being split between this and an originally unplanned fourth part. Hopefully it will be just as intricate, and funny, and interesting as this one. Sadly, one character won't be returning though and you'll have to read it to find out which.

It is quite difficult to write about something without writing about something! Let's sum up what this story actually is. It's a search, which escalates into a quest, culminating in a Pyrrhic victory and ensuing massive defeat. It's also a twisted take on 'The Prince And The Pauper' combined with a lesson on what happens when you rubberise your accompanying dragon. More than that I can not tell, except that with one part still to go the story of 'Jennifer Strange' is still well worth catching up on.


Thursday, 12 June 2014


Sleep! Yes, sleep! It has returned, like a cascade of nothingness from atop the highest pillows of the grand temple to sleep that is the bedroom! Even now, hundreds of miles from that bedroom, there can be heard the little nothings of pitters and patters of sleep from so far away. Hopefully the local temple chosen for this occasion will serve the same purpose, that grand repose will resume without delay, lest the Quirky Muffin's slightly reduced schedule persist into perpetuity. Oh, that Quirky Muffin which promises such delights and then merely turns in the wind after being flung furiously from speeding motorcars!

And with all of that aside, with all the puny denials and excuses for missing a post ringing in my ears (and fingers), it is time to bring it all together once again and reach out to the minimal audience (last surveyed as a dog called Chip and a perturbed wombat) with something... coherent. Is coherence too much to ask for? Probably, but lets try anyway. And today's topic for coherence or incoherence is not going to be the horror of the upcoming World Cup for non-footballistas, nor angst over significant birthdays, or even the woes of going on a bit of a diet (be gone, KitKats, be gone or I shall surely eat you to my own discredit and further weightiness!).

Ah, weightiness, I have a plan for you. A hillwalking plan in Ireland, which is only being blocked by the hideousness of that indignity they call the 'single supplement'. This will not escalate into a rant, but I would like to point out that it would be far more fair for places to provide single rooms for people than extort supplements. If anything, travellers should be compensated for there not being a single room available. A curse on 'single supplements'! Why not just label them as 'victimization supplements' and be honest with it all? I swear that was not technically a rant.


There was a story once, and this was long before lecturers began to go missing in Llanbadarn campus and they had to close it down due to all the singularities, about the great biscuit shortages of 1973. It was a dark time for universities and that shortage caused the great Bourbon Mutiny of little known infamy. Thousands of lecturers, including the usually torpid tenure professors, raged furiously up and down corridors strewing paperwork left and right. Students reeled away after receiving nonsensical and derisive hoots to the simplest of questions, and secretaries huddled under their desks desperately waiting for the torment to cease. So great had the sugar imbalances become that even legends of calmness like Shuffling Sidney Wiffenstein would be driven to bizarre rages beyond all comprehension (Wiffenstein started stapling pages from The Guardian to the clothes of students sleeping in lectures and cackling). Several universities in the South East were occupied by military forces under martial law until order could be restored, and all for wont of a biscuit. The great biscuit shortage, after some investigation, was traced back to sabotage from overseas academics seeking unfair advantage against their British brethren and resulted in the Grand Cold Cupper period of the late 1970s. This period will be covered in greater detail or simply thrown in the dustbin of madeup history in coming posts.


If only this could all be traced back to the head blows.


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Testing. Testing. Does it still work?

Two head blows in a week, a probable throat infection, and now a regular cold... Is this a blatant argument for never going on a trip again? Have there been any long term consequences? Do the words still stumble out in incoherent fashion from the fingers of fickle folly? It seems okay right now, although the headache is still quite concerning. Hello, headache, you old friend you. You'll not stop the emending if it happens, no!

Can disrupted sleep and headaches stop the incredible flow of the Quirky Muffin? Yes, in this case, as the flow is barely a dribble. Oh, what woe is this? What horrific sham of the natural state of affairs? The spring of narrative vitality has become drowned under a lake of mud as yet uncleaned by Orpheus. Oh, Orpheus, you and your silly ditties! I shall persevere though, mainly by using the random word approach to get something useful to write about.

Golly, I hate being sick, even just a little sick! Being sick can cause a very common extreme version of cognitive dissonance, that grand disagreement between our ambitions and actual performances that causes most forms of mental distress. Ever felt really disoriented or upset when you've done something that you really felt was wrong? Well, it might have been cognitive dissonance. Actually I suspect it is more apparent across patterns of behaviour rather than single actions but I'm not a psychological expert. What on Earth did they do in the old days when it was commonplace for people to do things against their own inclinations or even health?

