Monday, 29 September 2014

Board game digest

Digging into the back catalogue of posts never finished, I find this entitled simply 'Board Game Digest'. No, it's not an essay on the art of eating 'Fluxx' cards successfully, but apparently an attempt to talk about the recent board games that have hopped off the shelves into the collection and then right out back onto an Internet shelf again for sale.

It has been a rough year for buying board games. I don't seem to quite have the knack for it yet. There are stone cold classics like 'Carcassonne', 'Ticket to Ride', 'Citadels', 'Fluxx' and 'The aMazeing Labyrinth' that made it into the game chest at the beginning and will never leave, but since then? A mixed bag. Board games come in all types and difficulties, from silly party games to mid-weight fun for all the family to heavy duty strategy or social marathons. I try to aim for the middle, but somehow always miss. Never buy from what's available in the shop, it's a rookie mistake!

(I write this while playing 'Dual Transform' by the great Andrew Plotkin. It's exceedingly unusual, and not a physical game but a text adventure. Check it out. You'll need a Frotz interpreter to play it but fortunately everything's free! Or you can play it online. It's all on the link.)

So, in the spirit of reporting on the various games we try out here at the Quirky Muffin, a quick digest of the purchases over the last year or so.

Concordia: A Roman-themed strategy game which somehow manages to remain unplayed. It's supposed to be very good. We might never find out. I think the woman on the lid is peering into my soul.

Forbidden Desert: A great little cooperative tile laying game, in which everyone teams up to build the flying machine and escape the titular desert before... You know.

King of Tokyo: A knockabout monster-versus-monster battle for the city of Tokyo. The add-on features a giant panda in a bamboo hat. Lots of simple-minded fun and dice-rolling.

Mystery of the Abbey: A much more complex mystery and deduction game than Cluedo or Mysteries of Old Peking. Good interaction or non-interaction if you choose. You get to ring a little bell. Ting-a-ling.

Power Grid: A seemingly dry as desert dust strategy game in which you buy resources and do administration for your power plant network. Be dazzled by garbage powered electricity. Good if you're in an odd frame of mind!

Robinson Crusoe: A pretty good cooperative game, that is hampered by the epic setup and preparation time before you can play. It takes forever. It's thematic but a little dry. Not played enough to judge properly.

Sentinels of the Multiverse: A fairly boring cooperative superhero card playing game, very mechanical, and deeply linear. Sold it on.

Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective: A mammoth and legendary mystery game, cooperative, in which you all sift through the clues, papers and story book and try to solve the ten or so cases therein. Extremely atypical.

Suburbia: Best described as Sim City on a table, with lots of hexes. A lovely game. Plot to make the most money and win in the end or try to make a lovely ecological suburb all of your own.

Tales of the Arabian Nights: A story telling game (or almost a non-game if you listen to some people). Wander around the world on the board, collect story and destiny points, try to avoid being cursed or turning into an ape. Read lots and lots. Awesome.

Tokaido: An extremely simple and linear game about a journey along the great road itself. Not competitive, or thoughtful, a little routine but nice nonetheless.

In retrospect, now having thought about it, that's not a bad record. There's a board game for everyone out there if you really want to find one. I have to recommend 'Sherlock Holmes' highly if you happen to have someone with whom to play it. Sadly, that's my deficiency. One day, consulting detective, one day!


PS 'Dual Transorm' is actually very cute. Check it out, seriously.

PPS Looking for a copy of 'Snow Tails', due to 'Due South' and a penchant for dog sleds. Yee haa!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Food and Lies (A small retread)

Lying on the floor yesterday, in a mild doze, I was struck by a thought. It was about oranges. This isn't unusual. There are far worse things to think about! The thought was approximately thus: If every carton of orange juice is made from between 30 and 50 oranges, then if we stopped drinking orange juice there would be thousands if not millions of oranges available for everyone to eat in the world every year. This seems very strange. Oranges are being used unwisely.

The oranges are only the tip of the iceberg, or the smallest bay in the orange juice ocean. Imagine all the beef that gets converted into burgers, via the most profoundly horrible methodology that you absolutely should not look up, just being frozen as steaks or sold as trimmings for sandwiches or roast dinners. Then do the same for all the turkey and chicken, and the masses of pork that gets converted into barely edible sausages and frozen things. It's a mind boggling amount of food, and all of it effectively a waste and misleading as we end up eating more of what they do make very unwisely.

It is a naive point of view, I know, but maybe it should be said that the food industry is a ridiculous packing plant of lies, perverting the original intent of fridges and freezers for more than a century now. Those invaluable devices were meant for us to manage our own food preparation and storage better and reduce waste. Instead, for the most part and non-literally, we can't fit the second half of today's cottage pie in as it's already filled to the brim with burgers or turkey cheese fried things (name withheld for lack of publicity) or piles and piles of potato waffles, and several things with way too much sugar. It's all down to lies and gullibility and convenience.

In Dorothy L Sayers' 'Murder Must Advertise', Lord Peter Wimsey goes undercover at an advertising firm to investigate a death, which is really all just a cover for Sayers to vent her frustration with that industry she used to work in, and vent she does. The lies and manipulations are astounding, and not just in food. Gullible people are led to believe in the most ridiculous needs for things, and because they're gullible or just plain stupid - I can not deny the existence of stupid people, only hope I am not one of them while thinking the reverse - they enter into this bizarre chain of beliefs that cycles endlessly and which is completely ridiculous in actuality, and which has no opposition! No-one argues the opposite of convenience because they know it won't go well, but they really should.

"Drink orange juice, it's packed with vitamin C!"
"No, eat an orange, it's got all you need for a day."

"You must have this new iphone 6, it can do even more of the things you do already!"
"Go sit under a tree and talk to your friends. It's calm and relaxing."

"Our burgers are now 100% beef!"
"Wait, then what were you selling me before? What?! Infamy! I no longer trust you, creeps."

"Hello, we're selling these fine leather jackets."
"Actually, fine, no problem. Come in!"

'New and improved' is a particular favourite of mine, it being in many cases a tacit confession of guilt that were selling something worse before, and hoping no-one will notice that now. I might be the only to get the joke though. Also, whenever you see a picture of the Milky Way, it's actually not our galaxy but Andromeda. We can't get a picture of the Milky Way as we're inside it, but I digress!

There's no real answer of course, except to educate people in the idea that sometimes businesses lie to us to sell us things, and that they do it systematically and with great experience. Yes, at first thought the purchase of a quadlangular may have seemed like a good idea, but you will need to get the patent fuel pellets and replace the laser crystals every eighteen months, and then be tempted with the mark two quadlangular (the 'Duo'!), which will vibrate twice as quickly, but fall apart 20% more quickly on average. Sigh, it's all lies. Cynicism, thou art on holiday far too often when it comes to buying things!

In retrospect, I suppose my anger was mainly at the traps of life in this strange materialistic world, as I sit hypocritically buried under DVDs and novels, and brood over the loss of my boomerang in the cricket nets at the park this afternoon. What a world!


PS I do have quadlangulars for sale at a bargain price now! Just bear in mind you will need a medical permission and references from your local notary before sale is completed. Also, some garlic, to combat the 'verdant aroma'.

PPS While everyone was digging into the systematic exposure of tobacco companies in the last century, it's a shame they didn't kick over the confectionary and fast food firms at the same time. It might have saved the health services billions!

Friday, 26 September 2014

Story: Wordspace, XIX

(Part I , XVIII , XX)

War looked gravely up at the roof of the Zone, and contemplated the truths of what he had just been told. Behind him, at the tea table, the other Destructives waited to see how their long unrequired leader would react.

"When we were exiled here, trapped by those placid predictable preservers of the status quo, we settled down and we didn't hate. We tried to escape - surely who wouldn't? - but the Zone was impregnable in its very lack of meaning. We settled, and now when we're needed, should we venture back out into the world?" War looked at the party behind him. "We left it all behind us. And...  What became of Change?" The last question was pointed directly at Club, who jumped at the sudden shift. "Why isn't he here? What happened to him?"

"I, uh, he hasn't been seen in time memorial. Not since the exile." Club was fazed and then recovered, as Mystery took up the response. "He is supposed to be in here with you."

"He has never been in here with us. Never."

"The reports say - "

"The reports are wrong. He's out there somewhere, but that's for another day. If you don't mind waiting around the side of this structure, we will take a democratic vote. Gentle words of the Zone, we must decide!"

Lies led Mystery and Club around the hut, and then examined them critically. "I suppose there's not been much debate out there in the Wordspace without us. Your skills are definitely shoddy."

"It seems as if many of the things we take for granted on the outside are dubious, or perhaps everything we're being told here is a pack of lies." Mystery directed the pointed look he had just learnt from War directly at his old mentor. "I'm not that shoddy."

"Perhaps, perhaps." Lies merely smiled. "It is odd that Change never made it in here. We used to play such games, with fantastical variable rules, and such incomprehensible outcomes! But he wasn't here when I came. In my forgetfulness I forgot to mention it."

"He could be anywhere. Or even more than anywhere, considering where we've been. However, he's not dead, as there has been no new Change to replace him, or so we're told." Mystery's syllables tightened. "All this doubt changes everything!"

"Don't worry, Boss, none of it bothers me. Just tell me what to do, and I'll do it." Club was resolute and reliable, always and forever. Lies smiled.

A polite roar erupted from around the hut. The diminutive Shock scurried around, and motioned them to return. The full cohort of Destructives stood waiting for them, and determination seeped into the foundations beneath them, into the dome above them, and into the air around them.

The tea party was over.

More shall follow...

Wednesday, 24 September 2014


In the wake of an epic and apparently endless Film Bin recording of a fan commentary for 'V For Vendetta', everything is seeming just a little fuzzy but it's best to press on anyway, springing the textual traps of a Quirky Muffin upon both myself and today's reader. The rota says that that is 'Gene from Topeka' today. Hi, Gene!

Have I written about correspondences before? They form the backbone of a fashionably obsolete mode of communication, one that involves more than posting pictures of cats and tweeting about television shows, and one that can be very challenging indeed. The nature of the writing of 'proper' letters and e-mails entails that you actually do engage in a dialogue and establish the corresponding points of shared interest as well as the points of mutual discord. You actually have to absorb what the other person is saying, lest they give up on your endless self-serving monologue. You learn so much and share so much that it can become a reassurance even in the grimmer parts of life that there's someone out there, a pen friend, a correspondent. Someone who corresponds to some parts of what you are.

Correspondences have been a vital part of my life for a while now, mainly after completing the dreaded doctorate, and now they're compulsory for keeping touch with people long gone back to their own countries and lives. I'm terrible at it, and neglect many people, which is shaming. This very blog is very much a correspondence, and not just with you Gene, but with the fictional me that lives on top of the monitor, smiling and throwing peanuts at any puns that emerge. Gosh, it has been ages since a good pun!

Hang on, were puns ever a thing here? Did I make that up on the spot? Oops. It must have been the Clomp stealing the keyboard. The Clomp, evidence manifest of a youth spent wisely on silly story telling and imaginative lunacy. If only the Clomp were real and could go and menace people in the Job Centre who insist on little books being filled in and futile visits to their job search website. He/It/Whatever would probably laugh and zap off to a more entertaining time at the International Lint Exposition of 2094, as set in scenic Milwaukee. The Clomp is strange.

With that, and with much tiredness, the keyboard is hung up for another day and the world surrendered once again to the sunny glades of Morpheus. Much like many others out there in the world, but not Gene; He's currently on a week-long detox program that encourages pumpkins as a viable and stable food source. He won't be sleeping any time soon. There are few correspondences between anyone and Gene.


Remember: Be careful out there!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Story: Wordspace, XVIII

(Part I , XVII , XIX)

Mystery had not expected this. Club had not expected this. Only Lies had been expecting this, and it had kept the information slyly to itself. Before them stood the great legendary Destructives of the Wordspace, the villains who had been locked up here in the Zone of Meaningless Jargon for cycles uncounted, and they had been having a garden tea party?

Mystery was absently shaking War's hand, or whatever passed for a hand in a sentient word, as the giant made some genial introductions to his fellow prisoners. "It has been so long since we had new arrivals... Bad luck on your being here, old bean... This is Chaos, he's wonderful at murals, electrifying... Come over here, Shock, and show the enigmatic one your surprise tea cakes..."

Every Destructive seemed far less terrible than they were supposed to be! Every single one! Looking at its old mentor Lies, Mystery realised that if they were not slaves to their own meanings, why should the Destructives be? War had finally stopped speaking, in that domineering way it did. Mystery raised its voice slightly, and asked in a tone of curiosity, "You are not at all what I was expecting. Any of you." He realised his own rudeness. "I mean, you were all put in here for your shear uncontrollable tendencies, and thirst for power, not because you liked to drink tea or paint murals."