Is it also cognitive dissonance if you watch a foreign language movie dubbed into English? I've never understood dubs as the lack of agreement between movement and sound is so distressing as to be painful. How could anyone choose a dub over a subtitle track? It remains a mystery. There are even worse things than a dub though, as experienced on a length coach trip to Poland a few years ago. Some countries favour the translated narration device instead of a dub, which is a truly hideous thing, destroying as it does any value for people who can speak the film's native language. Also, the movie was 'Troy', already making the whole endeavour extremely hazardous to the health. (The dub I watched was 'Mothra vs Godzilla' which was terribly terribly weird even without the dub.)

Alas, there can not be much more on this occasion, as the energy has been spent and exhaustion has set in again. It's time to revert to a classic episode of 60s Star Trek and then collapse into a heap.


Sunday, 8 June 2014

Movie: 'The Great Race' (1965)

If I haven't talked about Blake Edwards, Tony Curtis's career as a starlet, feminism and Wacky Races by the end of this post then something will have gone wrong. Please send a cake with a file in it, and some throat medicine as I am of course sick on this, my birthday.

We begin with the movie itself, which is a profoundly ambitious and apparently lesser known epic comedy about a great race between the incredibly handsome Great Leslie, played by Tony Curtis, and the dastardly and crooked Professor Fate as portrayed by Jack Lemmon, with arch-feminist press woman Maggie Dubois (Natalie Wood) careening between the two in a bid to get the best story and secure her job against the background of the suffragette era. It is very much a cartoon-style movie years before they came into fashion and Professor Fate and his sidekick Max must surely be a direct inspiration for Dastardly and Muttley in Wacky Races. The whole movie is an incredible and inescapable precursor to that cartoon. The only major difference between Dastardly and Fate is that Fate got distracted from the race by someone else's scheme which Dick Dastardly would never do. Apart from that one aberration all the self-destructive trickery and madness is fully in evidence, including a maniacal laugh.

'The Great Race' was directed by Blake Edwards, who I adore not for any of the things you might guess, but for his work on the radio show 'Richard Diamond Private Detective' in the 1950s (freely available at the Internet Archive). His tenure on that show just smacks of comedic writing and directing skills beyond those of lesser mortals. He is the man who allows all the physical and slapstick comedy (I abhor the term 'slapstick') to function over an epic two and a half hours in this film and coordinates the impressive food fight and Western saloon brawl sequences to the point of being pitch perfect. He is the invisible fourth lead character (fifth or six if you count Peter Falk's Max and/or Keenan Wynne's Hezekiah). Edwards had experience with Lemmon in 'Days Of Wine And Roses' and Curtis in 'Operation Petticoat', which surely motivated the bravura casting of the 'Some Like It Hot' stars as living cartoons. I still haven't mentioned Maggie Dubois, which is troubling, but then she's a tough character.

While Lemmon hams it up to the ceiling, Tony Curtis plays Tony Curtis as the Great Leslie. This is really what he did most of the time back then, and it is only clear in hindsight that Tony Curtis had the career of a male starlet: He turned up looking handsome, and then mostly vanished before turning grey, only to turn up in a few tv shows and 'The Boston Strangler' in later years. He was very good at what he did, but what he did was to be Tony Curtis, which is a much narrower range than what Jack Lemmon or a much more similar star such as Cary Grant could do. It's really rather interesting but outside the scope of this post. Jack Lemmon plays to two extremely different caricature roles in this movie, leading into the one great problem of the film: The long and slow 'Prisoner of Zenda' spoof that dominates the last thirty minutes. There's nothing essentially wrong with this segment except that is differently paced and missing most of the great wacky aspects of the rest of the film. Lemmon and Falk are separated, for one thing, as are Wood and Curtis. Also, Lemmon's second role as Prince Friedrich is so large as to be annoying, and it has been so over my whole life. Intellectually I know it to be the way it is so as to differentiate his performances as Friedrich and Professor Fate but it is still hard. However, despite all the problems of the Zenda sequence, it does have an amazing sword fight and the greatest pie fight in movie history. I'm not joking, it really does have the greatest pie fight in cinema history, rendering Natalie Wood's scantiness totally irrelevant!