War smiled and elaborated: "I believe you might say that the reports of our crimes were rather exaggerated." It motioned around him. "All of us that you see here don't only tend toward destruction but also toward change. In fact it has always surprised me that Change himself isn't here with us. He must have been canny indeed to escape the purge, what?" A question crossed its mind. "Your predecessor took no sides in anything, and surely you would do the same." War towered suddenly as he stood at his full height. "Why are you here, Mystery?"

Club and Mystery stood flanking each other and then Lies lined alongside them. That lonely exile addressed the Destructives at their tea party with great firmness, deliberation and with no attention paid to Cacophany's hideous tea cosie. "Great fellow exiles, in the Wordspace we all call home, there is chaos outside and invasion in the air. A powerful nightmare has crossed over from outside - yes, there is outside - and proceeds to destroy all in his path. We stand here now to ask advice, assistance, and reinforcement. If you are so willing."

A recursive word that could only be the legendary Fractal muttered somewhat bitterly, "They must be desperate indeed."

"Aye, after what they did to us to conceal their own plans." Mused stately Disaster, tapping a cup with its digit. "Tell us more and then we shall talk alone."

Mystery told the story again, as he already had so many times. The now serious words all around him suddenly seemed far more imposing, and the box he had been sent here to open far more real. The words waiting outside the Zone, however, began to appear far more sinister in his memory, and the question that bothered him most was what might happen in the aftermath of possible success.

To be continued...

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Sting

A random jumbled up pile of words, masquerading as a blog post, that's what you will get today. No complaints now, as I know where the gold bullion is buried and which portions are really made of chocolate. Oh, the joys of chocolate gold bullion. There should be a novel about such a heist, with a milk float involved somewhere. Yes, a milk float!

In this random assemblage of nonsense, cunningly designed to distract from the sting of my latest job rejection, we begin with a sudden transition into the other activities at hand. For example: Blackberry picking. It's that time of year again when people trundle the trails and fields, picking fruit for free that would otherwise be paid for handsomely at the shops. Berry and fruit season is here, as is thorn rip and sting time. Yes, break out the plasters, it's pickin' month! Over two days, we managed to pick up three pounds of blackberries, left unaccountably on the bushes by the normally diligent local scavengers. Where could they all be, those people who normally trump me by days. Days! Has scavenging interest decayed generationally? If so, how sad...

Scavenging also features heavily in 'The Documents In The Case', an epistolic detective novel from Dorothy L Sayers, the only one not to feature Lord Peter Wimsey. It's a curious book, especially now various forewards have stated that Sayers really hated writing detective fiction / Wimsey stories after a while. It's a story formed from statements, letters, court and newspaper reports, and even some diabolically awful love letters. Oh, good grief, those love letters! Was it an attempt to break out of the genre box she had trapped herself in? I have no idea, but it's interesting. The ending doesn't surprise, but as an artistic challenge it's well done, and it features much talk about wild mushrooms and toadstools. It seems that back in the day there were far more mushrooms to be found. What happened?

Finding jobs to apply for is difficult right now. It's reassuring to have made it into two job interviews but no more are likely to appear soon. They were little stressed moments of success in a lifetime of tedium. Ho hum. At least there's lots of time to experiment with little projects and watch 'Star Trek' and catch up with 'The Mentalist' and its successor 'Gotham'. Yes, 'Gotham', you will get a chance. Also 'Zorba the Greek' has been lurking on the book pile for ever and must be broken in, while 'The Napoleon of the Notting Hill' is due for a re-read. GK Chesterton wrote a little masterpiece in that novel, and no-one seems to know about it. It's bizarre! So many books to come, and it will be a pleasure amidst the poverty. Oh, why not try 'Manalive' too?


Thursday, 18 September 2014

Story: Oneiromancy, XII

(Part O , XI , XIII)

The problem with having lucid and antagonistic dreams, was that was really no escape, or so Stanley thought as his car trundled toward the town centre. It would get them in the end, whatever it was, whether it was as a somewhat tweedy woman or a giant fluffy dice crushing them as they tried to escape its devastating course around the Temple of the Blatant Mango. All the hope was bleeding out of him in a most disgraceful fashion.

Beside Stanley, his new acquaintance Helen (not of Troy, nor of Tadcaster sadly) was thinking about hypnosis. She had a feeling that this would be a trip of great significance, at least if they managed to live out the following night unscathed. The sun was setting directly in their eyes, most aggravatingly. Tugging the shade down she looked to the left, out of the passenger window, at the passing landscape of Wigglesworth.

Hang on, though, there was something wrong with all of this, but what was it? What was wrong with Wigglesworth? Wigglesworth? With a rush, it all came crashing in on her! "Stanley! Simonson! There's no such place as Wigglesworth!"

The car veered all over the road, drunkenly. "What on Earth do you mean, there's no place called Wigglesworth?!" No, it was the car that was veering, but the road itself.

"We're asleep!" The tweedy woman was standing in the middle of the street as they raced down it, smiling coolly. "Dodge that fruitcake!"

"Urgh." The car missed the evil nemesis by a small margin, and they continued down the street. "We might have been better off mowing that monster down. When on Earth did we fall asleep?!" Stanley was confused as never before, except possibly as he had been at the last staff meeting, but that had involved a goat, the field hockey team, a bizarre reference to the Monkees, and the headmaster's parrot. Everyone had been confused that time. Except the headmaster. Why was his mind drifting so?

He kept on driving, past the town centre, onwards out of town again toward Egberttown, the petrol gauge never dropping even a millimetre. "Do you think we can get away if there's enough distance between us?"

"How would I know?!"

On the road ahead of them a shining light was swinging, as if suspended by some incredible and unsuspected string. Stanley stopped the car. Soothing music began to serenade them from the roadside, and then... they awoke...


The hypnotherapist's treatment room was warmly decorated, and smelt nice. Simonson and Ostrander slowly came back to themselves and examine their surrounding anew. "Ah, you're back with us, I see." Dr Kibbel looked at them gravely. That was quite the most bizarre interlude in my professional experience. You answered identically, down to the most bizarre details, upon being prompted about the details of your surroundings in the trance state. Astounding."

"Trance state... we shared a trance!" Helen blurted.

"Yes, and so did she, the tweedy woman, and I don't like it." Stanley's post-hypnotic calm began to dissipate.

Dr Kibbel listened, mused, and then leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees as he rested his head in his hands. "I think there's something you really need to know." He levered himself up again, retrieved a sheath of papers from a drawer and handed it to them, Stanley taking the papers. He looked at them, and then passed them over to Helen. Kibbel continued: "You see, it is astounding, but not at all unprecedented..."

There shall be more.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Bonfires and unidentified beeps

Positivity is the key. It's all too easy to descend into grumbling about all the things that annoy you: The bonfires that spring up everywhere in autumn and foul your clothes with smoke should you walk within a few miles downwind of them; The cars who seem to randomly beep their horn at you a couple of times a week as you walk down the road and they zoom by. Who was that? I have no idea. Were they waving? Good grief. If they know me, why not stop? Crazy people. Were they beeping at that tree?

The bonfires are strange things. They just pop everywhere once you move into September. People seem to have this strange fascinating with burning things. It's bizarre. Perhaps it's an inherited behaviour from ancient history, or a deep-seated need to release carbon into the atmosphere and help destroy the world, or just a genetic tendency toward arson? Whatever the cause, it's very worrying. Humans like to burn, just as they did to conquered cities back in history. It's hard to find a positive with that tendency, especially when you consider that a lot of the things they burn are garden waste and therefore compostable to begin with. However, positives must prevail, so lets get away from fire. Fire burns.

For various reasons it has been a rough few days, and a very quiet few days. It's like living in a bubble, but a bubble that could rip apart at any moment with a job offer or summons to an interview. Perhaps not the latter, upon reflection, as there haven't been many job applications lately. Life is in suspension, impervious to your actions. What you have to do is to take control in some way, to remind yourself of that vital illusion that we control our own destinies instead of being flotsam on the ocean of time. Almost all motivational teaching is based on the idea that we can effect our own destiny, that we can make a difference, or that if we accumulate enough energon cubes and donate them to the school we can escalate to a whole new level of existence. As if anyone could believe in energon cubes, anyway! (It comes in biscuit form.)

So, to make a difference, today was a Kidwelly Castle day. It was lovely, airy, and breezy and quiet enough to be enjoyable without distraction. The school groups wrecked that eventually, of course, but it worked for long enough. The climable tower was climbed, the walkways were traversed, postcards were obtained, and there was not a single beep from a car horn. They can't reach me in a castle. Successfully hidden! Mwahahahahahhaha.


Sunday, 14 September 2014

Story: Oneiromancy, XI

(Part O , X , XII)

Stanley read Helen's notes, even as she read his, and then they both reflected for a few moments, against the backdrop of an inevitable dead panic. Finally he roused himself to ask the following: "What do you think all these rumours add up to?"

"What rumours?"

"All these tall tales you've written about, the strange things they talked about at college. What do you think it all means?" Stanley found a place he'd been looking for on the paper. "Project Dreamline?"

Helen hesitated, and then plunged into the explanation she had put together back in the bold old days, back when truth was stuck together with tape, assembled from the few facts available and gossipped mercilessly. "None of us ever knew, we were just psychology students, but these tales that went around never went away. Tales of strange dream studies and experiments, mostly in Mexico. But with too many strange details to be easily ignored." Some moments passed as she thought back. "It hardly seems connected."

"It's all we have. In the other world, the island, you seemed very sure of yourself. What did you mean with that talk about the woman killing all the others who could do what we do? What are you not remembering now?" Stanley was persistent, amongst many other things.

"I didn't know anything, it all just clicked together. That - woman, if she was ever human at all - has blocked that place up and eliminated all the people who do what we have been doing. She's a predator." Moments passed. "Maybe I am remembering something I didn't think I knew."

"It could all happen again tonight. And the night after. Every night until she traps us." Stanley grimaced. "And then what will happen to what's left of us out here?"

"Yes, what's left... I think I remember why people started talking about this to begin with, back at college." Helen stood up. "Come with me, this cafe's getting very full."

Stanley went with her. They walked down the street silently, thinking, and then back up it. Stanley gestured at his house. "I live there. It's pretty messy."

"I'm three or four streets over in that direction." Helen waved in turn. "What are we going to do?"

"Keep walking? Become wandering cheese vendors across the wilds of Europe? Write a book about it all? Learn about REM sleep so we can talk about all the things they talk about in the movies and in television shows?"

"All of those, bar the cheese vending. Can't stand the stuff!"

Stanley was mock aghast. "I'm walking with a cheese hater! Oh good grief, is that some kind of karmic punishment? Oh, if only humour were appropriate..." He trailed off. "Want to hear an idea?"

"What is it?"

"I've had problems with dreams forever, and even tried medication, but it turns out that they're necessary to keep us alive and sane. There was one thing that I didn't try though: hypnosis. It might help us while we're in there, and while we try to find out more about this thing that's happening, any help could be vital."

"Any help could save our lives."

There shall be more...

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Capacious Pantaloons

Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate, stored his whole inventory in his mighty pantaloons. They were capacious as well as stylish, and no-one ever questioned it. Indeed, once he stored a monkey and a mechanical banana picker in that manner and lived to tell the tale! Hang on, was the mechanical banana picker a 'Star Trek' reference? Only personally understood now decades later? 'Monkey Island' surely does have more facets than I thought.

It's nice to think about 'Monkey Island', a very restful thing, especially after an interview experience. I can't imagine ever being happy with such an experience, but at least this last was an improvement. The banana picker was left at home, and no-one noted the continuity contradiction in my talk, so it went off well. Even the question I blanked and couldn't answer in the interview didn't feel so bad, although it was probably vital in retrospect. It was about outreach, which is increasingly important to universities now, and vitally so. We need more people in Sciences especially, and exciting them in greater numbers and earlier is one of the most important things we can do. Mathematics is the key to practically everything that will assail us as a species in the near future.

Now, with the interview done, and holiday extracts completed, it feels like the whole holiday disruption is over and the world is spinning back up to speed. I suspect that other people don't get affected for this long, even with complicating interviews and being stranded in the wilds of the country. Normal is what is needed now, 'Sapphire And Steel' notwithstanding. Oh, 'Sapphire And Steel', the strangest series that just landed on my doormat. The first episode was so unusual that it has immediately jumped up to the top of my queue of things to watch urgently. It is fascinating, especially in tandem with 'A Connecticut Yankee In New York', which has finally broken to the top of the reading pile. Oh, that reading pile, that just won't shrink! (Actually there are two reading piles, one fiction and one non-fiction, and things are finally moving in both after a long time of stagnation. The four volume 'Journey to the West' is like to be there a long time yet, though!)