Oh, Natalie Wood, after a lot of thought I must concede you did a good job in this movie. The role of a strident and somewhat manipulative suffragette is an almost impossible one to portray while still remaining likeable. Consistently argumentative people are never likeable in films, which is a problem as female assertiveness in any kind of historical period movie requires that self-same quality. Wood manages to pull it off, only being genuinely and woefully annoying on perhaps two occasions. The cause is true, but difficult to do well, and difficult to do in especially in a comedic mode. Fortunately they have a whole subplot at the newspaper office to tackle it properly and funnily, which leaves Wood to be... Fascinating. I have an ongoing internal dialogue (or monologue if you prefer) on whether women can be funny in the same way as men, or should even try to be. In this Wood becomes funny by rising above it all, and doing so with some bizarre kind of sparky class that is very difficult to categorize. So, she does well, especially for someone who ends up with that many cream pies in the face.

In many ways this is a landmark movie that seems to have been forgotten, with magnificent music from Henry Mancini (who worked with Edwards a lot) and some spectacular production values and direction. The cars on the steadily shrinking ice floe sequence alone are wonderful, and when compounded with the brilliant designs are delightful. This is a highly recommended movie for those who can handle very long films without collapsing into the floor in an attention deficit slump, and can take an anomalous sequence and keep going into the sun. And, to be clear, it is funny.


Friday, 6 June 2014

Story: The Glove, VII [REPLACEMENT] [Obsoleted]

(Part I , VI , VIII )

The twin cities of Edin and Burgh were superficially similar, Steffan realised, after he disembarked from the air ship and looked out at the view from the airport. It was magnificent, and shiny in the sun, despite all the traditional stone buildings. After the walk into the ctty proper, he realised that the differences were more in the work than the people. Where there would be musical academies and studios in Burgh you would find scientific institutes and laboratories in Edin. It was overwhelming and liberating, and scary and bewildering. Somewhere there would be music and art too, the essentials of thoughtful life.

In the city, he examined a holo-map of his immediate surroundings and worked out a route to a nondescript hostel his father had recommended. Then, mindful of his pennies, he walked to the hostel and dropped his bags. Then, emerging back into the grand and dank outdoors, Steffan considered what to do. His plans had been vague and unmotivated, driven by a need to know whether Octavius had told him the truth, his perception of the truth, or something quite quite different. And to do that, a journey to Edin had been essential, but what now? Where would the truth be?

Dissent and unrest were said to be propagating here in the grand scientific capital of the moon but to all outward appearances it seemed to be at peace and prosperous. Steffan set off to find food and become enmeshed in the life of the city for a few hours. There was no better way to settle into a city than to explore it by foot and this he did. He spent two days ostensibly wandering, looking for work, but really exploring it and chatting to people in the taverns and canteens. As those days went by, the absence of all the members of his profession became obvious. The pipers did not dare enter Edin. Why? And where was the unrest? Certainly not on the news or on the streets. Why would Octavius have tried to send him here for no reason?

The third day dawned prettily, and Steffan decided to go out into the country. The wonders of the city had held no interest for him, and the mystery of Octavius's quest had paled. The monorail deposited him in a town called Canterbury, named for a great holy place on Old Earth, and he rambled around, feeling more and more comfortable. Inside a cafe, a cup of tea had almost made it to his lips when a troop of armed men ran by outside the window. Steffan rushed outside, and barely noticed when the cafe owner locked and shuttered the door and window behind him. The troops were running down the street, toward the church.

The church was silent and deserted, as almost all churches were at that point in history. It seemed nonsensical until the first shot, the shot that changed it all. The shot that was witnessed by him, the troops, and by a piper.

To be continued...

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Out of practice

Blast, I'm out of practice. Rusty. Sometimes you can just sit at the keyboard and tap away easily and other times it becomes so forced as to become an almost meaningless exercise. There I was for several hours today, wondering what to write about and forgetting the maxim: 'Just write'. So let's go old school and write for a bit, about whatever pops into mind. That philosophy is the whole shaky basis for the whole Quirky Muffin, after all, apart from a long dormant baking odyssey and occasional mathematical natterings.

The twelve plus hours of travelling to get back to Nottingham were quite fun, especially as it was by coach. For reasons diverse I am quite converted to coach travel from my previously preferred train journeys. I wonder if there's an obscure overriding reason that will never be uncovered or if it's just that the luggage is safely stowed away and that you can see the driver is paying attention and not playing games on his smartphone. In any case I managed to skip through books two to four of The Belgariad and remembered why I loved it to begin with back in the halcyon days of the 90s. The Belgariad is an awesome little series, and surprisingly progressive in places. You could even recommend if for girls?