Yes, it's all settling down and now my worry is that it settling down while being unemployed is perhaps not the best of things. Any ambivalence about the nature of work and the job does very quickly get subverted by needing money to live and buy things like new books. Oh, how nice it would be to have a second living author to read! I need more books for these pantaloons! Oh, these are definitely the worries of someone with too little to do. It might be time to write another story...


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Holiday Ramblings VII: "The Great Escape" (Day 8)

And we're done! Never again, crazy people, never again! I now return to the regular schedule, once tomorrow's interview has been dealt with. Now to hit presentation practice again!

The music rolls, and in the misty rain of a dank early morning, you emerge from the miserable hostel and head for the train station in hopefully inconspicuous clothing. The obstacles remain obdurate: A leg from Marseille to Paris (dodging the Sureté and secret train police), crossing Paris uncaught (it's the croissant-cams you need to watch out for), and then the leg from Paris to London through the sensor-rich Channel Tunnel, which can only be defeated with the judicious use of bottles of water, lemons, a large number of throat lozenges, and a high quality photograph of anyone called Frank.

Freedom! Freedom from the continent of incomprehensibly bad breakfast habits! Freedom from an unfairly judged Marseille, and the insurmountable piles of rubbish and cigarette ends! Freedome from all the smelly smoke itself! Freedom! Apart from Chateau d'If and, partly, Frioul the Marseille portion of this trip did not go well. A jellyfish siege and sheer apathy can do that to a trip, as well as an overridingly bad first impression! At this point, a basin with a plug is the highest of heavens, and a tap that doesn't shoot directly into the hole is beyond imagining. It's possible that lack of sleep has sent me just a little loopy. Meep meep!

The Sun rises and the escape continues. The lady in the seat next to me has tried to move twice so I can only assume I look highly suspicious or reek of something terrible. Has the camouflage not worked? Not even the parrot on the shoulder?


Two reluctant travelling companions later, the first one vanishing permanently some hours later and the second within a minute of boarding the Eurostar, and following a near disaster, the coach trip to South Wales is finally here. Oh, that near disaster almost ruined it all, but the escape is done! Time to put the onion strings in a bin and relax into the this last tiny four road journey. Oh, that near disaster!

Imagine, if you will, the horror of a crippling electrical malfunction right at the outset of your journey and with two city-crossing connections still to make. Imagine the stress as your TGV defies the perceived excellent of the French train system by stumbling along at a halting snail's pace. Actually, please don't imagine the stress if you have an excusing doctor's note, imagine the Magic Roundabout instead. The minutes of your Paris overlap fall away until the Eurostar seems impossible, but you rush anyway from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord and are stunned that they are far less strict on checking in times than you thought they would be. Still, you rush through security and double passport control, and finally board, always a few moments away from disaster. And then your seat mate ditches you immediately. Can one never win?!

It all seems so distant now, now that a Marks and Spencers picnic banquet has been purchased and feasted upon, and the Orcs Nest visited to grab copies of 'King of Tokyo' and 'Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on a Cursed Island'. It's lovely to see rain again, and even the Cardiff roadworks and diversions seem welcoming. It's grey, murky, and thoroughly wet.



Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Television: 'The Beiderbecke Trilogy' by Alan Plater (1984-1988)

With an interview looming on Thursday, another arduous one, and a sisterly birthday picnic just gone today, it's probably best to write about something concrete instead of mindless blathering. So let's get down to some of the best British mini-series ever to be made: 'The Beiderbecke Trilogy', which is composed of 'The Beiderbecke Affair' (1984), 'The Beiderbecke Tapes' (1987) and 'The Beiderbecke Connection' (1988) and was written by the late great Alan Plater. Plater wrote one of the my favourite plays, 'A Matter Of Time', as well as the mini-series 'Oliver's Travels', the television movie 'Doggin' Around' and a multitude of other fascinating oddball television triumphs. He was also a jazz aficionado, which filters through all his work unashamedly. Oh, if only there were more Plater work in the world...

As a whole, the trilogy is a mild-mannered antidote to most of the more violent and passion-filled productions you could find out there, and is based firmly in and around the romantically joined characters of Jill Swinburne and Trevor Chaplin, a woodwork teacher and an English teacher respectively. Yes, finally a lead character called Trevor: it has been a long time coming! Jill is an environmental activist and conservationist, and Trevor is a jazz aficionado and oddball, and together they are them. Over the course of three short mini-series they wandered into exposing local corruption, Jill out-classing Trevor's ex-fiancee, accidental discoveries of tapes about nuclear waste dumping, cyber-criminals in the late 1980s, a baby while being probationary cohabs, and all that while trying to evade the nefarious machinations of their idiot head-teacher Mr Wheeler and amusedly tolerating the overwhelming cynicism of their colleague Mr Carter. It's not a crime series, though, but something quite unclassifiable. Unclassifiable things are the best, I wish there were more. It's a set of jazz-comedy-romantic-drama-mystery-thrillers with a small dose of bittersweet irony mixed in.

In many ways 'The Beiderbecke Trilogy' is one of my very earliest screen influences, before even reading 'The Magician's Nephew', Willard Price, 'The Hardy Boys' or 'The Secret Seven'. As such, with that wonderfully lyrical Plater dialogue, the dynamite dynamic between the unconventional Barbara Flynn and James Bolam as the leads, an all star cast, and all that jazz, it was a defining experience. Oh, and that jazz is wonderful, the scores being peppered with music from Bix Beiderbecke, the great jazz cornet player, "whose playing sounded like bullets shot from a bell". The jazz, mixed with the sheer wittiness of the dialogue, makes this one of the greatest keepers in my dvd collection, eclipsed by nothing but original 'Star Trek' and 'M*A*S*H'. It's one of those shows that has been watched so often that it's on hiatus in order to bring back some freshness to the watching. It's magnificent, silly, musical, poignant and light. There's a touch of the wisdom of the ages mixed in with the native buffoonery of all things British, and philosophy where you least expect it. Also, there are dominoes, funerals, a disastrous school trip to Holland, and several trips to the takeaway. In short, it's a little slice of the United Kingdom wrapped up in alternative economies and cool music. Action lovers will need to leave their addiction at the door.

If that sounds good, then you might also want to check out 'Oliver's Travels', which inspired my journeys to Orkney and Hadrian's Wall. Oh, Plater, you did choose the most glamorous places!


Monday, 8 September 2014

Holiday Ramblings VI: "Jellyfish" (Day 7)

In which the penultimate day comes to a tired end, and a list is made.

Ah, the inevitable day when "Well, do it anyway!" derailed completely and ended up in the ravine amidst sneering cacti and applauding jellyfish in a nearby bay. It had to happen eventually, and predictably it would be in Marseille. This city did greet me on my first morning here, way back at the beginning of the trip, with a seagull pecking a pigeon to death in the street and again with a dead rat there this morning. When French cities do the grimy side street cliché they go all the way. In fact, the extremes seem to be far further apart than in Britain, between charm and grime. C'est la vie.

As the cars beep endlessly - someone blocked the street to deliver some shop supplies - and in futility, it's interesting to note how this derailing occurred by trying to repeat something good rather than doing something new. It might have been tempting fate far too much, if you believe in fate. "Well, do it anyway!" will be back, but it might need a bit of a rest.

The attempt was repeat the beach of St Estevé in the Frioul archipelago, the that was laid waste by that scourge of swimming: Jellyfish! Little purple alien creatures of unproven self-awareness dumbfounded everyone. Were they dangerous? Were they not? Combined will all the swept in tidal trash that hadn't been there the day before, and a resurgent sun that had been hiding behind a cloudbank for much of the morning, it was effectively ruined. Even the search for a postbox in Marseille was ridiculous, the only one seemingly to be found at the post office. Strange, strange, strange.

The jellyfish, tennis ball sized in water, nailed down the end of the journey on many levels. Marseille has had none of the easy going charm of Barcelona, but at the same time I don't think I've given it a far chance. The comparative dinginess of my hotel, and the griminess of the street, and the seagull ruined it all before it ever began. The fortresses are faintly pretty in a yellow stone citadel way, the cathedral is pretty high up on that hill, but none of it pops. Everything gets swept up in the aimlessness of a holiday's last day. Soon there will be no more enforced eating out, or activities almost but not quite done, or loneliness of the person in the throng. Soon there will be sleep.

What a busy holiday it has been, though, loaded with a mass of fascinating experiences:

A board game shop hunt;
Font Magica;
Barcelona Aquarium;
Park Guell;
Casa Battló;
Botero's Cat and the Meditation Statue;
A sailing trip;
Good and bad paella, and Greek food;
A meal with strangers;
Barcelona Zoo;
Chateau d'If and the Frioul Archipelago;
Quantities of postcards;
Note taking galore!

For only five effective days, it's a massive amount, far too much in fact. No wonder exhaustion has set in! Even on the trip home there will be a sidetrip to the Orcs Nest board game shop in London, on the way from St Pancras to Victoria. That's a nice shop, by the way, very cute. To do that, though, there will need to be less tiredness. There is only one cure for exhaustion, and only one way to prepare for a super-early train. It is time to sleep, and early.


Sunday, 7 September 2014

A bizarre hodgepodge of influences

Recovering from a holiday takes time. Recovering from interviews takes time, as does preparing for them. Recovering from anything takes time. The last week and a bit have been all of those things and none of them in the aftermath of the ridiculous France/Spain trip. It's maddening and deadening, as is worrying for someone far far away. At least that's done with for now.

An interview looms, and a presentation needs to be written after stalling for a week, but instead... instead perhaps it's time to clear the head. A long time ago, in another land far far away, bad things happened. The effects linger on, and it is only with time for reflection that you realise that those ripples just never go away. It's fascinating, and just a little ridiculous, how the ripples go in and out with the tides. The stresses of life and pent up emotions can get all bottled up, the world gets all the more abstract, and before you know what's going on everything's grey at the edges! It's one of the grand perils of solitude, that greyness, that slightly singed feeling that somehow chimes with that smokey powdery smell of a paperback that's been around a bit too long, undusted.

Solitude is grand and wonderful for the effete and standoffish, but it does have perils. You become more influenced by books, and films, and radio, and television than many other people would be. Lessons from life experience are drawn from fiction and biography, and emotional outlets occur behind a closed door while waving giant pencils in air conducting practice. The influences become legion, and then become forgotten, unless you happen to get brave and reopen a box. As a poet said, probably it was me, never said it was a good poet,  "Sometimes you just gotta let it out! Or you will for lifetime badly pout!" Ouch, that hurt for a couplet made up on the spot. Go ahead, reopen the box, even if it is from before the land far far away. Join up the dots.

If our humanity is a measure of how we react, then what does it need to be prompted to react at all? I have no idea, and I am human, and sometimes need prompting. Well, sometimes I'm an air conductor or a writer of insane things that no-one ever gets to read, but mostly human. Except on Sunday afternoons. To feel is something special, and to find things that can help that is valuable beyond all hope of knowing, and those things form the Bizarre Hodgepodge of Influences. Sadly there's not a great acronym to go with that, but it does have a scruffy little bush for a logo. The bush grows.

The Hodgepodge expands slowly. I just watched The fifth season of 'Community' on DVD and there were moments that sank into the bush as if they'd never been anywhere else. That show is amazing, and heartfelt, and just a little clinically insane. Awesome. Sadly on a season-by-season basis you can never tell what's going to happen but tears and joy will pop in sometimes (except Season 4, which has a troubled backstory, not involving llamas). 'Parks and Recreation' is also good, but I mainly watch for the mighty and touching Ron Swanson doing what only he can do (see end of Season 6 opening two-parter). Steven Moffat can make you jump in the air and do cartwheels with some of his 'Doctor Who' endings, a miraculous performer.

Is it possible that there is a romantic at work somewhere inside this writer? The writer that is me? Surely not! If not, then why be moved by the 'Star Trek' novel 'First Frontier' or Columbo smashing that weight on Leonard Nimoy's desk, or the end of 'A Tale Of Two Cities' where poor self-ruined Carton finds himself in his own sacrifice. What does it all mean anyway if not romanticism? Madness? Or is it all just ripples in the fabric of who we all are? Some people feel the ripples and others fake it or try to make it. What does it mean to be moved by Woody getting the girl at the end of 'Condorman'? Terminal sappiness? That's probably not so bad.

Sunday, it was a Sunday evening when I wrote this, after an oddball couple of days. In a moment all focus will have to get back to presentation writing but for now lets just relax and feel the ripples. If there are ripples then at least the world's still moving out there somewhere. Ain't it nice?


Friday, 5 September 2014

Holiday Ramblings V: "Stamps" (Day 6)

Moving into the end stage of the extracts. Two days left to go!