<stream interrupted>

Recovering a stream of consciousness is like paddling upstream towards a waterfall. It's not impossible but you have to try very very hard. Travelling to Nottingham reminded of course that it's almost holiday time. Wherever to go, whyever to go? And how to squeeze a boat trip into it? In an aside, the original 1954 'Godzilla' was pretty good but quite the downer, so approach with caution if you require a certain amount of leavening in your dramas or if you have a boat journey in the future. Never forget the importance of factoring in giant post-atomic monsters into your travel plans!

Apart from 'The Belgariad' there is also a reread of the ever incongruous Peter David 'Supergirl' comic book series in progress, the comics that together with the Giffen and DeMatteis 'Justice League' really defined what the medium was to me. There's really nothing like those series anymore, or the 'Sensational She-Hulk' that I retroactively added to the list. 'Supergirl' was fascinating, running for eighty issues, and transitioning from an 'Earth Angel' protagonist in the first fifty issues to a road trip quest in the next twenty four and then to a retro time travel and dimensional flip in the final six. The road trip was where I entered and is what is being reread, and remains an awesome little run. There might be more on this some other time...

Oh, comic books, why do we all have to outgrow you? And 'Star Trek' novels too? How unfair, and frustrating in the grander scheme of things. It's quite the problem in many media now as I have simultaneously gotten a teensy bit older while television and cinema has sunk its audience target almost to kindergarten level when it comes to genre stories. How annoying. Fortunately there's a wealth of archive television and cinema to loot, but it would be nice to have a modern author in addition to Jasper Fforde. Jasper is lovely but he can only write so much. Brandon Sanderson is occasionally good (see 'Mistborn') but also so very grim. And I've run out of bookmarks.

Where have all the leather bookmarks gone? There used to be some at every landmark and tourist attraction in the country and now none anywhere. Is it a conspiracy? Please world, I need more bookmarks!


Monday, 2 June 2014

In the park

(Posted a day late)

Parks are wonderful, and country parks even better. If there is one thing that we surely have more of than anywhere else in the world then it must be the gentile parks, estates and green space of all descriptions. It is the greatest legacy of all those generations of noble and aristocratic families that we now get to enjoy those wonderful spaces all over the country (for a fee of course), with the multitudes of nature trails and paths that make them little holidays of exploration on every visit. Do you think those generations of landowners would approve? I certainly do, having spent so much time at Gelli Aur, Pembrey and even University Park at Nottingham. (Also, Longleat.)

Was that serious enough? Is it time to move on? Are the purists happy? Good. This post is being written in Newstead Abbey, historical home of the legendarily wild Lord Byron. I must at this point categorically state that there are no giant Lord Byron robots stalking the grounds and occasionally doing duck walks. That is absolutely not happening, and any such news reports are certainly wrong. As part of 'responsible person' training, imposed by the municipal authorities after being caught dancing round streetlights in the rain, I am in Nottingham visiting my leafdaughter (atheistic goddaughter) for a couple of days and once again being reminded of the various Nottingham-related things left behind long ago. It's fortunate that Aberystwyth is much prettier as a town than the city here is!

So, Newstead Abbey, a typical country park and estate. What are the best things to do in these places? In general there are gardens and nature trails and occasionally deer or birds of various unusual kinds. Again, there are not usually Lord Byron robots bearing down on you with laser light building up in their glowing giant buttenhole flowers. That's just a nonsense. Also, the tufted ducks were not genetically manipulated by aliens to confuse us all into submission. In country parks the best thing to do is to stumble around and follow the various coloured trails until there is nothing left to see and your legs are so tired that you have to collapse on the grass and watch the clouds drift over without end until everything feels better. After that you can then go to the cafe and not buy any thing due to it all being cake and look fruitlessly for bookmarks in the shop before preferably going home. I wish places still sold bookmarks. It's sad they're gone. You used to be able to get a leather bookmark from everywhere! Oh, pointless nostalgia, I slay you now.

Of course all country parks and rural retreats are harder to access for non-driving individuals. In opposition to all things written here I horribly haven't visited a country park or been able to for many years. Perhaps the proximity of so many to Nottingham is one of the few things that Nottingham and its area can truly hold over Aberystwyth. That and having a Wilkingson.


PS At some point it would be nice if someone wrote a series of novels about a space travelling Lord Byron, the scourge of the cosmos, and his misadventures and scandals travelling the spaceways in search of inspiration.