At some point in history, selling postage stamps became inextricably linked to selling tobacco in France, Spain, and probably other countries in Western Europe. If I ever find out why that happened or who did it, then time travel will have to be invented just so I can go back and wreak full vengeance. Also, melons would vanish from the timeline, to make the trip more worthwhile and the world less full of horror. Melon. How can anything that is an anagram of the noble lemon be so worthless? If you like melon, you will get no apologies from me. Bah! It's just solid water!

Stamps are a pain to buy over here, especially when you consider how useful they are. At least we sell them in so many more places in Britain, if the post office is closed and not just in tobacconists! Presumably it's a link based on duties and taxes in history, and the ubiquity of tobacconists in those countries. None of the cities I've visited have had what I would call convenience stores at all, and most of them have had very few supermarkets in accessible places. Perhaps the tobacconists are the most numerous shops for the purpose?

This Mediterranean trip has received its crowning cliché: A trip to the beach! It was very lovely in the Frioul Archipelago, and I even went swimming at the calanque (beach in a little bay) of St Estevé. Now only the sunburn lingers, a horrible sensation and not experienced in years. Horrible! I might have to do it again tomorrow, Marseille proper not having taken the proverbial fancy. In fact, there was one brief look around at the beginning of the day, and then a swift and breezy walk to the ferry to Chateau d'If and Frioul. Chateau d'If is the prison island that once housed the Count of Monte Cristo and the Man In The Iron Mask, a yellow stone sun-bleached fortress in the beautiful blue Mediterranean. It's effectively Dumas island! Foolishly, they let me out. Mwahahahaha. It was actually very interesting, even after my camera sadly ran out of batteries and space. In many ways things are far more enjoyable sans camera, so that you can simply be yourself instead of the perennial and detached observer.

Now the day trip is over, spaghetti bolognese has been eaten, and there remains little to be done. Perhaps it's time to do the second batch of postcards... Parents get one for each leg of holiday, the delightful mad postcard collector gets a second too, and the ex-pseudo-sister-in-law and good friend. There's no excuse now that I've stomped around five tabacs looking for stamps. It took forever. No excuse at all.

Oh, stamps!


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Story: Wordspace, XVII

(Part I , XVI , XVIII)

Mystery realigned its thoughts and took one last lingering look at the garden. It had been so long since it had seen Lies' peculiar touch with the wild verbiage that the beauty was overwhelming. Time was ticking away, however, and outside everyone was depending on the resourcefulness and unpredictably of the one they called 'Mystery'.

"Ready or not, here we go." Mystery declared to itself, and then pulled itself up by the vowels to take itself over to its companions. Lies looked much as it had all those years ago when it had been sent into exile, and Club was obviously torn between its distrust of that living legend and its enjoyment of the tales being spun.

"Ah, Mystery, my lad! I was just telling this friend of yours about the time we raided the larder in the Commission of Absolutism's mansion. I'm afraid it's not one of my finest moments, but you did very well! Also, those beverages were much the better for the drinking, eh?" Lies was apparently in full flow and sparing no details. Perhaps it had been alone for all this time, with no-one to talk to... An upswelling of compassion flowed out, but was swiftly put aside. There was no time.

"Sadly, my friend, we didn't come just to chat and make small talk. The world outside is in great peril, and perhaps even the world in here too." Mystery wasted no time in its explanations, during the latter portion of which Lies stood quite somberly.

"You must be wondering where they all are, all those grand Destructives? The banes of our existences before their imprisonment in this palace of... of banal nonsense?" Lies gestured at the outside wall of the dome, somewhat moodily. "I'm afraid you're going to have to put your preconceptions away, and your hopes on a low light."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Asked Club cautiously.

"You had best both come with me. Mind your head now, and watch your footing. The jargon underfoot is most uneven. Many a time I've tumbled end over end." Lies led them out of the garden enclosure clockwise around the edge of the dome, and for the first time the two emissaries saw the Zone proper. A grand wasteland it was as far as they could see, a gentle peak rising up into the center and obscuring all that lay beyond. They continued on around, Club watching their surrounds to the right, while Mystery and Lies caught up in small chatter complacently. Eventually they reached a village. Yes, a village, quite surprisingly.

"It's deserted." Was Mystery's first comment, which amused Lies apparently. It chuckled.

"They'll be in their own garden. It's just around the back of the club hut." Lies led them around the back of a large round hut, where they saw some of the worst and most terrible words in the wordspace. They were drinking tea. Everyone facing them stood up politely, and the giant who must have been War smiled politely and held up its cup in salute, before making the totally unexpected greeting: "Hello! Nice day, what?"

It was possible that things might not go to plan...

To be continued...

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Holiday Ramblings IV: "Well, do it anyway!" (Day 5)

Once again, another part of the holiday extracts. Thanks to a lapse there are now only three days left!

It turned out to be impossible to write substantively every single day, no matter how much you might want to. So, now it's catch up time, before the next slice of travelling kicks in this afternoon.

It was a busy, so busy day, and very impulsive. It was a day governed by 'Well, do it anyway!" and, with only one secret exception it turned out very well. From early morning at Park Guell to Casa Battló via La Pedrera's gift shop and awful toast, it began as something entirely consumed by the the architecture of Gaudi (and crummy toast). From there a merry stroll ensued, mainly focussed on finding the Meditation Statue, Botero's Cat, and that rarest phenomenon of all known as the postbox. Good grief, finding postboxes abroad is hard! It's not as hard as holding in the gag behind the Meditation Statue, but hard nonetheless.

"Well, do it anyway!" is the definite motto of this part of the trip, and it culminated in the best thing so far, a lovely jazzed up and chilled out catamaran trip out onto the Mediterranean. Thank you catamaran Orsom, for you were awesome. Sailing is a lovely experience once the engine goes off and the sails go up. Truly lovely, and another victory for "Well, do it anyway!", that great dictum. Then when I took a photo of a nice couple for them they flagged me down and asked me to have dinner with them in a busy square. Sadly it was a pretty terrible dinner, introducing the worst of paella the day after the best, but still a very enjoyable experience. Well done, those people, well done! Once again, I have to throw a recommendation out for 'Yes Man' by Danny Wallace, for maybe the thousandth time. My, that's a good simple book. Being approached by a drug peddler was less nice of course, as were the hordes of partiers assembling on the way back to base, but those are petty inconveniences in the long run. Note, however, that cities can be scary very, very often.

Now, however, get backing to today, this second trip to Barcelona is almost at an end or will be in a few hours and the traditional zoo visit is upon me, and indeed all around me at this very moment. It's lovely. They have scary looking Komodo Dragons, and a sad absence of dolphins at the moment. Zoos or safari parks are great ways to finish holidays. I know that some people disagree with them or at least their origins, but once you have tamed animals I don't know if it's ethical to release them into the wild to be slaughtered rather than keep them domestic. In any case, mandatory endings to holidays in zoos should be a law and I'll write to the Prime Minister. Let's start campaigning!


Much later, and the train has made it back into France. Spain is far behind us and the world is now a narrow - and inexplicably first class - metal cylinder rolling ludicrously quickly on rails eastward, toward Marseille. In my bag there is a gorilla called The Bish, a stingray called Trace, and a provisionally named Tuttle the turtle for the leafdaughter Zsuzsi. My feet hurt abominably. Blast you, wonderful and terrible footwear! Trains truly are wonderful places for writing, the best of the best. Sometimes I wish all of life was comfortable trains, with regular layovers to avert lassitude and corpulence. The in-train movie seems to be French again. Mutter mutter.

Barcelona ended well, with yet another restaurant trip, and this time it was Greek! Gosh, that is one country obsessed with pastry. First there was tyropita, then lamb exohiko, and finally karidopita, and it was all delicious. One can only hope that Marseille has places to compete with such great eating. One can only hope.

The train travels on.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

It's not a cookie! Lets call it a sugar-less flapjack?

Let's deviate into baking for a moment, and assume that we're making things for people who don't want to take sugar, like me. This can be very difficult! As a first attempt, here's a go at (heavily) adapting the chunky cookies as found in Hamlyn's Student Cookbook (ISBN 978-0-600-60965-0, page 215). To do this you're going to need a bunch of ingredients, a couple of baking trays and some greaseproof/baking paper:

125g oats;
125g plain flour;
3 tablespoons sesame seeds;
3 tablespoons sunflower seeds;
3 tablespoons sliced dried apricots;
2 tablespoons sliced dried dates;
2 tablespoons walnut pieces;
Some vanilla essence;
75g butter;
100g honey;
4 tablespoons vegetable oil;
1 egg, lightly beaten (you might need a fraction of an egg more).

Step 1: Heat the oven 180C, Gas Mark 4, 350F. (I like 160C personally.)

Step 2: Mix together the oats, flour, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, dried fruits and walnuts in a bowl.

Step 3: Melt the butter and honey in a very large saucepan, then take it off the heat.

Step 4: Add the dry mix into the saucepan of buttery honey, mix, then add the oil and egg and combine again. If the mixture looks too wet then add some more oats or flour.

Step 5: You should be able to make 10 large flattened round flapjacks and place them on your papered baking tray. Or two batches of five using one baking tray.

Step 6: Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until golden but still slightly soft. Leave to cool and then they'll crisp up.

The resulting flapjacks are phenomenally full of all kinds of goodness and butter, and actually quite tasty once you get used to the milder sweetness. There's potential for cocoa powder and date variants, as well as many other options. Just be creative!


It's nice to bake again. Who knows why I stopped? Lots of things stopped after Hungary. In any case, please try out the flapjacks, and if you aren't off sugar then swap it in quantity-for-quantity with the honey. In a bizarre twist today I began to do research again and am feeling quite chipper, despite all the programming. Oh, the programming!

Coming up soon on the Quirky Muffin there will be more of the serialised story 'Wordspace', more of the holiday extracts and very soon some thoughts on the great Columbo episode 'A Stitch In Crime'.

You're reading in a strange land!


Monday, 1 September 2014

Holiday Ramblings III: "Postcards 101" (Day 3)

Part three of a seven part odyssey of dullness extracted from the notes of an eight day journey. On this occasion there was a turtle and a sting ray.

Following on directly from yesterday, sometimes reality doesn't measure up well to the rose-tinted view of nostalgic memory. In this case the Font Magica of August 2014 doesn't match up to that of September/October somewhere in the middle of the last decade. There were key differences. First of all there are far too many people hanging around in August, and secondly the the performance was hampered by opening with contemporary pop music, apart from the 'Barcelona' of Freddie Mercury of course. The pop music of 2014 is in no way comparable to that of ten years ago, when rhythm wasn't all and repetition not the king, even in those times of barbarity. However, once it got away from pop, it was still excellent, albeit behind a solid wall of people holding up cameras between them and the spectacle. How strange it is! It was especially nice to hear the 'Batman' television theme, but my sappiness is well known so no-one will be surprised. That was the evening, a bittersweet letdown, which eventually ended early for me as the crowds got ever more annoying. Oh, to be in September, when it runs two hours earlier in the day and you can even get right to the edge.

Oddly, Barcelona Aquarium was quite disappointing too, seeming so much smaller than it did in the hall of memory, but in the end it proved itself all over again. It's deceptively small but squeezes so much in that it becomes worthwhile, and the shark tunnel is still a fantastic way to view those venerable living fossils, unchanged predators from so deep in history. This is all assuming you turn up early as I did or can stand to stay in line for an hour later in the day. After that there was limping, fooding, and wandering in the rain. Yes, it rained as if the world had cried out for water or faced destruction in its dryness. Another odd echo of the last trip to Barcelona and perplexingly enjoyable for it! There's nothing as humorous as people running for cover from even the slightest of rain spells. Thank goodness for spontaneous rainstorms and saxophone buskers in the Metro saving a trip from abstract failure! Hopefully some sailing and Park Guell will complete the cure on the morrow.

Postcards and gift buying are the sole duties imposed on the single traveller, so my backpack quickly got crammed with a cuddly turtle and sting ray, two of the the fine gifts from the Aquarium shop, a place I hold to be legendary. If you don't believe me then you're reading the wrong blog, but it is true. Postcards are harder than gifts, if only because of the sheer amount of work involved. First you collect the addresses and take them with you, then you buy the postcards, write the postcards with laborious copying of addresses, and somehow get them in the post. This of course is harder if the post office is remote or closed, as you must find stamps in a tobacconist somewhere, and then find a postbox. Postboxes are tricky. It's a fiendish amount of work, not even including the pressures of writing messages so mundane as to be cripplingly dull!

Of course, the difficulty of finding stamps and postboxes is one of the ways you know you're in a foreign country and probably in continental Europe. Other signs include drivers stubbornly driving on the wrong side of the road, a proliferation of mopeds, non-free museums and galleries, rampant smoking, and a difficulty in finding milk in shops. Also, if the green men at pedestrian crossings aren't entirely reliable, then that's a good indicator too. Be warned of green men of dubious fidelity to the truth.